Identity as Irreconcilable Collage in Carl Frode Tiller’s Epic “Encircling” Trilogy
“when I read Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan tetralogy, it was an easy, natural inhaling. I breathed those books as if I had been in a polluted street and was ascending a staircase to clearer air. It wasn’t just the literary quality of the books that drew me in. It was the length and scope of them, the sense of a life lived across more than a thousand pages. When I read Proust, I breathed deep — long, meditative inhales — then returned for half-breaths to be sure the scent of hawthorn had truly penetrated my senses. The two writers’ projects are distinct: Proust meanders through Paris, flâneur-like, while Ferrante arrows across Naples with purpose. Her sense of momentum never lets up, but Proust never has much momentum in the first place. By contrast, when I read Karl Ove Knausgaard, I breathed without much attention. The intensity of his self-study leaves little oxygen for me.
And then there’s Norwegian author Carl Frode Tiller. When I read his Encircling novels, my breath kept halting and restarting as if I were being chased. Or was the one doing the chasing. Because the Encircling trilogy — only the first two books have been published in English — is a kind of chase. It pelts across the landscape of memory, around obstacles of lies, secrets, and vanity. Encircling’s meticulous construction and exhaustive psychological exegesis make it unfit to be called a proper mystery (although that is the section in which I found it in a Scottish bookstore), but it is, nonetheless, an incomparable intellectual escapade.