In 2016 a Norwegian novel caught my eye and I started asking around – friends, associates, anyone with half a foot in Scandinavian literature – to see if they had any thoughts on this author and their book. As the replies came in, I could sense the gentle shaking of their sage Scandi heads behind the emails. ‘Have you heard of Vigdis Hjorth?’ they wrote, diplomatically ignoring what I’d asked. ‘There’s this novel named Long Live the Post Horn!’… Every Norwegian or Norwegian-adjacent person I wrote to seemed to share the same notion: if Verso was to publish fiction, and publish Norwegian fiction, we should publish Vigdis Hjorth. Now I don’t take instruction very well but, in the end, the choral pressure told, and I began looking into this author of so many advocates. I was swiftly intrigued.
While I was dallying over the making of an offer, Will and Testament was published in Norway and immediately began selling shedloads while causing all manner of ructions. In a rare fit of wisdom and industry, I acquired the rights to both novels. Savvier heads than mine then decided it would be good to publish Will and Testament first and work backwards to Long Live the Post Horn! It has been a long road from those first recommendations to our publication of this singular novel, but it was a wait well worth riding out and the novel remains fresh and essential.
So why should you read a novel about union opposition to an obscure, decade-old piece of European legislation? It’s niche fare. Even Ellinor, our jaded protagonist, struggles to muster much enthusiasm for the cause when she’s first roped in as a consultant. In Hjorth’s hands, though, the struggle makes for compelling reading. The tiny, incremental victories and (inevitable) subsequent setbacks become exciting, taking on the character of far more flagrant dramas. When I first read the novel, my excitement tracked Ellinor’s; at times giddy and manic, at times despairing, but always on the rise.
The union’s struggle has a sad topical resonance in America today, with the US Postal Service embattled and bruised. On the day of publication The New York Times headline lauded it as ‘The Best Post Office Novel You Will Read Before the Election’, and in the piece itself called it the best post office novel there has ever been. Sometimes niche fare is just what you need.
Another, more timeless and universal, reason to read Long Live the Post Horn! this winter: The novel is funny. Ellinor references Plath at one point, and the humour in this book echoes that in The Bell Jar – the comedy comes from the narrative tone and the way it highlights the despair in how Hjorth’s Ellinor (and Plath’s Esther) relate to the world, and renders the resulting detachment in a witty, sardonic way – making jarring joys of both books. And each novel features glorious, well-constructed comic set-pieces – and skiing accidents that we shouldn’t laugh at but do. A comedic tone must be a very difficult thing to replicate in translation, and huge credit for the novel’s success in English must go to its translator, Charlotte Barslund, and her sensitive and pitch-perfect work.
When we spoke in London last year, Hjorth told me she had set out to write an ‘entertainment’ concerning the opposition to the EU’s third postal directive – an initiative that would expose the Norwegian postal service to free market competition. At the time of that conversation, Long Live the Post Horn! had been in print for several years and had won a string of prizes – and we also we had the English translation in hand – so I was comfortably blanketed by the fact of her success. And so, this professed aim hit me as merely amusing. But imagine that first conversation she’d have had with her editor: ‘You’re writing a novel about what exactly, Vigdis?’ It’s a play that only the most confident authors are apt to attempt, and few would be able to pull off – and she manages it! A novel about the cost of a stamp becomes a captivating and utterly unique study of society, language and love. I’m delighted that Verso is able to share this sharp, funny and moving novel with the English-speaking world.
Cian McCourt, Verso Editor.
Long Live the Post Horn! by Vigdis Hjorth is one of our December Book Club reads: a carefully curated selection of books that we think are essential and necessary reading. All our Book Club memberships are 50% off for the first 3 months. Find out more here.[book-strip index="1" style="buy"]
Ellinor, a thirty-five-year-old media consultant, has not been feeling herself; she’s not been feeling much at all lately. Far beyond jaded, she picks through an old diary and fails to recognise the woman in its pages, seemingly as far away from the world around her as she’s ever been. But when her coworker vanishes overnight, an unusual new task is dropped on her desk. Off she goes to meet the Norwegian Postal Workers Union, setting the ball rolling on a strange and transformative six months.
This is an existential scream of a novel about loneliness (and the postal service!), written in Hjorth’s trademark spare, rhythmic and cutting style.