In It's Fine By Me, on his first day at Veitvet School in 1965, 13-year-old Audun Sletten meets Arvid Jansen a young man who would become his best, and one of his only, friends. "A few girls were skipping rope, and coming straight towards me was a boy on crutches
I glanced left and right, but there was no one else by the fence. He had dark, curly hair and boots like mine, with KINKS written on the one and HOLLIES on the other
I had decided not to make friends with anyone at this school, but this bloke was hard to refuse."
Though he plays a secondary role to Audun in It's Fine By Me, Arvid Jansen will be familiar to Per Petterson fans; he has starred in four of the author's other works, each of which describes the character's life at a different stage, from the tender age of six all the way through his late thirties.
In an article in The Guardian (January 2009), Petterson explains about Arvid: "He's not my alter ego, he's my stunt man. Things happen to him that could have happened to me, but didn't. He has my mentality." Although Arvid was not created as an autobiographical character, there are similarities between the two men. Tragically, in real life, Petterson's father, mother, brother, and nephew all died one night when a ferry on which they were travelling caught fire. In In the Wake, Arvid suffers the trauma of a similar situation. "What [Arvid] goes though in 14 days, I went through in two years," Petterson says.
Though we don't know whether Arvid will make appearances in Petterson's future works, we can only hope he does. Either way, it's a rare treat to get to know this character so well in the context of so many different stories.
This article was originally published in October 2012, and has been updated for the
September 2013 paperback release.
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