Bookreview: Rain Is Rain in Manglerud
“Failed writer meets world famous guitarist”
– A beautifully written new novel from young German writer Tessa Weitemeier, a-ha expert Barry Page concludes after reading Rain Is Rain In Manglerud.
Struggling writer and perennial dreamer Hobo Highbrow is, literally, a man out of time; he possesses neither a watch nor a calendar to tell him what day of the week it is. Newly separated from his wife, he is now firmly set in his idiosyncratic ways, entrenched in a spatially compromised new basement flat in the Oslo suburb of Manglerud, a stone’s throw from where a-ha’s Magne Furuholmen and Pål Waaktaar-Savoy had once resided in the early 70s. It’s been several years since his first novel was published and there have been no takers, either in Norway or the UK, for his follow-up book about a nesting box man.
An offer not to be refused
Having lost his proofreading job at the Norwegian tabloid newspaper Verdens Gang, the self-professed Knut Hamsun wannabe now lives on a diet of crispbread, his poorly-stocked fridge containing just a packet of mouldy sausages. But can Manglerud – the borough that had once homed two-thirds of Norway’s biggest export since North Sea oil – provide creative inspiration for the hapless writer? The answer is no, since we learn that an unfortunate incident with Waaktaar-Savoy – a man who Hobo had once viewed as something of a kindred spirit – has eroded his interest in a-ha, and their records have now been trashed, along with his uninspiring new writing desk. But fate is about to intervene during one of heliophobic Hobo’s night-time strolls, when a chance meeting with Holm – his former boss (and nemesis) at VG – leads to a tantalising job offer that could potentially turn his fortunes around.
Adopting a character
It’s this new job opportunity that is at the heart of Rain Is Rain in Manglerud, a beautifully written new novel from young German writer Tessa Weitemeier. Translated from 2021’s self-published Es Regnet In Manglerud [It’s Raining in Manglerud], it’s a welcome follow-up to 2008’s The Scoundrel Days of Hobo Highbrow, the highly acclaimed English translation of award winning Norwegian author Pål H. Christiansen’s now 20-year-old book, Drømmer om storhet [Dreaming of Greatness], in which the grumpy titular anti-hero drifts from one absurd scenario to the next in true Curb Your Enthusiasm fashion. But how did Christiansen feel about another author adopting, arguably, his most famous character? ‘The idea of lending my characters and fictional universe to another writer sounded rather fun,’ he explains in the foreword. ‘I have always found intertextuality interesting, and most of my books have elements of this. And since Tessa’s writing in my opinion turned out to be of high quality, I didn’t hesitate very long before I agreed to let her proceed with her project.’
More a-ha and Waaktaar-Savoy
Tessa Weitemeier’s understanding of Christiansen’s complex character is clearly evident, and the author has wisely opted to retain many of Hobo’s signature quirks and nuances. But rather than simply presenting a facsimile of the mercurial protagonist, the author has softened some of his hard edges, his self-deprecation making him a much more likeable and relatable character. Furthermore, Weitemeier has given a-ha and Savoy guitarist Pål Waaktaar-Savoy a far less peripheral role in this new instalment. While Hobo settles into his new role of penning “waterproof and absolutely meaningless” album reviews for Oslo’s newest magazine, he is presented with a rare opportunity to interview the revered songwriter of classics such as ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’ and ‘I’ve Been Losing You’, but the fledgling music journalist is initially reluctant to reconnect with a band he has clearly fallen out of love with. “I strictly refused to shed a tear at their farewell [concert],” he says, “and later I refused to buy the new album or even to listen to it. I do not care what they do.”
Beyond fan fiction
One of the impressive things about Rain Is Rain is the author has done her homework on both a-ha and their famously taciturn guitarist, bringing much-needed authenticity to the inevitable meeting with Hobo, an encounter which provides the centrepiece of this engaging and occasionally playful sequel. When Waaktaar-Savoy is asked by Hobo about the songs that obliquely reference his bandmates, he responds: “With Savoy it’s easy. It is much more exciting to try that with lyrics for a-ha and hope that no one understands it properly. At some point Morten will be on stage singing about himself without knowing it!” In addition, during scenes at a subsequent concert in the heart of Oslo, there are some astute observations about fandom and the objectification of frontmen such as Morten Harket.
Certainly, Tessa Weitemeier’s love of a-ha’s music shines through, but it’s fair to say that Rain Is Rain in Manglerud is much more than just a perfunctory piece of fan fiction, and fans of both the chart-topping Scandinavian trio and Pål H. Christiansen’s likeable loner should find plenty to enjoy here.
● Rain Is Rain in Manglerud by Tessa Weitemeier is published by Epubli on 25 May 2022.
● Barry Page is the author of a-ha: Down to the Tracks (This Day In Music Books, 2020)
Interviews with Paul Waaktaar-Savoy about the Hobo Highbrow novels: