Stavanger, a city of no more than 125,000 souls, is the oil capital of Norway and thus one of the most affluent places in Europe, the gleaming modern office blocks that belie its millennial heritage sharing its striking geographical location with wooden houses and spacious villas with gardens that predate the oil boom. But like all such communities, Stavanger has a section that is distinctly on the wrong side of the tracks, the flotsam and jetsam of the underworld: petty criminals, drug dealers,prostitutes and losers. These are the people that so fascinate the novelist and Norwegian TV personality, Tore Renberg, as well as the film director Erik Skoldbjaerg (whose film based on the NOKAS robbery in Stavanger in April 2004 was shot on location in the city) and the Stavanger-born actor, Stian Kristiansen, who starred in the film Mongoland before moving on to become a film director himself. But it is the latest novel by Tore Renberg, See You Tomorrow (Arcadia Books, £14.99), that Stavanger is likely to be fixed in the wider public’s imagination. More black comedy than Nordic noir, but essentially sui generis, this 500-page blockbuster flies like a helicopter for a period of three days sweeping down over the homes and other places of action of a dysfunctional group of people with interlocking lives, all of whom who have dark secrets or what psychiatrists would call personality disorders. The cameos range from the horrific to the hilarious, often a shocking combination of both. Renberg has an extraordinary eye for detail, not just for what the eye can see but also for what the characters think, even if they don’t always articulate their thoughts, otherwise often expressed with the only points of reference they can summon up: heavy metal music, horror movies and the odd snatch of literature half-remembered from school. The author brilliantly enters the minds of both his ungainly adult characters and the turbulent teenagers, so that the words, thoughts and actions erupt with the colour and glare and unpredictability of a volcano. Renberg’s is an astounding literary voice and I have not been so excited about a novel for years. The translator, Seán Kinsella, also deserves much credit for a brilliant piece of work. Read it. You won’t regret it.
Archive for October, 2014
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 26th October, 2014
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 24th October, 2014
The next two years are likely to be a challenging time for the Liberal Democrats, both in the run-up to next May’s general election — when the Party is in danger of losing half its seats, on current poll ratings — and in reconnecting with an electorate that is disenchanted with Westminster politics and in a mood to blame the Liberal Democrats for some of the Conservatives’ harsher policies. We need to develop and communicate a fresh, radical Liberal narrative, as well as championing the real achievements that we have made as part of the Coalition government: raising the tax threshold, bringing in the pupil premium, highlighting mental illness as a health and social care priority, and so on. It’s essential that we have a Federal Executive that is up to the challenges of maintaining morale among members and Party staff, as well as efficiency in delivery, building on the recent welcome increase in membership and asserting the Liberal Democrats’ importance as a vibrant force in local, regional, national and European politics. We also need to boost our human and financial resources, to help level the political playing field. That should help us rebuild our councillor base, develop winnable parliamentary seats for the future and be ready and prepared to reverse our diminished force in the European Parliament in the elections of 2019.
I have served the Party in many ways over the years, as a candidate at local, regional, national and European levels (including being a London borough councillor for a while). I was on the Federal Policy Committee for several years and chaired two of its working parties, and I am currently a member of the International Relations Committee and the delegation to the ALDE Council (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe). I was Chair of London Liberal Democrats 2010-2012. I now feel tat the best way I continue that service would be as a member of the Federal Executive, helping steer the Party through troubled waters. I thus invite those who are able to vote in the Party’s internal elections to give me a high preference on the ballot.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 21st October, 2014
Tim Farron is coming to the end of his four-year term as President of the Liberal Democrats, but he’s still juggling being the campaigning MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale with the demands of the rubber chicken circuit. This evening he was in Mortlake, to open the new constituency offices of Richmond Park LibDems, at 65a Sheen Road. Being Richmond, there were not only distinctly upmarket canapés with the rather good wine, but even a display of original artwork and Liberal memorabilia on the walls. In fact, the front room facing the street will act as a small gallery for local artists to show and sell their work, outside of election times. In his speech, with his usual humour Tim offered good cheer to the local party and the tireless PPC Robin Meltzer by pointing to the example of David Penhaligon, who won the previously safe Conservative seat of Truro in October 1974 at a time when the Liberal Party elsewhere was slipping back. Even more remarkably, Penhaligon vastly increased his majority in 1979, when the party was suffering from the fallout of the Jeremy Thorpe affair and Mrs Thatcher swept to power. Sometimes this phenomenon of bucking the trend is somewhat trivialised in the LibDem campaign slogan of “where you work, you win”, which isn’t always true, as many councillors defending their seats over the past four years have sadly discovered. But it is possible sometimes to pull off a remarkable victory with an inspirational candidate and a truly dedicated team behind him or her. Tim himself, of course, has made his own seat about as solid a LibDem fiefdom as it’s possible to be in England, so one hopes that in the run-up to next May’s difficult general election he will be able to get about around the country still, motivating people. Meanwhile, whichever woman wins the contest to succeed him as President on 1 January is going to have a hard act to follow.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th October, 2014
Burgenland is the least populated of all Austria’s states, a jagged sliver of land bordering Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia. As such, it was the ideal location for this year’s Congress of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), when our minds were turned to the fall of Communism in Central Europe 25 years ago. It was fascinating to hear the story of the Pan-European picnic organised on the Austrian-Hungarian border in the summer of 1969, which was one of the triggers for the reunification if the continent after four decades of Cold War. These days, there is plenty of cross-border regional cooperation between neighbouring districts. But that does not mean that everyone lives exactly the same way all across the European Union or indeed sees things the same way. It was particularly striking that some of the Hungarian participants did not share the deep concerns in Western Europe about the way that the ruling Fidesz party has drifted from liberal democracy to a degree of authoritarianism. Any complacency about Europe’s future was further shattered by an impassioned presentation from a representative from Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who spoke of the realities of War and of our need to stand up to the Russians.
