The Spark, by Norwegian novelist O. H. Robsson, is a love story. It’s a slow, relaxing, rambling tale of a man who rediscovers his one true love after thinking she was lost to him forever. The first three-quarters of the book are mostly devoid of tension; any complications that do arise are relatively minor and are quickly put right. This wasn’t a problem at all for me. I kept turning pages in this book, not because of cliff-hanger chapter endings, and not because I was dying to learn how it all turned out, but because this story is just a lovely place to be. At one point the main character, Kristoffer, is visiting his grandfather at his grandfather’s summer cabin and describes the moment:
We sit in silence for a few moments in the sunshine, sipping hot tea and looking out at our small part of the world. I reach out for another chair to put my feet on and add more tea from the pot, feeling time begin to drift off to some distant place in the background. Up here, in the peace and the quiet, [time is] no longer the boss.
That is how I felt reading this book, as if I were sitting on a balcony somewhere in Norway, drifting. The setting is gorgeous, the characters charming. There are many animals in the book: dogs, cats, a horse. The author, a former photographer, spares no detail in describing the lush settings and variations in the light and the weather. Kristoffer often asks people questions such as, “If you could go anywhere in the world for twenty-four hours, where would you go?” While reading this book, I would certainly have answered “a small village in Norway.”
A mystery of a sort hangs over the entire book, however, a potential conflict that is so rarely mentioned that you tend to forget about it while wandering through the slow-paced scenes of daily life. The mystery doesn’t reveal itself until close to the end, when the complications finally emerge. Here is where the character-building that Robsson has done so successfully pays off. There were times earlier in the novel when I was mildly surprised by Kristoffer’s actions, seeing a part of him that seemed different from the character I had come to know. These earlier scenes make his behavior at the end easier to understand, and make the character more human.
The book is smoothly written and beautifully designed and formatted. Robsson has a warm and witty writing style. There are many delightful passages that make you pause, then smile:
The petrol warning light flickers on, then off, then on. Hesitantly, as though it’s not really sure how much petrol I have left.
I love sandy beaches, right up until . . . the time when it comes to leave and the sand gets all clingy and wants to come home with me.
My only complaint with the book, and this is a small one, is that I would have preferred a little less philosophizing from the characters. The story is well told and makes its points without needing to spell them out. Robsson does an admirable job of layering in scenes that reinforce the themes of the novel. By letting his characters ramble on about these themes, he deprives the reader of the joy of “getting it.”
The Spark is a sweet book, full of kindness and hope. It is about old love and second chances. About how to live an authentic life. About the wisdom of animals and the various ways humans cope with the ups and downs of ordinary living. It reminds you of the wonderful smell of horses and the feel of rain running from your hair down into your face, the joy of simple pleasures, and at the end, how big events not of our making sometimes force us to step up and take action. Nonetheless, the message of the book is reassuring:
Terrible, terrible things happen in the world, I know that. But so too do beautiful, incredible things. They might not sell newspapers, but they do happen and I don’t want to go back into a world where it’s pretended they don’t. So I’ll stay in my own world, in reality, where good things happen just as much as bad, and they’re just as important.
The romance in this book is not just between the characters, but with life itself.