The Pastor

Ørstavik, Hanne: Presten

The 2004 Brage Prize for Best Norwegian Novel

Liv is thirty-five years old. A year before the story begins, she left Germany, where she was studying for a PhD in theology, to become a parish priest of a small town in the far north of Norway. The novel opens with a Sunday service, and subsequently follows Liv's life in the next few days, culminating in the funeral she officiates on the following Friday. Liv fills multiple roles and functions in her life; as a priest, a fellow human being and a private person. She is driven by an urge for purpose, meaning and belonging. As a researcher she studied the language of the Bible as a rallying point in the revolt of the Sami people in Kautokeino in 1852, focusing on the question of what it is that gives language its meaning - not only on a semantic level, but also as tone, rhythm and attitude - all the things that shape a language, constituting something larger, something more. Liv's reflections and recollections give the story its impetus and unify its various levels.

In The Pastor, Hanne Ørstavik continues the pursuit of knowledge that represents the core of her literary project. In a clear, incisive prose she generates a sense of presence that gives direct access to the novel's ethical and existential universe.

Click here for English sample translation.

Praise for The Pastor:

“In a just way, but without being dry, Ørstavik writes out feelings and masters with originality both content and form in a novel about searching for the meaning of life.”
(Le Monde, France)

”There is an unmentionable edge, a place that is almost impossible to reach, where words are emptied of their usual ring, only to open up directly to the soul. An experience that opens to emotional depths so far in, and so fundamental, they seem inaccessible. Yet, Hanne Ørstavik manages to describe this unreachable, not in single words, but in the great outfields of reflection and examinations that fill Liv’s life.
(Sud-Ouest, France)

”this profound and polar novel is an introspective story where the words seem frozen; they disappear when you think you have reached them…Neither the language of the protagonist, nor the writing itself run over, but stays straight, without slackening. In a reserve and a sort of emotional asceticism.”
(Livres Hebdo, France)

”This is an author who has been given the gift of being able to perceive even the smallest parts of us. Hanne Ørstavik gives you quivers, dizziness and chills when you read what she manages to dig up from the bottoms of her characters’ souls; she has this ability to rummage behind the mirror and recount exactly, word for word, the content of their inner dialogues with themselves”
(Cozop, France)

”Hanne Ørstavik's style is very special. It is extremely precise, extremely pure, and yet an almost ethereal climate is established. History, literature and the existential quest of a woman who has lost love, are united in a way that is impressive."
(Devoir, France)


“provokes its readers almost to the very limit of what one can bear… One can tell how much Ørstavik has worked with the language, and how musically and clearly she makes landscape and thoughts interweave in a convincing manner…there is a ring to the novel that cannot fail to capture the reader…And afterwards one sits there with one’s own life and has perhaps become just a touch better at daring to see where one oneself has failed.”
(Politiken, Denmark)

“Off you go – to the bookstore! Norwegian Hanne Ørstavik has written an absolutely outstanding novel about language and reality… The book succeeds in integrating the plot with the greater, general reflections about language, reality and friendship, without ever becoming artificial or affected… You do not get happier from reading about Liv’s inner crises by the dark fjords, where suicide and loneliness dominate the minds of her parishioners, but it is guaranteed that you’ll become wiser…. I cannot but give this book my warmest recommendations"
(Danmarks Radio, Denmark)

“The Norwegian author Hanne Ørstavik possesses a great and sinister talent for portraying false consciousness….I think this writer deserves all the prizes and success she has received: Because her works suck you into an almost claustrophobic consciousness with which you are forced to identify – without being able to decide whether you have been drawn into pure authenticity or a suffocating demand for perfection.”
(Information, Denmark)

"This award-winning Norwegian writer has written a moving novel about friendship, in a lucid and light prose."
(Klipp, Germany)

"A masterpice from the far north (...) Written in a crystal-clear, squiggle-free prose."
(Wochenblatt Marsch & Heide, Germany)

" The Pastor is a profound, linguistically philosophical and theologically differentiated novel (...) Hanne Ørstavik's prose is lucid, never artificial. Some has called it minimalist. And yet she describes something profound. The book praises theology, at the same time it is a testament to its lasting shortcomings. She feels obligated to the realization that there is still something great and important out there, something that does not fit into any model or system"
(Sandammeer, Germany)

