Ketil Bjornstad: ‘The novel is the best weapon against multi-tasking’

Brought to Book Q&A: Norwegian author and pianist on where he writes and what he reads

Ketil Bjornstad: ‘Sometimes I also rent a hotel room to write in peace.’ Photograph: Benedicte Ugland/ketilbjornstad.com

Ketil Bjornstad: ‘Sometimes I also rent a hotel room to write in peace.’ Photograph: Benedicte Ugland/ketilbjornstad.com

 

Ketil Bjornstad is a Norwegian pianist, composer and author. ketilbjornstad.com

What was the first book to make an impression on you?

It must have been Saint Exupéry, The little Prince. My father read it for me when I went to bed, and he always began to weep. Then I understood that it was beautiful and important.

What was your favourite book as a child?

Besides Saint Exupéry, I loved the Norwegian author Gabriel Scott’s book about the cat Sølvfaks.

And what is your favourite book or books now?

So many. I always have Dostojevskijs The Idiot with me in my luggage. I think Camus’s The Plague (La Peste) is one of the most important novels written, ever. And you have always Saul Bellow, Doris Lessing, Siri Hustvedt, Don DeLillo, Lars Saabye Christensen, so many … Pristavkin! What happened to him? And a very, very new one: I just read Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold’s Monsterman. Wonderful.

What is your favourite quotation?

Karen Blixen: “The longing itself is an evidence that what you are longing for really exists.”

Who is your favourite fictional character?

Kilgore Trout in Kurt Vonnegut’s novels.

Who is the most under-rated Irish author?

I hope none. But I am not too familiar whit the domestic and contemporary literary scene in Ireland.

Which do you prefer - ebooks or the traditional print version?

Print. Definitely.

What is the most beautiful book you own?

I love all the classic Gallimard-covers. It gives me a feeling of immediate concentration.

Where and how do you write?

In my studio in Oslo, on my cottage near the Randsfjorden, up in the forests, and on hotel rooms all over the worlds, when I am touring as a musician. Sometimes I also rent a hotel room to write in peace.

What book changed the way you think about fiction?

Thomas Bernhard’s Trees are Falling.

What is the most research you have done for a book?

My book The Story of Edvard Munch (Arcadia).

What book influenced you the most?

Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift.

What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday?

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.

What book do you wish you had read when you were young?

The World from the Past, by Stefan Sweig.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Don’t write to become world famous. It is not about that, at all.

What weight do you give reviews?

It depends on the writer. If I respect the critic, I always read, good or bad.

Where do you see the publishing industry going?

It is a mix. The new media situation attacks our concentration. The novel is the best weapon against multi-tasking and the superficial. I hope the decent and devoted publishers still will have possibilities to reach the new generations of readers.

What writing trends have struck you lately?

The autobiographical trend. It is fascinating, but it also raise a lot of questions. I deal with it now, when I am writing a very personal book about Mozart, where I also write about my own relationship to him (as a musician) in a very personal way.

What lessons have you learned about life from reading?

The most important ones. But so much in literature is between the lines.

What has being a writer taught you?

To be both inspired and patient at the same time. And to trust the most intimate, hidden and vulnerable way of communication with the reader.

Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Wow. What about Dostojevskij, Camus, Bellow, Vonnegut, Bernhard, Doris Lessing, Elsa Morante, Siri Hustvedt, Hamsun, Strindberg, Lars Saabye Christensen and Thomas Mann?

What is the funniest scene you’ve read?

I’m not sure, but it is definitely in one of Lars Saabye Christensens short stories.

What is your favourite word?

Grace.

If you were to write a historical novel, which event or figure would be your subject?

I have just finished a manuscript about Mozart.

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