The Latvian European Commissioner-designate, Valdis Dombrovskis, reminded us of the stiff economic challenges still facing the eurozone, in particular, and a Spanish delegate pointed out that there are now about 15,000 unemployed journalists in Spain. Life is certainly not getting easier for the profession, not least given the pressures of censorship and self-censorship, intimidation in countries such as Russia and the misuse of anti-terrorism laws to curb media freedom in the UK, Turkey and elsewhere.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 14th October, 2014
Last night the British House of Commons voted by 274 to 12 in favour of a motion to recognise the state of Palestine. Though the vote has no binding implication for the UK Government (whose Ministers abstained, as is usual in such circumstances), its moral force should not be underestimated. Coming soon after Sweden’s announcement that it will indeed recognise Palestine, and ahead of similar parliamentary votes in France, Ireland, Denmark and Finland, the House of Commons vote is bound to influence EU thinking on the matter. Already, two-thirds of the member states of the United Nations have given Palestine full recognition, and it is well time that the EU and its members did the same. Israel’s government is, of course, furious, and even more contemptuous of Europe than ever. But Bibi Netanyahu should think hard about the fact that he and his colleagues have outraged even formerly pro-Israeli opinion in much of Britain by their flagrant violation of both the spirit and the letter of international law, not least by authorising ongoing Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank. It is in Israel’s own interests to make sure a two state solution is viable, but time for that has almost run out. In the meantime, the British government should accept the clear feelings of parliament and of a large body of British public opinion that giving the Palestinians the dignity and diplomatic clout of state recognition is long overdue.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 10th October, 2014
Fifty years ago this year, the then leader of the Liberal Party, Jo Grimond, went to Manchester Grammar School (MGS, then a direct grant grammar school, rather than the independent establishment it is now) to talk to the boys in the lecture theatre. This was during the 1964 general election campaign, and was an extraordinary act of altruism, as none of us (I was 14 at the time) would be old enough to vote — the voting age those days was 21. But what he said inspired me: his passionate, radical vision of an internationalist society, in which Britain would be a core member of the then European Communities, but in which each individual person would be equal and respected and able to create their own future. I rushed off to join the local Young Liberals and for the next half century my political path was clear. And even if as yet I have not succeeded In getting elected to the European Parliament, Jo’s passion and commitment still drive me forward. I recalled all this this afternoon, when I spoke to sixth formers studying politics at MGS, through whose doors I had not passed since leaving school in March 1969. In my day, we were not allowed to study anything about politics or current affairs, so it was good to speak with youths who were both intelligent and engaged. I deliberately did not make a party political broadcast on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, as it really is for each of them to choose which ideology or indeed personalities that attract them most. Inevitably, on the day after UKIP’s impressive by-election performance, not only in Clacton but the more immediately relevant Heywood and Middleton, UKIP was in the air. but I hope my expounding the concepts of internationalism as opposed to narrow nationalism may have had some effect. And I did urge those who showed especial interest to get involved in their local constituencies, whichever party they choose to support.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 7th October, 2014
As this year’s LibDem autumn conference was held unusually later this year — to make way for the Scottish referendum — and the SOAS university term has already started, I was only able to spend the first three days up in Glasgow, which confirmed my impression from last year of being a really lovely and friendly city. There seemed to be fewer conference reps present this time, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm, much to the frustration of journalists keen to do the whole thing down. There were some excellent debates, for example on overcoming poverty worldwide, as well as a raft of set-piece speeches by government Ministers. I spoke in the debate on the sensitive subject of tackling child abuse, a bit emotionally perhaps, but I was grateful for the huge sense of support in the hall. As always the fringe offered the best parts of conference and I deliberately went to a few that were outside my usual policy comfort zone, learning a lot from the session on the proposed Nature and Well-being Act, in particular. Of course, next May’s election was at the back of Conference-goers’ minds, but although everyone expects it to be quite difficult the party is nonetheless braced to bring in the best results possible.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 2nd October, 2014
The painter Mark Edwards, who has a solo exhibition at the Catto Gallery in Hampstead until 21 October, has been exploring a mysterious imaginary landscape, the White Wood, for the past seven years, the result of which is a captivating, eerie series of images of stark trees, empty buildings, steam trains, crows and a black Scottie dog, along with a cast of anonymous men dressed in long coats and wearing bowler or Homburg hats, sometimes singly, sometimes in pairs or small groups, occasionally chatting, but more often staring up at something out of shot or down on the ground. The couples inevitably remind one of the Thompson Twins in Hergé’s Tintin, and there are other Belgian echoes — of Magritte and Delvaux, though all nonetheless in Mark Edwards’ own singular voice. Photographic reproductions do not justice to the complex texture of the originals, with their trademark snow, piled on with a palette knife so thick one could reach out and touch it. The artist lives in Scotland, staring out at the North Sea from his kitchen widow, but his landscapes are set in nowhere and everywhere in Europe, wild and desolate. The Danish flag that produces a bright flash of red in one picture is mere happenchance, for tonal effect. This is not a nod to Nordic noir, but a lighter and yet still somewhat disturbing reality. Well worth a visit (and a purchase).