The Beatles is a novel about the 1960’s. About four teenage boys growing up in Oslo. And a fabulously rich, elegant and compassionate book about growing up and being a teen-ager. In Norway, this was Saabye Christensen’s breakthrough novel. It achieved enormous success in Norway and still has something like a cult status. In fact, it was recently voted the most popular book in Norway.
Kim Karlsen and his three buddies Gunnar, Ola and Seb occasionally like to think of themselves as the big guys. But Beatles is not a story of the Beatles, nor is it only a story of four guys who thought they were the Beatles, or tried to be like the Beatles. To some extent it is, but it also is something a lot different and much more – a story about four young guys growing up in Norway in the late 60’s – during the time when Beatlemania was evident all over Europe.
And Beatles is the story of their friendship. It begins in 1965. And it is written in a neat way – each chapter takes a different Beatles-song as title and theme. It was a time when being a Beatles fan meant growing slightly longer hair – which at the time more or less signified rebellion. And it was a time when a new youth culture, opposed to the established and the previous generation, emerged, most places in a radical and liberated form. I don’t think the gap between two generations have ever been bigger than it was then.
Kim, Gunnar, Ola and Seb each takes on one of the Fab Four’s names. They plan to start their own outfit, The Snafus. They never got that far, but the idea was there, and in a sense organized their lives. Just as the idea of starting a band was in the heads of tens of thousands of young men throughout Europe at the time.
So instead of a story of The Snafus, we are fortunate enough to be read a tale of four young guys doing the things one did – struggling at school, seeing Playboy for the first time, getting attracted to girls, messing around, getting into gang fights, doing the booze and dope thingies, getting interested in politics, and all of that.
And then, like the real Beatles, they split up, move separate ways. And each has to find himself. Each now on their own. And face the music of real life – or the identity crises, the problems of identity creation, of forming new relationships, and all of that.
It is a warm, nice and lovely book, written in Lars Saabye Christensen’s beautiful, colorful language, and filled with humor, imagery, similes, metaphors and hyperboles. The translation by Don Bartlett is smooth as silk. Saabye Christensen’s Beatles is a timeless and enduring coming-of-age story taking place at a particularly interesting point in history and written in a fashion that everybody growing up during that time will recognize. It is also a literary masterpiece, a thing of beauty and a source of great joy. And – did I mention – fun to read!
Also, interestingly enough, if you are so inclined, you can also read a thorough and very interesting study of this book: Lars Saabye Christensen’s Beatles: A Study in Literary Translation and Cross-Cultural Influence, written by Kerstin Ketteman!