Twitter Facebook Tumblr Pinterest Instagram

« older | Main Largehearted Boy Page | newer »

July 19, 2017

Book Notes - Gunnhild Øyehaug "Knots"


In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Gunnhild Øyehaug's proves herself one of our finest stortytellers in her short fiction collection Knots, a book marvelously varied in form and theme.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Formally playful, poignant, understated, and often acutely funny, Øyehaug's English-language debut teems with humanity . . . A near-perfect collection about the knots we tie ourselves into and the countless ways we intertwine in the pursuit of sex, love, compassion, and family."

In her own words, here is Gunnhild Øyehaug's Book Notes music playlist for her short fiction collection Knots:

Dear reader of the Largehearted Boy,

I'll be honest: I don't like being a DJ. When I have friends over, I usually ask them to pick the music. When I put mine on, it's feels as if I'm showing them my secrets, unfiltered, and usually I just like to transform that – whatever it is – into texts. I don't want my friends to know that I'm walking around feeling like a sentence in Radiohead's "How to disappear completely", or that I identify completely with a disharmonic point in a piano tune by Shostakovich, or that I start dancing unvoluntarily if I've put Jason Derulo "Kiss the Sky" on. But I'm making an exception for this blog, under considerable doubt. And with one, single rule; I'm going to have to be honest. I'm going to make a list of some of the songs I listned to while writing Knots. Knots was published in Norway in 2004, and I'd written it over a period of six years.

Aaliyah feat. DMX: "Come Back in One Piece"
First, it's the rhythm and the bass-line. So laid back, and so teasing. Second, it's the structure, it's a bit like a play. A man rapping that he's a dog and also grrring like a dog. It's seems to be about a man who's "gonna be who I am", and a woman singing something like "I understand your nature, your need for some GRRRRRR and I accept it, the only thing I ask of you is that you come home in one piece". An extremely understanding woman! I don't think any of my characters in Knots would be able to share her point of view. They are just not that kind. Still, for me: I listened to it to get out of my own head. And to be honest: I think that some of the characters in Knots should listen to this song, just so that they could get a break from themselves. And maybe even dance and forget about their trouble.

Lily Allen: "Hard Out Here"
Even so, I think many of my characters would probably benefit more from listening to this song. This one didn't exist around the time of writing Knots, so that would of course be a chronological anomalia, but I'm certain that for some of the characters in Knots, both men and women, it would have been relieving to hear someone sing "forget your balls and grow a pair of tits".

JS Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, played by Glenn Gould
I have to list the whole recording, since it's quite rare that I only listen to one when I first put it on. And this I would listen to, writing Knots. Because it shook me, it goes – with all its variations – straight into the core of being a human being. And it also inspired me, how the theme is varied, repeated, altered, how it occurs and reoccurs throughout the 48 preludes and fugues. I suppose the fugue has been a model in a way in writing the stories, in how they are connected, how themes occur and reoccur throughout Knots. If I should have chosen one that in particular expresses some kind of desperate mood that I think is present in Knots, it would be no 2 in C Minor, BWW 847: Prelude. If there is a perfect short story, it sounds something like this. It's the only one of the 48 that I've tried to play on a piano. My fingers just wouldn't cooperate. I decided to write like this in stead. What a crazy thought.

Radiohead: "How to Disappear Completely"
If there ever was a record I'd like to transform into a book, it would be Kid A. It's been a huge inspiration. Not so much by its lyrics, but by its music and the way it is composed. I loved how one song slided into the next, how the end of a song became the starting point for another, and I loved the little details of sound, see-through bits of information, something sounds like a flag flapping against its pole, something sounds like an ice-cream van stopping outside your house, I love that it's mood is a mix of hope, anger, love, loneliness, fear, thought, etc. "How to Disappear Completely" is the one song I've heard that completely captures the feeling of how to disappear completely, perfectly. Some of my characters are probably born from that feeling. And the line "I'll go where I please" is also a great motto when writing stories.

