The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas was originally published in Nynorsk in 1957, and is available from Peter Owen books and now also as a Penguin Modern Classics edition. The translation is by Michael Barnes and Torbjorn Stoverud. The central character of The Birds is Mattis, a mentally disabled man, living with his sister in a small rural community in Norway. We observe Mattis as he attempts to navigate the obstacles of everyday life - the obligations of work, family relationships and even romantic love. Mattis’ transcendental, or even visionary inner life, keenly evoked by Vesaas’ spare and lucid prose, is far richer than it appears to those around him. At the core of the novel, is Mattis’ struggle with the border between experience and expression in a world where birds seem to understand more than people.
Over the course of the programme, we discuss the role of the woodcock as a symbol, Vesaas’ sensitive and generous treatment of mental disability, and the possibility of viewing Mattis as an artist figure.