Arvid Jansen: A Familiar Face: Background information when reading It's Fine By Me

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It's Fine By Me

by Per Petterson

It's Fine By Me by Per Petterson
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2012, 208 pages
    Sep 2013, 208 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elena Spagnolie

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Arvid Jansen: A Familiar Face

Print Review

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 Petterson's debut, a collection of short stories entitled Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes (Aske I munnen, san I skoa, 1987), we meet six-year-old Arvid who lives in Veitvet in Oslo. He has a father who works in a shoe factory and a Danish mother. The stories explore Arvid's relationship with his father.
  • Echoland
  • Two years later, in Petterson's first novel, Echoland (Ekkoland, 1989), Arvid is now twelve years old, spending the summer with his grandparents in Denmark in a tiny flat above his grandma's milk shop. He's a kid who lets the world worry him, and often wonders why his grandmother cries behind closed doors, what happened between his mom and dad before he was born. And why does he think so much about Bruno Angelini, the baker's son from Naples who is one of his ancestors?
  • Then – after his sidekick role in It's Fine By Me (Det er greit for meg, 1992) – Arvid returns in In the Wake (I kjølvannet, 2000). One morning, when Arvid comes-to in the doorway of a bookstore in Oslo, his grief comes rushing back to him in devastating flashes: many of those he has loved are dead, he's estranged from his wife and family, and he abandoned his career as a writer and bookseller. Now, he must confront his demons and recognize his own role in the disaster that killed his family.
  • I Curse the River of Time
  • Finally, in I Curse the River of Time (Jeg forbanner tidens elv, 2008), it is 1989 and Communism is crumbling in Europe. Arvid – now 37 – is in the throes of a divorce at the same time his mother is diagnosed with cancer. As he attempts to negotiate the present, he casts his mind back to holidays on the beach with his brothers, to courtship, and to his early working life, when, as a young Communist, he left his studies to work on a production line.

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.

Article by Elena Spagnolie

This article was originally published in October 2012, and has been updated for the September 2013 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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