Up today on the blog for #ReadIndies month is a book from a publisher who’s featured on the Ramblings before – Verso. I’ve covered their Book Club before, and the title appearing here today is one which has received a lot of positive coverage and was part of my membership – Long Live the Post Horn! by Vigdis Hjorth (translated by Charlotte Barslund).

Hjorth hails from Norway, and she’s published a substantial number of works in her native country. I suppose her name first came to promimence with English speaking readers following the release of another of her books by Verso: “Will and Testament”, which came out last year. It garnered a lot of praise, attention and controversy; so I was very keen to see what “Long Live…” was like, particularly as it’s about a subject close to my heart – the postal service!

The post has been much in focus during these strange times, with the USPS under threat from unscrupulous politicians, and our own Post Office doing sterling work getting essential things (like books!) through during the pandemic. The focus in “Long Live…”, however, is the Norwegian postal service and the threat to it from EU directives…

Our narrator is Ellinor, a detached PR consultant who runs a firm with two colleagues, Dag and Rolf. As the book opens, Ellinor is in a strange, mentally disengaged state of mind, looking back at her past and wondering where her life is going. News that Dag has resigned and simply disappeared does not help, and relations with her boyfriend Stein seem equally disconnected. Ellinor is clearly not feeling well at the moment; in fact, her emotions seem quite frozen (much like the Norwegian weather). She’s going through life almost on autopilot, and it’s not until she gets involved with an obscure EU postal directive that things seem to change…

I yearned for a breakdown. To surrender to it and be carted off to a quiet and balmy place far away where the pace was slow.

The Norwegian Postal Workers Union hire Ellinor and Rolf to help them fight the directive, which by allowing competition could completely undermine the country’s postal system. Initially uninterested, Ellinor is drawn into the cause, becoming committed to a most unlikely fight against powerful forces in Government and the EU. Will the fight to save the Post Horn also be a fight to save Ellinor’s sanity?

On its own, the story in “Long Live…” is fascinating enough. Ellinor is a woman at a crisis point, and the fact that at one point she references Plath’s “The Bell Jar” is very relevant. Our narrator is often distracted, incapable of focusing and completely without direction. The fight for the postal system is the key to her recovery, and that battle is also very involving; if you have left wing sympathies like me, and like to root for the underdog, you *will* become invested in that element of the story, although the prospects of a positive result are not good.

However, what lifts the story even more is the language; Hjorth writes quite wonderfully (and I commend her translator, Charlotte Barslund!) The narrative conveys vividly Ellinor’s state of mind, in almost stream of consciousness prose at times, and it’s fascinating watching her change as events start to influence her and her clarity begins to return. Ellinor’s lack of focus on anything but her own internal monlogue is sometimes funny, but often disturbing, and I did wonder at Stein’s apparent failure to notice this… (or maybe the episode with the sex toy was his attempt to get her to engage!)

So “Long Live…” is a perfect combination of story and form, with some wonderfully painted and completely memorable characters; from the absent Dag through the stressed Rolf, via the anxious union members and the committed postal workers, these are all people I felt I knew. The importance of letters and the people that deliver them to our lives become very clear as Ellinor hears stories from the postal workers, and this leads to some poignant moments in the narrative. In particular, the sub-tale of a lost letter and its effects on those who finally receive it is quite moving. As Ellinor regains equilibrium, the people with whom she interacts come into sharper focus – this is a remarkably clever book!

I guess by now you can tell that I absolutely loved this book! We had a slogan back in my early feminist days that the “personal was political” and that’s very much the case here, with a quite brilliant weaving together of those two strands by Hjorth. It’s by looking at the personal, how these big rulings affect people’s everyday lives, that Ellinor not only finds the motivation to try to help them, but also brings her own life back into line. Are there happy endings for all concerned? Are there ever in life? I’m not going to say – but I will instead encourage you to get hold of this book and enjoy it. The fight against an EU directive may not sound like the most obvious subject for a great read, but this book is proof that it is! Highly recommended!