Bjerke around 1980
Photo: André Savik
|Born||Jarl André Bjerke
30 January 1918
|Died||10 January 1985
|Pen name||Bernhard Borge|
|Genre||Poetry, crime fiction, prose|
Jarl André Bjerke (born 30 January 1918 in Oslo, died 10 January 1985) was a Norwegian writer and poet. His debut was in 1940 with a collection of poems, Syngende Jord (Singing Earth). He has written a wide range of material: poems (both for children and adults), mystery novels (four of them under the pseudonym Bernhard Borge), essays, and articles. He was known as a master translator, and translated works by Shakespeare, Molière, Goethe, Racine, etc. into elegant Norwegian. A central theme in Bjerke's works, especially his poems, is the longing for childhood. André Bjerke was, together with his equally famous cousin Jens Bjørneboe, also known as a prominent proponent of the Riksmål language during the Norwegian language struggle, and of anthroposophy, especially in the 1950s.
His father was the author Ejlert Bjerke, and his mother Karin Bjerke (née Svensson).
Mystery novels and short stories
His mystery novels, among the best of the genre in Norwegian, are influenced by his interest in psychoanalysis. His first mystery novel, Nattmennesket ("Night person") was published in 1941. In this novel he introduced his completely different "detective", the psycho analyst Kai Bugge who claims that a psychologist is more able to solve a real crime than a police officer. After a particularly hideous murder, Bugge and his friend, police officer Hammer, joins forces to solve the impossible mystery. Where Hammer looks for material clues and interviews the suspects about things like motive and alibis, Bugge makes an analytical approach and claims after only a third of the book that he has solved the mystery. The murderer has indirectly confessed to the crime.
Nattmennesket was followed by his masterpiece De dødes tjern ("Lake of the Dead") in 1942. It was by the Norwegian radio programme "Nitimen" considered the second best Norwegian mystery novel of all times in 2004, only beaten by Norwegian mystery writer Jo Nesbø's "Rødstrupe" (2000). "Lake of the Dead" was made into a film in 1958, directed by Kåre Bergstrøm. Bjerke himself starred in the film. This novel is also starred by Kai Bugge as detective. This time in sharp opposition to two other present at the scene, the literary critic, Gabriel Mørk, and the policeman, Harald Gran. This novel is nowhere near the classical whodunnit. The three accompanied by Bernhard Borge (the author of the book), his wife and Gran's fiancee visit's the scene of a suicide by drowning. The dead, who is not found because of the ponds rather murky depths, has left a diary. In this he reveals his growing obsession by the pond, which ends with a confession that he has no choice but to commit suicide by drowning himself. This obsession is known in the vicinity through an old tale. During the investigation it turns out that the visitors too are not immune to the forces that abode in the pond. Kai Bugge works hard to solve the riddle – or rather save his friends – before another tragedy occurs.
In 1947 he published "Døde menn går i land" ("Dead Men Come Ashore"). This is the only one of his full novels that does not star Kai Bugge, but the conflict between a traditional solver of mysteries and those who dabbles in paranormal phenomena is a central motif in the novel. Arne Krag-Andersen, a self-made man of money, has bought a famous haunted house on the southern coast of Norway. There is a curse on the manor: Any one who tries to change anything whatsoever with the house or its contents, will die a violent death. Arne decides to challenge the curse, and some of his workmen are lucky not to die in the accidents that befell them.
Friends come to visit, and the menagerie is completed by a peculiar neighbor, the American reverend Pahle, who is deeply fascinated by satanism and claims that a satanic cult was connected to the house. A deserted Estonian ship found outside the shore – also according to a local tradition of ships lost to the Devil – adds to the atmosphere. But what is at the bottom of this web of local tales and prophesies that seem to come true? Arne and his friends try to find a solution amid lies and rumours. The solution eventually proves a lot more intriguing than it seems originally.
