The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am is an intriguing novella from Norwegian writer Kjersti A Skomsvold, which explores big themes of aging and loneliness with a light touch.
Mathea is an elderly widow, who is very aware that she has never fully participated in life and that nothing particularly special has ever happened to her. Since childhood, she has been an outsider, shy to the point of idiosyncrasy and living her life mainly indoors. She did marry and she still talks to her statistics loving husband Epsilon as if he were with her in her apartment. She muses on the one unique thing that ever happened to her – being struck twice by lightning – but knows that she will never get attention like that again.
I heard sirens and opened my eyes and saw that the whole school had gathered around me . . . Two men in white jackets came into view, they put me on a stretcher and carefully lifted me into the ambulance, as if I was someone they cared about. Then we drove away, sirens blaring, and it was as beautiful as Beethoven’s Fifth.
She spends her days knitting an endless supply of ear-warmers that no one will wear and reads the obituaries in her local paper, but the more she notices that everyone listed in them is younger than she, the more compelled she becomes to try and make some connection with the outside world.
So, she starts to go out into a world that she thought she had long ago left behind. She goes to the local shop to buy jam, but finds herself unable to open the jars. A man asks her for the time, so she starts to wear Epsilon’s old watch. She buries a time capsule with just one item in it, only for the local residents to unintentionally dig it up a few days later to make way for a flagpole. She calls the phone company and asks for her own number, hoping she’ll be remembered by operators as someone who was popular. She tries to make her mark in the present, yet all the while is living in the past.
As a narrative, The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am is relatively plotless, exploring the minutiae of a life that has been spent avoiding actual life. Minor disruptions become enormous obstacles in Mathea’s world – attempting to leave her apartment without being seen by the neighbours, or being unable to get the attention of a shop assistant. Without Epsilon to give her day structure and purpose, Mathea has lost any permanence she might have had as an individual.
For such a delicate and quirky little novel, Skomsvold’s book subtly captures what it means to face one’s legacy without resorting to polemic. What does it mean to be remembered after death, and does it even matter? How do we weigh the importance of one life over the life of another?
Today isn’t going to get any better. You’ve had a really bad day Mathea, so aren’t you grateful you don’t have many days left, I tell myself – you were patient in life, now rest from strife – but then I think…why do I have to be so optimistic by nature, why can’t I just lay myself down and die?
These painful questions are tackled with a warmth and humour that make Mathea an irresistible character, someone who has chosen the way she wanted to live and stuck to it. Her attempts to make herself noticed as she comes to the end of her life could have been maudlin, but instead are rendered with a sympathetic and light touch.
The length of the book definitely contributes to its success. It is slight and the lack of depth would have been exposed in a full length novel and Mathea’s quirks would wear thin, but as it is The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am is a sweet, diverting read exploring how we measure a life, and how we define our happiness.
I read The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am for this month’s Nordic FINDS challenge, hosted by Annabookbel.
READ ON: BOOK
NUMBER READ: 361
NUMBER REMAINING: 385
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!