“Oh yeah, baby! Friday. My absolute favourite day of the week! Oh, invincibility! Oh, bliss! Even though the town is full of people, I go to the co-op to pick up some things. Slowly, I drift into the liquor section. I always do this because I might bump into someone who will invite me to their place for drinks — and here comes the first one now.”
I first heard about this book through the excited news stories when it came out in 2014. Niviaq Korneliussen grew up in Nanortalik, pop. 1,300, in southern Greenland, and the excitement was that at age 23, she had written a novel in Greenlandic that explored the lives of a handful of queer young people living in Nuuk.
The original book was called Homo Sapienne. The English translation came out in the UK four years later with the title Crimson. When I saw the American version, titled Last Night in Nuuk, it took me a while to connect it to the young author, but then, what else could it be?
I bow to anyone who lives in a city the size of Nuuk (17,000) and writes a book that is this honest and sex-fuelled.
Last Night in Nuuk is all about sex, partying, drinking, regret, coming out as gay or transgendered and cheating on your partner. The story is told via five characters, each of whom narrates one section. I read it in one afternoon.
A short list identifies each character at the beginning. This turns out to be essential as no further introduction is ever offered. The book speeds along, with each character speaking directly in the first person.
Let me be the first to admit I’m not the target audience for this book. One reviewer of the UK version suggested it should be labeled YA (young adult) literature. Not a bad idea, but there might be something more to it than that.
The book reads like a teenage diary: rushed and angry (Korneliussen wrote it in a month) and is filled with terms like “talk shit about” and “rumours.” A large part of the book involves people looking to get laid. A series of text messages are a bit confusing (and not fascinating). A love rectangle among four of the characters gets even more confusing. It’s hard to follow the action.
It is kinda nice to be put into a headspace where getting an invite to the party is topmost in mind. I thought of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s several dozen (hundreds?) of pages on his struggle to obtain beer and arrive at a New Year’s Eve house party in Bergen in Part 3 of My Struggle.
And I loved the fact that a scandal breaks, outing a (fictional) member of Greenland’s parliament as gay in spite of his seemingly normal family life. A job and a friendship is lost over this scandal, though it has little emotional impact on any of the characters involved (I had to double-check to make sure it happened at all).
I also liked the use of Greenlandic terms throughout (a glossary is included).
It’s hard to picture this story in Nuuk. People walk by the old harbour, take taxis and visit the Godthåb hotel, but there is little that speaks of place. Until, that is, we get an angry list from one of the characters who contrasts the ideal Greenlander with a fairly savage stereotype involving alcohol and anger. “I’m ashamed of being a Greenlander,” Inuk writes.
That list is central to this book. What a huge burden it is for these characters to carry, and an even huger burden for the newborn baby who appears in part five. What a blessing when these characters leave it behind and tackle their more immediate needs: love, sex and acceptance. “I want to be blind to all negativity. I won’t see it,” one character says.
Even if this isn’t a great book, it’s thrilling that Korneliussen was willing to put it all down, and that she might do it again.