In 1950 "Skjult Mønster" ("Hidden Pattern") was published. Kai Bugge reenters the scene, but even if he solves the strange mystery and sheds light on the hidden pattern, he plays no central role this time. Irene Cramer is scared to death, and it seems clearly that her fright is not only imagined. Was her father murdered – and by whom? She moves in with four bachelors in an attempt to be protected, but even their chivalrous behavior doesn't give her the security she craves. The reader is led through a veritable maze with a pattern that seems impossible until the hidden pattern is revealed by Kai Bugge.
The short story collection "Tryllestaven" ("the magic wand") from 1961 does not really fit the description "mysteries". A few of them are, but most of them concerns other parts of life. You meet a young boy and his dreams, a girl solving the ultimate question for a scientist, a very distorted traditional Norwegian fairy tale, an underdog who finds his magic wand in shape of a walking cane, the challenge of writing soberly while sober and other stories. One story is a direct precursor to the next book he wrote.
In 1963 André Bjerke published "Enhjørningen" ("The unicorn") under his own name. Enhjørningen consists of three novellas and a short story bound together by the challenge between psychology and the unicorn – representing the supernatural forces in existence. Dr. Kahrs denies the existence of any unicorn, and his three bridge-playing friends, the author, Nordberg, the ad-man, Bøhmer and the journalist, Strand, tries to convince him by telling of their meeting with the unicorn. The three stories are very different in every sense – but will Dr. Kahrs be convinced. Or is stronger means necessary.
Bjerke also published the short story collection, "Hobby-detektiven" ("the hobby detective") where the very unusual police officer, Klaus Vangli, is the hero. Vangli has a very untraditional approach to the different mysteries he sets out to solve. He claims that his enormous range of hobbies gives him the necessary skills and knowledge to solve murders, thefts, fraud and a rather petty theft by a small child. His hobbies covers chess, astronomy, optics, philately, track and field, football betting and other interests that has seems to have nothing in common. But Vangli solves the cases and gets his man, woman or child. The reader's knowledge about the hobbies is also tested, but the short stories can be enjoyed even by ignorants in the aforementioned themes.
Bjerke also published two collections of mystery short stories in 1970, titled "Onkel Oscar starter opp" ("Uncle Oscar Starts Up") and "Onkel Oscar kjører videre" ("Uncle Oscar Drives On"). They were co-written by the TV host, Harald Tusberg, and they are adaptations from the manuscripts for the TV series about uncle Oscar. Oscar is a cab driver in contemporary Oslo who is mixed up in different crimes and solves them by his ability to get around and his acumen.
He was the co-host of the television show Streiftog i grenseland ("Visits in the border sone") in 1973. This series of shows was the first dedicated to investigating paranormal and occult phenomena. Harald Tusberg, with whom he had written about uncle Oscar was the other host.
André Bjerke was an excellent chess player, and has written several essays about the history and culture of chess. One of his chess books, "Spillet i mitt liv" ("The game in my life") written between 1968 and 1975, was considered chess book of the century in an informal poll held by the Norwegian chess federation in 1999.
Norway was for many years troubled by the strife between the two different language adherent groups. A vast majority, prefers the Bokmål (Traditional Standard Norwegian), while Neo-Norwegian is preferred by parts of the population in the mountain districts and in rural districts in Western Norway. A third faction tried to merge the two languages into on, called Samnorsk. André Bjerke sided firmly with the conservative part of the majority and was one of the founders of an alternative association of authors, named after the year it was founded, 1952, in opposition to the lax reactions in the older authors' association on the attempts to make a merged language. Bjerke's and others' strong opposition and the example they made of using the language in their poems, dramas and prose, contributed to the end of the merger attempts and to a more relaxed atmosphere where districts choose their variety of Norwegian instead of having it enforced on a national level.
After a debilitating stroke in 1981, he was bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Bjerke was married to the actress Henny Moan. Together they had a daughter, Vilde, who wrote a book about her father, "Du visste om et land. Om min far André Bjerke" ("You knew of a country. About my father André Bjerke") in 2002.
- Norsk Sjakkblad nr 1, 2000
|Recipient of the Bastian Prize