"Everyone has a dark place in life, a place they shun. Being completely true to oneself is incredibly difficult, and Hanne Ørstavik knows how to emphasize this in a brilliant way"
(NDR1 Bücherwelt, Germany)

”Hanne Ørstavik (...) is considered to be one of the most interesting representatives for the new generation of Norwegian writers; she is known to be a master of minimalism (...) What Ørstavik does, is an attempt to explain what is going in in the young female characters' psyche. (...) Well suited for cold winter nights."
(Radio Darmstadt, Germany)

"Hanne Ørstavik’s literary significance grows from novel to novel... An existential novel dealing with both the heaviness and lightness of language, written with impressive strength and courage... Rarely does one come across such a perceptive analytical mind as Hanne Ørstavik’s. She gives nothing away for free, there is no excessive emotion, no sentimentality or pandering to her public. The story’s concept overrides everything, all the layers of the onion are peeled away until we come to the heart of the question. Hanne Ørstavik never makes it easy for herself or the reader in her rigorous treatment of these existential problems. But thanks to a language rich in its precision, with no loss of simplicity, it becomes an experience to follow her to her conclusion. One knows that one has read something substantial which one would not wish to be without."

”Ørstavik’s writing is sensitive and sore, yet hard-hitting and to the point… There are passages in The Pastor that are simply wonderful. Scenes that truly grip you and that I as a reader wish would go on and on. This author is brave enough to stay deeply serious throughout an entire novel. Her intention is not to entertain, but to explore… I feel a strong urge to read it again. Right away. And that doesn’t happen to me very often.”

"Ørstavik has an almost unnerving ability to reproduce the tone of the inner dialogues people have with themselves, she is unsurpassed in her description of the way wordless thoughts slip and slide from one theme to the next ...The author also has an extraordinary eye for of the country’s most interesting authors."
(Dagens Næringsliv, Oslo)

"Hanne Ørstavik has never dug so deep nor encompassed so much as in this year’s novel The Pastor. It is so compact, so full of power, it pounds away, digs its way down, burrows its way forward – yet at the same time remains ever gentle, sympathetic and tender. With The Pastor Hanne Ørstavik has given us her most captivating novel to date... Its tight writing, its breadth and depth, its irresistible movement all contribute to give it great weight. Yet at the same time the language has such lightness and clarity, and such sparkling beauty... Hanne Ørstavik has often been presented as the leading author of the younger generation. That categorisation has been meaningless for some time. With The Pastor she has revealed herself to be the most important contemporary author in the country."
(Hamar Arbeiderblad)

“disquieting and compelling…Ørstavik is fantastically skilled at interweaving landscape and observations in a way that creates fine linkages between belief, language and the eternal nature”

”It is obvious what Ørstavik’s mission is, and she carries it out in such an uncompromising and good way, it is a joy to read the novel. The linguistic perspective in itself is enough to carry the novel … With The Pastor, Hanne Ørstavik has yet again thrown herself into a debate about literature’s basic problems. The problems are not new, but it is refreshing to read a text that is so clear and honest about its mission without being naïve or boring. It is bravely – and not least well – done”

”The need for realisation is a recurrent theme in this remarkable portrait of a woman, where the need for a common textual room for incompatible points of view becomes a desperate concern. A remarkable piece of novelistic art”
(Aftenposten, Critics’ Favourites 2004)


”Hanne Ørstavik has been awarded a number of literary prizes, and it is easy to understand why: She writes with a will and passion that moves … The novel is a beautiful and serious story about searching – for friendship, belonging and truth”

First published: 2004, Forlaget Oktober
Hanne Ørstavik: Biography and bibliography

Rights sold to

Language Foreign publisher
Czech Doplnek
Danish Athene/Aschehoug
Estonian Eesti Ramat
Finnish Like
French Les Allusifs
German DVA
Latvian Apgads Atene
Polish Slowo
Russian Text Publishers
Swedish Kabusa Böcker

Printer friendly versionPrinter friendly version