It was a small yet excited group of book lovers that gathered Monday night to discuss Erlend Loe’s fable Doppler. Here follows a recollection of our ideas and discussion. I haven’t given any names in order to provide a better flow of ideas.
But first the summary of the novel will aid in setting the scene of the discussion. Here is the blurb given on the Goodreads website http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15754072-doppler
“A bestseller in Scandinavia — Doppler is the enchanting, subversive, and very unusual story about one man and his moose.
This beguiling modern fable tells the story of a man who, after the death of his father, abandons his home, his family, his career, and the trappings of civilization for a makeshift tent in the woods where he adopts a moose-calf named Bongo. Or is it Bongo who adopts him? Together they devote themselves, with some surprising results, to the art of carefree living.
Hilarious, touching, and poignant in equal measure — you will read it with tear-stained cheeks and sore sides — Doppler is also a deeply subversive novel and a strong criticism of modern consumer culture.”
First we talked about our favourite characters. Bongo began as a strong contender and came out as the winner. The character Andreas Doppler’s personification of the moose-calf was too delightful for anyone to refuse. It added comic relief and a charm that made even Doppler’s character seem lovable and relatable. You know what they say about people who are kind to animals…that they are trustworthy. It was a good technique to make the reader soften their opinion of an absentee father and husband. Second favourite was Gregus, Doppler’s son in nursery school. He seemed so intelligent and resourceful for a young boy that he added to the charm in the little book.
Realism, Inaccuracies, and the Modern Fable:
A lot of the discussion surrounded the problems we encountered accepting what we felt were inaccuracies in the plot.
Milk: For instance, it was hard to accept that Doppler went into town to barter for milk, but not other food. It was hard to accept how much milk he needed, as it would require him going to the town so much that his degree of isolation was arguable. He also spoke of milk (skim) as the “pinnacle of human achievement” (pg. 26), which proved that he could never fully break from civilization.
Wife: The fact that Doppler’s wife didn’t seem as realistic as the other characters was troubling, but that may be a reflection of their relationship, which was uncommunicative. This lack of attention to female perspectives can also be explained by plot’s focus on the masculine perspective.
Contradictions: Doppler’s unending tendency to contradict himself didn’t sit well with most of us. Especially troubling was how Doppler preferred his son rather than his daughter and Bongo rather than his son! Furthermore, Doppler wants to block people out of the forest, which contradicts his goals to own nothing, do nothing, and be nothing. He has a primal quest for territory that he cannot ebb.
However, we began to laugh at ourselves for our own inability to accept such minor elements of the plot. Maybe we are picky readers! The point was raised that in a fable format Loe had all the right to gloss over the details if he so chose. The ultimate point is the moral. The moral is debatable too, but it may as well be that everyone deserves the right and should question the status quo and not fall victim to conformity. We follow Doppler on his journey to self-discovery. Self-discovery necessitates changes in one’s beliefs, and therefore we benefit more from not perceiving these changes as contradictions. A final great point was raised that concluded the discussion on contradictions: most true things are contradictory.
Versions – Hardcover versus eBook:
We had a lively discussion concerning the different versions of the book. One read the novel in e-book form, while the others read the hardcover version.
While the e-book on the iPad Mini showed it’s advantages, especially for the purposes of reading for a book club, i.e. the reader can highlight, make notes, search within the text or on the Web, make multiple bookmarks, change the size of the text and the orientation of the page, see how many pages are left in the chapter or in the book, etc., the tactility of the hardcover still won us over! The point was raised that in the landscape where e-books are increasing reigning supreme, to hold such a small (and in this case precious) sewn hardcover brings the enchantment back to reading. One member spoke of a different hardcover edition (not available in Canada) where the paper was made to be particularly rough and gritty, which suited the plot and we thought would make for an enriched reading experience. The hardcover showed that great pains were taken to make the book beautiful.
An interesting occurrence with the North American version is that the main animal character has been changed from an elk (as in the original Norwegian version) to a moose. Seems bizarre, since we thought that moose don’t normally exist in Norway’s climate. Thus, it was an attempt to appeal more directly to the Canadian (or North American) audience. One member raised the astute point that elk are endangered in Norway and thus the killing of Bongo’s mother would be more dramatic and would shed light on how Doppler is able to live off of bartering moose meat, for all of other goods he needs, for so long.
Continuing on with the comparison of Norway versus Canada. It seems that there are similar politics, or at least similar social politics and in the cultural humour. Both cultures seem extremely nice and polite. Another review on the book from Buried in Print http://www.buriedinprint.com/?p=9178 discusses the humour in Doppler:
“And, did I mention that it’s funny?
But Norwegian-funny, which sounds a lot like Canadian-funny, when the author is asked to describe it … with silence and loneliness mixed into the humour.“
We were interested to know how Norway received the novel. Especially, how Dusseldorf’s father was a Nazi. We wondered if this is seen as a very common situation? Or is that why the character was cast an outsider?
Doppler – Renegade or Absentee Father and Husband?
A lot of reviews and comments frame the discussion of Doppler as him being an enlightened genius or pioneer or renegade or a prick, absentee father and husband. One member of our discussion offered the suggestion that he might be mentally ill and be dealing with a personality disorder. After lengthy discussion it became clear that it was hard to pin down, and maybe that was Loe’s intention. Perhaps it goes back to the earlier comment that most true things are contradictory and characters (and people) don’t have just one trait.
Your comments and reflections would be lovely!
Thanks for reading and see you next month!
Independent People by Halldór Laxness