Summary and book reviews of Before I Burn by Gaute Heivoll

Before I Burn

By Gaute Heivoll

Before I Burn
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2014,
    336 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Bob Sauerbrey

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About this Book

Book Summary

An international literary sensation about an arsonist on the loose in rural Norway and the young man haunted by the story.

In 1970s Norway, an arsonist targets a small town for one long, terrifying month. One by one, buildings go up in flames. Suspicion spreads among the neighbors as they wonder if one of their own is responsible. But as the heat and panic rise, new life finds a way to emerge. Amid the chaos, only a day before the last house is set afire, the community comes together for the christening of a young boy named Gaute Heivoll. As he grows up, stories about the time of fear and fire become deeply engrained in his young mind until, as an adult, he begins to retell the story. At the novel's apex the lives of Heivoll's friends and neighbors mix with his own life, and the identity of the arsonist and his motivations are slowly revealed.

Based on the true account of Norway's most dramatic arson case, Before I Burn is a powerful, gripping breakout novel from an exceptionally talented author.

Excerpt
Before I Burn by Gaute Heivoll

It was dark in the living room, but the windows, strangely shiny and black, gleamed as though from a dim light outside in the garden. She walked to the window and peered out. The moon had risen above the treetops to the south, she saw the cherry tree, which was still in blossom, and had it not been for the mist she would have been able to see right down to Lake Livannet in the west.

A car with no lights on drove past the house and continued at a slow pace along the road towards the collection of homesteads known as Mæsel. The car was black, or perhaps red; she couldn't tell. Not moving at any great speed, it finally rounded the bend and was gone. She stood by the window waiting for one, two, perhaps three minutes. Then she went into the bedroom.

'Olav,' she whispered. 'Olav.'

No answer. He was in his usual deep sleep. She hurried back into the living room, knocked into the chair arm, hurting her thigh, ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

So this is a memoir about events in Heivoll's youth, his own growth, and his developing interest in writing about the pyromaniac that caused chaos in Finsland, Norway in 1978, right? Well, no. Gaute Heivoll insists that he has written a novel, although he does not include the novelist's usual disclaimer that any similarity to real persons is coincidental. However, the story is, at least in part, fiction, and Heivoll's sensuous descriptions and compelling dialogue prove him a first rate novelist.   (Reviewed by Bob Sauerbrey).

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Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

This is not a crime novel. Except for being labeled a novel, it's not even clear that this ambitious experiment by European best-seller Heivoll qualifies as anything less than the purest metafiction.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A compulsively readable novel about identity and the increasingly blurred line between art and reality.

Booklist

Starred Review. A thrilling and poetic novel. In this dark and powerful examination of two mens obsessions, Hevioll's introspection and attention to detail are unparalleled . . . An absorbing story of compulsion, obsession, and the power of desire.

The Glasgow Herald

hanks to Heivoll's adroit and sensitive handling of his themes, this semi-autobiographical account of old crimes is elevated and transformed into a great novel.

The Independent (UK)

Heivoll has written in this novel about identifiable people, though sometimes changing their names—and this high-risk strategy has been enormously worth the risk. It is existence itself—its mental and physical pains, its blood-lust offset by the many beauties of natural forms and natural affections—that is the writer's subject, not the nailing of particularities to persons.

Author Blurb Karin Fossum
One of the best books I have ever read.

Author Blurb Karl Ove Knausgaard
Gaute Heivoll is one of the finest voices of his generation. Before I Burn is a glowing depiction of the darkness in an isolated human being's mind.

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Who Speaks For Me?

Laurence Olivier as HamletHamlet says, at the opening of Shakespeare's play:

O, that this too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!

By the final act, he says:

…we defy augury: there's a special
providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now,
'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be
now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the
readiness is all:..

A question that pervades Hamlet, as well as most of Shakespeare's plays is: Where is Shakespeare here? What is his worldview? Which character speaks for him? Part of Shakespeare's genius ...

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