Translated from by

Published: February 13, 2018





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Book Description

Love is the story of a single mother, Vibeke, and her son Jon, who have just moved to a small, remote town in the north of Norway. It’s the day before Jon’s birthday, but Vibeke, preoccupied with concerns of her own, has forgotten this. With a man on her mind, she ventures to the local library, while Jon goes out to sell lottery tickets for his sports club. From there we follow the two characters on their separate journeys through a cold winter’s night, as Ørstavik weaves together the two narratives in electric prose masterfully rendered into English by translator Martin Aitken.

Building up to a shattering culmination...that stays with the reader long after closing the book, Love is as haunting as it is moving, stunningly presented in Martin Aitken’s discerning translation. Although originally published in Norway more than 20 years ago, the novel retains a timeless brilliance through its portrayal of missed connections and failures to communicate beyond surface levels.
D.R. Hansen, 3:AM Magazine

Ørstavik brings us remarkably close to both her characters, shifting effortlessly between them in stark, lucid prose ... Ørstavik’s twinned themes of love and neglect manifest on every page. Her style, brilliantly translated by Martin Aitken, is quiet and mesmeric, aligning us with divorcee Vibeke and, particularly, with her son Jon, on the eve of his ninth birthday ... for all the potential dangers of this one night, the book’s achievement is that we come to the end of it seeing a wider picture.
Sarah Gilmartin, The Irish Times

Ørstavik’s ingenious device is to toggle between their two consciousnesses from one paragraph to the next, so that their narratives run as though on parallel train tracks, never to meet, even as they lie cheek to cheek. Layers of unremarkable everyday intimacy and acres of emotional distance are compressed between the lines ... Ørstavik has found fertile territory here in which to dig into the raging solipsism of the inner life ... We are all sealed worlds, Ørstavik seems to suggest; it’s dark outside, and it’s dark inside too.
Justine Jordan, The Guardian

In Hanne Ørstavik’s Love , the equilibrium between a tense, disquieting plot and a gently experimental binary structure sustain the reader’s attention and awe from beginning to end. The aerial beauty of Martin Aitken’s translation contributes to make the novel a successful rarity: a book that is at the same time a thriller and a dense literary object. “Perfect” may be the proper adjective to describe it.

National Book Foundation, 2018 Translated Literature Finalist

​Love​​’s impeccable English translation by Martin Aitken reflects the economy and self-possession of Nordic prose. Its seamless narration, drawn in counterpoint, reverberates beyond the eerie landscape, lingering in the mind...​​Love​​, like love, yields its own gifts.​

Fani Papageorgiou, Hyperallergic

[Love is] driven home for American readers thanks, in large part, to the translation, by Martin Aitkin. Aitkin’s translation is economic, delicate, and pliant, making the narrative shifts between Vibeke and Jon seem effortless, dreamlike.
Brianne Baker, Entropy

​Wondrous, uncanny... an innovative yet unassuming structure... candid, glinting prose... This is the brilliance of Ørstravik's technique: that we, as readers, can see how often Jon and Vibeke's thoughts converge, while they are each left blindly to await salvation.​

Will Harrison, The Hudson Review

Ørstavik's mastery of perspective and clean, crackling sentences prevent sentimentality or sensationalism from trailing this story of a woman and her accidentally untended child. Both of them long for love, but the desire lines of the book are beautifully crooked. Jon wants his mother, and to be let in out of the cold...the cold that seems a character throughout this excellent novel of near misses.

Claire Vaye Watkins, New York Times Book Review

[Love] is a ruthless analysis of the formal structure of dread—and while the original is two decades old now, the English translation could not have arrived at a more appropriate moment.

Nicholas Dames, Public Books

[Q]uite simply, exceptional...If this book is an indication of Ørstavik's talent, then translations of the rest of her work can't come soon enough... [Love] is a short, suspenseful winter's tale crafted in beautifully spare and precise prose. It can be read in a few hours but its singular effects haunt the reader for a long time afterward.

Malcolm Forbes, Star Tribune

[A] haunting masterpiece... The deceptively simple novel is slow-burning, placing each character into situations associated with horror—entering an unfamiliar house, accepting a ride from a stranger—and the result is a magnificent tale.

Publishers Weekly, starred review

Love is Hanne Ørstavik’s strongest book.

Karl Ove Knausgaard

In this swift, elegantly constructed novel, Hanne Ørstavik masterfully conveys a sense of entwined dread and longing that doesn’t let up for a second. From the opening page to the powerfully moving finale, this tale of a mother and son is riveting. The characters’ inner lives are illumined by a beautiful eeriness, and the translation’s precision and clarity do justice to the novel’s intensities. Read it: it’ll bat around your brain for a long time afterward.

Martha Cooley

Love is hard, clear, merciless, and utterly compelling – a prism of the many daily ways we miss each other.

