When I log into Facebook or Twitter I’m now met with a plethora of inspirational quotes, it seems the social media generation is hell bent on improving themselves. I can’t help thinking though that for every influencer there’s someone else being influenced, for every person who wins there is somebody else behind them, for every achiever there is somebody else who didn’t quite achieve. Who gives the underachieving, influenced, loser a voice? And it can’t be too big a voice or else they’ll be trampling on somebody else?
Enter Kjersti A. Skomsvold, from Norway, to put a bit of perspective on this madness. In her short, first novel we are introduced to Mathea, possibly one of the most insignificant and lonely people to ever be put into the spotlight. She is very old and her day consists of avoiding other people, reading the obituaries, watching the news and talking to Epsilon (her husband who you suspect throughout has shed his mortal coil). As Mathea realises she has only a short time left to make her mark on the world she decides to break with all tradition and heads outside wearing her husband’s watch just in case somebody asks her the time – then she would have been of use. Mathea is so insignificant she spends her day wandering her flat contemplating the green carpet, that looks like grass, and going through minor events – some so minor that they actually highlight her insignificance.
I go out into the hallway and sit on the floor in front of the desk. There’s a pile of old telephone books in the top drawer. If someone were ever to ask me if I had a hobby, I’d tell them, yes, I’m a collector. The photo album is in the bottom drawer and the stiff pages creak when I open it. Most of the pictures are from before I was born.
She makes a time capsule and buries it in the back yard of her units (only for it to be dug up and thrown out when a flagpole is installed to celebrate the fact that her units are the cleanest in the neighbourhood). She was hit by lightning twice but when returning to school it was on a significant regal day so nobody noticed, she can’t make eye contact with her neighbours, let alone speak to them, she buys jam even though she can’t open the jars, never gathering up the courage to ask the checkout staff to loosen them for her and more. But the real sadness and reality of her loneliness comes from her ruminations on life.
I identify with bananas, for not only am I hunched over, I’ve also got a flower without sex organs and fruit without seed, and therefore I am, according to Buddha, meaningless. And I also believe Buddha was on to something where the hopelessness of all earthly endeavours is concerned, because I feel hopeless; I stole from the grocery store, have Age B. the time, buried a time capsule, baked rolls, turned up the hot plate, tried to plan my own funeral, tried to become a tree, and then the most difficult thing of all – I sued the telephone, which was really too much for me – and yet I’m still sitting here in my apartment and I’m just as afraid of living life as I am of dying. And wasn’t it Buddha who also said that everything is suffering, and I think that if I’d been religious, I would’ve been a Buddhist, and if I’d been a fruit, I would’ve been a banana.
This is a tragic tale, told with humour, but another stripped back bleak and depressing tale – is 2013 the year the anti-depressant chemical companies started funding the publication of novels? At only 147 pages and small in size this is a quick read, but not an easy one – the title holds the key, it’s a novel that brings some perspective back into life.