«Bold twist image of a war hero.»
A group of young men lure a woman into a car. She thinks she will be transported to Sweden, but is driven to a deserted place. One of the boys starts beating her uncontrollably. The woman screams for help, and another of them puts the gun to her temple and pulls off. They tie the body to a huge rock, and throw it off a bridge.
The young men are “rat hunters.” This is the name given to the Norwegians in the resistance movement who performed the dirtiest jobs during the occupation. The woman was the informant, and the men killed her on the orders of “the high lords of London” who “let our handsome boys become assassins”.
Three years after the war, the killer Knut is haunted by such strong nightmares that he misleadingly tries to kill his girlfriend.
The scene is taken from Max Manus’ novel «The Rat Hunter». The original script is said to have been written in 1948. It disappeared, but before his death, Manus’ wife Tikken is said to have given a copy to his son George.
It is this version – with “sensible linguistic update” from George and an equally sensible adaptation by editor Aslak Nore – that is now available.
The result has been a startlingly honest and shockingly open post-war portrayal of a disillusioned war hero.
Malicious female portrait
«Drunk or sober. Night or day. The memories never leave him. The only times he gets peace from the rat hunt was when he slept with his wife », it is said about the main character Freddy, also a rat hunter.
He is a celebrated war hero who earns his living from a sloppy car repair shop, and entertains himself with his equally sloppy wife Miriam. The portrait of her is one of the most malicious portraits of women I have read. Miriam is big and lovely, but alas so vulgar – “as perfect as her body was, as empty was she in her head”.
Only eroticism holds them together, and Manus is surprisingly bold in her tragicomic portrayal of her: “Her body probably required exercise, but when she instead of work and exercise just lay in bed around the clock, she burned inside with a immense energy for which she only had ejaculation during intercourse ».
The description of a grotesque marriage night between the two is high-class fiction: Freddy who drinks himself to a kind of love for her, but wakes up with a thunderous hangover the next day, and looks in disgust at his vulgar, stupid wife.
“The wart on her big breast was like an evil eye staring at him.”
Inverted image of the autobiographies
Freddy’s background has strikingly many similarities with Max Manus’, but Manus himself is said to have said that he was glad he did not have to liquidate.
The novel is in many ways a disillusioned twist of his more heroic autobiographies, which came just after the war. “It would rather go well” and “It will be serious” sold 300,000 copies and helped make him the most celebrated war hero of the post-war period.
“We should have concentrated on those who were really guilty. All the dangerous informants, all the big ones who had really failed, all those who had had enough intelligence to understand that what they were doing was wrong », Freddy thinks now. He is furious with everyone who made big money on the Germans and who now makes a living from an extensive black market trade, while resistance fighters who came home from Germany have to settle for small jobs and line up in an infinitely long housing queue. Freddy also has sympathy with those who joined the NS for idealistic reasons, and who were branded forever.
First and foremost, this is a unique depiction of a gloomy post-war period. What makes the most impression is the resistance of the resistance men after the war and the time in England, where noble British and Polish counts were equals with lye-poor Norwegians and Danish sailors:
“When the smart uniform disappeared, the confirmation suit came out. It is even worse for the boys who got married, and who in the belief in the Norway that was to rise, only the country became free, filled their little English misses with stories that indicated that in Norway we were in fact all landowners and wealthy. “
The war was fought in the hope of a change that never came.
This is not a great novel, neither technically nor linguistically. It is messy and strange and with a pathos-filled love story between Freddy and the resistance woman Gerd, who has similarities with Max Manus’ wife Tikken.
But the harsh and honest content is impressive, considering that this was written in 1948. In his enlightening and interesting preface, Nore reflects on the striking fact that the duty of confidentiality around the resistance movement’s liquidations was extended by the National Archivist as late as 2008. This means that The nearly 75-year-old script is almost shockingly controversial, even today. It is in itself a literary achievement, and for that reason this rather uneven book deserves a roll of the dice.