Erlend Loe: Doppler (review)

dopplerSo if a man decides to leave his family and move out in the forest, I immediately assume that there’s something wrong with him? What does that say about me? Yes, I know he just lost his father and then fell on his bike and hit his head, but still, when reading a book which is a critique of our modern consumer culture, it feels strange to realize that I buy so completely into that culture that I can’t even see it as a valuable life choice. And yes, I wrote ‘buy into’ deliberately.

Doppler leaves his wife and two children because he is sick and tired of being nice, he doesn’t want the only focus in his life to be how much money he makes. He want a simpler life. Or maybe he had a concussion and is having a breakdown because his father died. This is never clear. He feels lucky to have hit his head and realized the wrongness of his ways – but whether this is a sudden moral clearness or a brain damage, is up to the reader to decide. To be fair, it’s not really hinted that it could be something wrong with him, the author probably intends it as an awakening.

But the fact is, Doppler lives in a tent in a forrest just on the edge of Oslo and to sustain himself, he steals from the nearby houses – and he kills an elk. This elk turns out to be a mother to a young calf and so Doppler ends up adopting a calf which he names Bongo: ‘I’ll call the calf Bongo after my father, I decide as I’m strolling back into the forrest. Even though my father wasn’t called Bongo I’ll name the calf Bongo after him. Sometimes you’ve got to be open to associations of this kind.’ (p. 32-33).

Doppler and Bongo build a close relationship – at least that’s the way Doppler relates it to us. They play games, they have long talks, they pee together and just hang out. Even though Doppler thinks Bongo is a bit thick since he doesn’t quite understand even the simplest games, he still loves him. They build a sort of father-son relationship which is obvious since Doppler just lost his father – but strange, since he has a young son at home, missing him. This is not the only father-son relationship. His son eventually joins him in the forrest and Doppler also meets a man who spends his time recreating the part of World War II where his father lost his life. And inspired by this, Doppler decides to build a totem pole to honor his father; a pole, which seems more to honor the idea of a father and fatherhood than the man who was Doppler’s father. Maybe because Doppler didn’t really know him.

This novel focuses on one man’s struggle to find himself in a world that doesn’t focus all that much on introspection. It is difficult for him to find peace in the forest since he gets company soon, both from other people and from his young son. Maybe also because he didn’t really leave civilization all that far behind. Maybe the novel is more intended to show us that we are really not capable of living this way anymore?

It is quirky in a lot of ways and there were parts of it I really liked. For instance, his annoyance with children shows’ theme songs. He actually ends up giving his son’s DVDs away to a robber one night – what parent haven’t imagined that? Maybe even dreamed of that?

Another part shows him being annoyed with the Iraq war because it comes at a time where he is focused on redecorating the bath room: ‘I remember being irritated when I discovered that now we would also have to take a stance on this war. It was very distracting. As if it wasn’t enough to have to decide on all this bathroom stuff. Now we would have to take sides in Iraq. I didn’t like things going on in the world which in effect reduced what I used my brainpower on to trivia. Not only did I not have my perspectives clarified, but I didn’t want them to be. For weeks it had irritated me that they couldn’t wait to start the bombing down there until we had finished doing up the bathroom.’ (p. 22). I love this quote and it shows something very true about our way of life, I think. That we are fine thinking about the troubles other places in the world as long as it doesn’t interfere with our own daily lives.

But with all that being said, I was a little disappointed in this book. I had expected something funnier and quirkier. Quirky in particular. With that cover, that subject, I had expected something that would leave me with a lot of food for thoughts and ideas for other ways to see the world and our society, our materialistic culture. But I didn’t feel like I got it and in the end, I felt I was kind of left hanging, like what you get is a short series of impressions with a rather clear beginning but not so much of a clear ending. I’m not sure how I would have liked it to end – but what I got, wasn’t enough.

  • Title: Doppler
  • Author: Erlend Loe
  • Publisher: Head of Zeus
  • Year: 2012 (original 2004)
  • Pages: 171 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

3 thoughts on “Erlend Loe: Doppler (review)

  1. What an interesting sounding book. It does sound very quirky so it’s a shame to hear that it didn’t really deliver in this department, at least in terms of your expectations. I’ll definitely check it out though!

  2. I loved this book, and I can’t really see how you could be disappointed with it. Having said that I just picked it up off a library shelf,read it in a day, and never had much expectation for it.
    I never considered him having a mental breakdown or that kind of thing and it certainly shone a new light on the book, because that really does make sense.
    I totally agree with you about the ending. I don’t know how i would like it to be different, but I just wasn’t satisfied with it.

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