Book Review: “Armand V” by Dag Solstad: Out-of-the-Box and Strikingly Reflective

Occasionally described as an “anti-novel,” “Armand V” by Dag Solstad is a piece of experimental fiction, composed entirely of ninety-nine footnotes to a novel that does not exist. Solstad is an acclaimed Norwegian author, though only a few of his nearly thirty novels have been translated into English. The novel centers around a sixty-year-old man named Armand V, a Norwegian diplomat of wavering patriotism and dedication. 

“Armand V” is a man struggling to decipher which pursuits in life he truly enjoys, and which are only to boost his ego. Solstad, through Armand, critiques the modern workforce by creating an example of a person who is only in pursuit of a higher status. Armand’s entire career, nearly forty years, is based on a young man’s misplaced devotion to the idea of himself as an important man. Within the footnotes, Armand wavers between true self-awareness of this fatal flaw and a complete obliviousness to the attitudes which have shaped his life.

Solstad is also unafraid to cross into political territory—”Armand V” is refreshingly anti-American, filled with harsh politeness towards American diplomats. Armand is constantly pushing for policies he despises and having posh dinners with diplomats from countries he hates. Armand is disloyal to his own views—sacrificing his morals for the benefit of his nation—the hypocrisy of which Solstad expertly extracts. Armand’s motives for being a diplomat are insincere, mostly for his own betterment, while many of his actions in that role are directly against his values.

The “real” novel—the one the footnotes reference to—is also said to be about Armand V, though it likely includes more of the so-called important facts about his life, such as his progression from university to an early career in the government. This is one of the reasons the novel is often called an “anti-novel:” The footnotes do not follow a chronological or even logical progression and elude many of the details one would expect to learn about the main character. In fact, Solstad even chooses to wait to introduce the main character until thirty pages deep.

“Armand V” can be frustratingly non-linear, but who’s to say a novel must be linear? Can you definitively fit your own life to a plot progression? Perhaps the original novel is a strict chronological record of Armand V, his life, his accomplishments, his actions, thoughts, and words. But how Armand experiences his own time might be better represented as footnotes. These footnotes flip through time, slipping in and out of memories, of long-winded rants, of self-reflections. Armand’s thought processes are exposed;, his emotions, dreams, and misgivings all displayed as they are, without the pretense of diplomacy and without the barrier of a necessary plot structure. Solstad’s “Armand V” goes beyond the gimmick of the footnotes.

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