Rebecca Dinerstein

Hanne Ørstavik crafts an atmosphere of unease out of the ordinary. An old man giving a young boy a pair of skates, a man inviting a woman over for coffee, in Ostavik’s hands these seemingly harmless moments become filled with an underlying sense of dread. Longing and loneliness fill these pages, while always there is a sense of the impossibility of real understanding and connection between people. Ørstavik is a true observer of human nature and Love is her masterpiece.

Emily Ballaine, Green Apple Books on the Park

Prizewinning Norwegian Ørstavik follows the parallel courses of a single mother and her 8-year-old son during a night that moves unrelentingly toward tragedy... A nightmarish sense of impending doom hangs over these carefully detailed, tightly controlled pages... icy cold to the core.

Kirkus Reviews

[Ørstavik] gives nothing away for free, there is no overdriven emotion, no sentimentality nor pandering to her public. . . . But thanks to a language rich in its precision, with no loss of simplicity, it becomes an experience to follow her to her conclusion. One knows that one has read something substantial which one would not wish to be without.

Love explores the insurmountable distance between people, the elementary impenetrability of them, and tells us about the difficulty of reading the signals of others. In short, dry sentences, Ørstavik relates all the postponed, the possibilities that hang over our lives.


Point of view works like a spot of living light in this slender book, with deft perspective shifts occurring between Vibeke, a hardworking, distracted mother, and Jon, her curious, lonely young son, on nearly every page. Mother and son are each on a separate journey, but the reader watches their whole shared life, as memories are folded expertly between breaths in Orstavik's urgent, visually vivid present tense--what a lovely shape. Nothing is wasted. And I'm astonished by the precision and poetry of Martin Aitken's translation from the Norwegian.

Gina Balibrera, Literati Bookstore

Written with a precise elegance...builds to an ending as lonely as our characters. Beautiful and affecting, no word is wasted in this perfect winter read.

Kelsey Westenberg, Pilsen Community Books

Once in a while, there comes a book that takes you by surprise. An unassuming, low-key, seemingly ordinary novel which turns into an experience that makes you fully understand why you love reading so much. … Ørstavik’s writing is impeccable, perfect, as haunting as the beauty of her homeland…[Love] will leave you speechless, the way a well-written novella has to do..this one of the most beautiful books I’ve read this year.

Amalia Gavea, The Opinionated Reader

[A] creeping sense of unease is racheted up by the cool, lucid prose and how the paragraphs shift between mother and son, clarifying how close they should be and how close they aren’t... Multi-award winner Ørstavik offers an unsettling read that most will enjoy.

Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

As is often the case, sobriety is the condition of emotion: Hanne Ørstavik has perfectly put into practice this principle to offer a beautiful novel simple and subtle, meditative and moving.

A.N., L'Humanité

Love is effectively atmospheric... neatly textured with its back and forths... A disturbing little read, nicely, darkly told.

Michael Orthofer, The Complete Review

Love can change everything. And it does in this edgy, elegiac and beautifully written novel...What you think will happen doesn't—and what does breaks your heart.

Kerri Arsenault,

Ørstavik invites the readers into her two characters’ innermost thoughts, seamlessly switching back and forth between their perspectives— often within the same paragraph. Their stories unfold breathlessly close together on the page, suggesting the strong link between mother and son that Vibeke’s actions betray.... a creeping sense of tragedy brews within the story...Though Love is only one hundred and twenty-five pages, its careful craft and beautiful details make it worth savoring—right to its haunting but inevitable conclusion.

Samantha Aper, Zyzzyva

What was so striking to me about this slim novel was how quiet and circumspect it was given the emotional gut punch it delivered. ‘Deceptive’ is right, sneaky even, and at the risk of falling into the trap of stereotyping Norwegian lit, the power of quietly mushrooming foreboding is strong with Ørstavik. As I happen to be flying over the dark and snowy north of Norway as I write this, looking out my window at the icy fjords below, I feel the creep, even at 35,000 feet.
M. Bartley Seigel, Words Without Borders

Love is a beautiful novella of beguiling simplicity, and Martin Aitken’s translation has brought it over into an English that is both familiar and alien.

Erik Noonan, Asymptote Journal

What could be a simple family story is instead filled with foreboding and anxiety, showcasing the marvels and dangers pulsating just below the surface in our everyday lives. Longing and hopefulness fills these brief pages, leaving readers with a sense of wonder for the average: how a day can be so filled with newness and potential, with menace and tragedy.

Laura Farmer, The Gazette

Hanne Ørstavik’s exquisite Love, so elemental in its materials and technique, embodies a profound recognition – namely that every search for clarity and connection must proceed through the full awareness of what constrains us.

