Make no mistake, Tore Renberg’s See You Tomorrow (Arcadia, 2014) is the hardest boiled of thrillers. Brash, gruesome, riveting, bitter and full on, it requires a courageous reader. It is, as you would expect of a thriller from the Arcadia stable, an action-packed page-turner. But it’s cleverer and more rewarding than that. It’s a terrifying insight into how people can become bound into a repellent, immoral and perverted code of behaviour which, for them, becomes justifiable, even something to be proud of, as the only means to survive in the a world which has done them no favours. What emerges is a questioning of the human condition, delivered without judgment, which is intelligent, engaging and ultimately troubling. Late night reading is not recommended.
The sun is shining on Stavanger and it’s hot. Unseasonably hot for late September. Sunlight burns a rare spotlight on the lives of eleven usually unnoticed misfits, left behind by Stavanger’s rapid, oil-funded gentrification. Among them are petty criminals with a philosophically flawed but pragmatic code of ethics, their lives ringed with heavy-metal and horror films, dishing out brutality in paltry revenge for that which they have received; teenager Sandra, blinded by faith in a God who doesn’t bless her and fatefully repressed by parental, middle-class expectations is infatuated with a bright-eyed and devastatingly handsome local delinquent who refuses to discuss his past; Pal, left behind more than once, is bewildered his own inability to live an ordinary and struggling to keep up appearances and single-handedly bring up his two girls. He’s also a secret and unsuccessful gambler who deals with his mounting debt by tipping bills into the litter bin at a nearby bus stop; Cecilie is awkward, abused and wonderfully powerful but she doesn’t know whose baby she is carrying. Rudi, always super-horny, whose Asperger’s-like tendencies compel him to over-value routine and under-value the ability to stop talking, proves much of the darkly comic humour: one might think of him as a lovable rogue, if he didn’t enjoy dishing out ritualistic violence quite so much. Jani, hilariously, haphazardly tries to use his own mangled version oil-rich corporate conglomerates’ management techniques to his dangerously pathetic local gang of four.
Over the course of three days their stories continually collide, causing explosions which propel them off course, all of them, scratching and scrambling to regain a small portion of control. There’s so much about the bonds that bind people and the casual cruelty that breaks them apart. Out of it comes a relentless narrative which will revolt the faint-hearted and reward thoughtful thrill-seekers.
Renberg has acknowledged William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (1930) as an influence on See You Tomorrow. The parallels in style are obvious – interlaced narratives told from different perspectives; short, sharp chapters, constantly challenging the reader to keep up and work it out. But there is something deeply intimate about Renberg’s style – his benevolent interest in characters, his sympathy for their circumstances, all wrapped round with the sometimes comforting and sometimes confrontational sounds of music and poetry – that makes See You Tomorrow distinct. I never know where I am with Faulkner. Renberg gives signposts!
At one point, as I closed the book (I had to occasionally, just to catch my breath) it struck me that fellow thriller-seeker Liz Barnsley would love this book. I quick stop over at her blog, Liz Loves to Read, proved me right. She gave it “Five shiny ‘do not miss this book’ stars and an elephant”. I’m not sure about the elephant, but See You Tomorrow is certainly 550 pages of zestful verve for which the phrase page-turner might have been invented.
About Tore Renberg
Tore Renberg burst onto the literary scene in 1995 with a blow-away collection of short stories, Sleeping Tangle, winning the prestigious Tarjei Vesaas Debutant Prize. Two of his novels have been turned into films. He is a respected literary critic and broadcaster in his native Norway. See You Tomorrow is the first of his works to be translated into English.
See You Tomorrow by Tore Renberg, translated into English by Sean Kinsella, was published in the UK by Arcadia Books in October 2014.