Shortlisted for the 2017 International Man Booker Prize • Shortlisted for the 2018 International Dublin Literary Award • "Even by his high standards, his magnificent new novel The Unseen is Jacobsen's finest to date, as blunt as it is subtle and is easily among the best books I have ever read."―Eileen Battersby, Irish Times
Born on the Norwegian island that bears her name, Ingrid Barrøy’s world is circumscribed by storm-scoured rocks and the moods of the sea by which her family lives and dies. But her father dreams of building a quay that will end their isolation, and her mother longs for the island of her youth, and the country faces its own sea change: the advent of a modern world, and all its unpredictability and violence. Brilliantly translated into English by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw, The Unseen is the first book in the Barrøy Chronicles and a moving exploration of family, resilience, and fate.
Jacobsen's solemn, lyrical portrait of agrarian life (after Borders), the first in a trilogy, is set on the fictional remote Norwegian island of Barr y in the early 20th century, with the Barr y family its sole occupants. Jacobsen guides readers through the lives of Hans Barr y; his widowed father, Martin; unmarried younger sister, Barbro; wife, Maria; and three-year-old daughter, Ingrid, detailing the everyday toil of fishing, farming, and figuring out the next move to keep themselves afloat, as they increasingly depend on the mainland's market for their goods. Jacobsen alternates from rich descriptions of the landscape and the family's daily tasks to passages contrasting Barr y with the mainland, first established in a scene with a visit from Pastor Johannes Malmberget, who comes to consult with Hans Barr y about his daughter Ingrid's upcoming christening, and harbors bewilderment about the isolated family's outlook and way of life (the epigraph on Hans's mother's headstone "seems to proclaim that life is not worth living"). After the death of Martin and then Hans, the younger generation struggles to keep up with the demands of the Barr y way of life. Shaw and Bartlett brilliantly capture Jacobsen's saga in precise prose that offers a window into each character's point of view. This moving meditation on a family's tenuous relationship with the natural world is worth a look.