Ron Slate, On The Seawall

From the first page, Ørstavik’s understated prose and sparse dialogue trace a relationship between mother and son that is as dry and powdery as Jon’s failed snowballs. As the novel flits effortlessly between these two points of view, the reader is swept up in two separate egos, each on a muted quest for the human connections they are unable to accept from each other....Martin Aitken is to be applauded for so conscientiously bringing this soft-spoken, full-hearted novel into the English language.

The Arkansas International

Love is a book that uses sophisticated literary techniques to harrow readers and keep us in a state of trepidation (and confusion) on these points, right up until its final pages, breathlessly uncertain of the outcome.

Abe Nemon, The Old Book Appreciator

The effect of Orstavik’s narrative, alternating abruptly between Jon’s story and that of his mother, is beautifully devastating. The prose (wonderfully translated) and pacing set a tone of foreboding tension and impending doom. A short, but very deep, and vibrantly alive novel.

Lori, Interabang Books

Hanne’s deceptively uncomplicated prose is an exacting task for any translator. Everything’s below the surface. There’s a lightness of touch to her sentences, and a movingly human insight that makes the writing as luminous as the snow of northern Norway where the book is set.

Martin Aitken

Love is a book that uses sophisticated literary techniques to harrow readers and keep us in a state of trepidation (and confusion) on these points, right up until its final pages, breathlessly uncertain of the outcome.

The Old Book Appreciator

Ørstavik reminds us in this novel that love can be a dreadful thing too – when we love we trust, we assume all will be well continue as it always has. A child’s love is unquestioning and innocently trusting. Ørstavik understands the evil that lies in the betrayal of that – however accidental or merely thoughtless that betrayal is.


Vibeke...opens up so many difficult questions about love, about motherhood, about empathy, and also, potentially, what it means when we “like” a fictional character in a novel and when we “hate” them, and why we like some characters and not others, and whether we tend to dislike certain types of characters more than others, and what that might mean.

Strange Bookfellows

[I]n Love, the closeness of the perspectives, the cramming of them together, as if the mother and son are one person, and yet clearly not, feels less about narrative, and more about the limitations of love. We think we know another person, we feel settled in another person, and yet, perhaps every other consciousness is entirely a mystery. That’s the power of this particular book. The tiny emotional and atmospheric shifts are often barely perceptible, and yet they add up to much more.

Anita Felicelli, Los Angeles Review of Books

Love is a deep and vibrantly alive novel... beautifully devastating... This is not your typical love story but rather the sharp-edged account of a boy whose need for attention from his heedless mother is heartfelt and full of yearning.

Lori Feathers, World Literature Today

[Love is] a remarkable novel that will linger long after.

SF Gate

[T]here is an inescapable and escalating sense of anxiety as the story unfolds... In many ways Love seems to be taking place within a threshold, an in-between time, a twilight & dawnlight moment that may or may not be completely real... [A] dreamlike adventure... poised at the brink of a looming tragedy.

Michelle Bailat-Jones, Necessary Fiction

It is rare to read a novel where the mundane feels so thrilling...The emotional tension Hanne Ørstavik created in Love is what makes this a standout read. Martin Aitken was able to provide a brilliant translation from the Norwegian and I can see myself dipping into this one again and again.

Michael, Knowledge Lost

As one reads this short but compelling novel, the absence of love, or of love expressed dominates every page.

Book Word

The novella takes place over a single night as Vibeke goes off on her own to pursue a love interest and Jon wanders around his neighborhood and meets unusual strangers who might possibly put him in danger. As the night drags on, the cold and the dark heighten the atmosphere of peril, and the characters struggle against the loneliness that presses in on them.
Nghiem Tran, Electric Literature

Each sentence, seemingly straightforward in its simplicity, makes its small contribution to a building sense of dread, the threat of disaster. This snow globe of a novel—small, contained, twinkling within its wintry night—ultimately speaks of vast emotional distances and explores the consequences of where we choose to direct our love.
Marisa Grizenko, Plain Pleasures

Winner of the 2019 PEN Translation Prize.

In an interview with Romanian critic Silvia Dumitrache, Ørstavik discusses how her own experiences being a single mother informed the writing of Love.

Translator Martin Aitken discusses the urge that compelled him to leave academia for the world of literary translation in an interview for the Santa Fe Writers Project, Translator’s Cut.

“The novel is as tightly constructed as a box, and this is as sly a bit of unreliable narration as I have read in a long while,” writes Nicholas Lezard, literary critic for The Guardian in this review where he handpicks Ørstavik’s English debut, The Blue Room, translated from the Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin, as one of the best paperbacks of 2014.

Read an excerpt from Ørstavik’s The Blue Room.

In light of Love‘s selection as a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award, Lit Hub interviewed Ørstavik and  Aitken.

Love was featured in Nghiem Tran’s list of ghostly short novels in Electric Literature.

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