PJ Harvey: "Kamikaze"
PJ Harvey’s different albums make the soundtrack of all of my books. In a forthcoming novel, Wait, Blink (FSG, 2018), the characters are, doubtfully, leaving their favourite album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea and listening with eyes wide open to White Chalk, PJ Harvey is also the role model for one of the characters, an angry bass player. I think the music video of "This is love" was what pointed me in her direction, I couldn't believe the power of her voice and of her performance. It's that power which is so present in Kamikaze, anger and frustration and also satire on behalf of both the woman and the man in the song - "where the fuck was I looking, when all his horses came in". It might not seem like that, but a lot of the inner universes in Knots would respond to the force of "Kamikaze".

Eric Satie: "Trois gnossiennes"
And then there is Satie. As "Kamikaze"'s counterpoint, perhaps. I do think that my writing springs from counterparts, to me a text doesn't work if there is no dynamics at play. Dynamics springs from counterparts, amongst other things. But writing to me is a lot about finding a balance between what's dark and what's light, about surface and depths. Satie is also the only sheet music I've been able to read, and play. In Knots, Satie is discussed over dinner between three friends, a couple and a friend and is sadly made the starting point for adultery, quite doomed for disaster, I think.

Nick Cave: "Are you the One that I've been Waiting for"
This is a question, that haunts my characters in Knots. In one of the texts this song is reflected upon by a character, she wonders how Arthur Rimbaud's mother, Vitalie, at the age of 28 managed to meet an army officer, although she led a very confined life. My character decides to believe in Cave's words; that it's possible to long someone to you: "I knew you'd find me, cause I longed you here".

Arvo Pärt: "Für Alina"
I listened a lot to Arvo Pärt when I was writing Knots. All of his recordings, but this one in particular. Why? He says, in an interview you can watch here: "This is how I imagine music. It's like food. Like a field full of grain". What Björk said to him, in an interview; "I like your music very, very much because you give space to the listener. He can go inside, and live there". I'm with Björk.

Kylie Minogue: "Come into my World"
I like the song, but it was really the music video made by the french director Michel Gondry that inspired me when I wrote Knots. The Work of Director Michel Gondry appeared in 2003, and everything on this DVD, from commercials to music videos to the documentary about himself is incredible. In this video, Kylie comes out of a store with a plastic bag of clothes that she's had for pressing, and just walks around a small, cosy corner of a town, she actually seems to be walking in circle, because suddenly she passes the "PRESSING"-shop again, and a second Kylie wearing the same clothes, singing the same tune, comes out of the shop with the same plastic bag and starts walking close by the first Kylie. Everything doubles, triples, and quadruples itself and themselves, in the end there are four identical Kylies, four identical parking guards dressed in blue giving a car a ticket, etc. I'm fascinated by the small reality twists that Gondry makes, how time and space is always stretched in his work.

Roy Andersson: Songs from the second floor
I am aware of the fact that this is not a song, but a movie, and that I'm trying to cheat, by relying on the word "songs" in the film's title, hoping it won't be noticed. But there is actually a scene in this magical, mind-blowing movie where the characters are singing: we see people in a very crowded compartment of the tube, all with worn, grey faces, and worn, grey clothes, they stand there waiting to get home to their miserable lives, and then suddenly, simultaneously, they start singing, an opera aria. If you are looking for an example on how Brecht's "verfremdung" might be done heart-grippingly, look no further.

Björk: "Hyperballad"
Some of the characters in Knots are somewhat uptight. I think they would recognize themselves in this one by Björk: "I go through a list, before you wake up, so I can feel happier and be safe again" - and the music, which is so beautiful and comforting despite it's character who wonders how it would be to hear her own body slamming against the rocks, almost makes you forget about the cliff and the rocks beneath. The music video to this song, made by Michel Gondry, is also one of the things that life has to offer you that you should definitely not miss.

Best wishes,
Gunnhild Øyehaug

Gunnhild Øyehaug and Knots links:

the author's Wikipedia page

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review
ZYZZYVA review

The Leonard Lopate Show interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Largehearted Boy's 2017 Summer Reading Suggestions

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists

submit to reddit