Norwegian playwright and novelist Jon Fosse is the recipient of the 2023 Nobel Prize for Literature the committee announced on Thursday. Fosse, who the Nobel committee selected for his “wealth of plays, novels, poetry collections, essays, children’s books and translations,” became a Catholic in 2012. He was already a highly acclaimed writer at that time.
Fosse has described his writing process as “the experience of entering a new place.” He told a New Yorker interviewer:
I had a kind of religious turn in my life that had to do with entering this unknown. I was an atheist, but I couldn’t explain what happened when I wrote, what made it happen. Where does it come from? I couldn’t answer it. You can always explain the brain in a scientific way, but you can’t catch the light, or the spirit, of it. It’s something else.
There were also struggles with alcoholism and anxiety. He has credited his conversion to Catholicism with helping him address his problems.
Jon Fosse was already an accomplished novelist when he began to write for the theater in the 1990s. The Nobel committee called him “one of the most widely performed playwrights in the world.” His plays earned him the prestigious Ibsen Award in 1996.
It was a series of novels that Fosse began writing after his conversion, however, that brought him to the attention of readers in the English-speaking world.
Seven novels and one sentence
The seven novels that form his acclaimed Septology concern an aging painter who ponders whether his last painting, looking like a St. Andrew’s cross, is complete or not. He also ruminates upon his life and his relationship with God. The daring work is written as one extraordinarily long run-on sentence. “You don’t read my books for the plots,” Fosse once told an interviewer. He refers to his writing style as “slow prose” and as “mystical realism.”