Silence in October
Jens Christian Grondahl
About the book:
Exploring with great subtlety the secret, unpredictable connections between men and women, Silence in October is a psychological novel of immense acuity and masterful storytelling.
About the author:
Jens Christian Grøndahl is one of the most celebrated and widely read authors in Europe today. He has written plays, essays, and eleven novels. The publication of Silence in October marks Grøndahl’s U.S. debut. His novel Lucca was awarded the prestigious Golden Laurels Prize in 1999. He lives in Copenhagen.
Q. Why does the narrator say that he “cannot know” where Astrid is, after her seven months’ absence? (1) Why doesn’t he make every effort to find her and go to her? Why did he not question Astrid when she announces that she is leaving? Why did she not voluntarily offer him an explanation?
Q. How might Astrid’s appearance and characteristic actions differ from the way in which narrator presents them? He says of Astrid: “Her story is not the same as mine, after all. The pattern of my story hides the story Astrid could have told me if she had not left…” (242-3) In what ways do Astrid’s story and Astrid herself emerge through the pattern of the narrator’s story? To what degree is Astrid the central being of the novel?
Q. To what extent has what the narrator calls “the casino of coincidences” (35) and “randomly coincidental, mutually trivial circumstances” (125)-rather than decision or design-determined his relationships, his actions, and the key events of his life? How important might coincidence and random chance-”minuscule deviations in the blind growth of chance” (126)-be in all our lives?
Q. What do the narrator’s observations concerning Cézanne, Giacometti, Mondrian, Hopper, and other artists have to do with his view of himself, of Astrid and his relationship with her, and of life itself? What does it tell us about the narrator that, as he himself confesses, he “had only been able to breathe in the flat, silent, and unmoving world of pictures”? (88) Why has he always been so attracted to “the motionless and mute universe of pictures”? (151)
Q. In what ways have the narrator, Astrid, and other characters in the novel betrayed one another and themselves? Is each instance of betrayal or self-betrayal the result of choice or of circumstances? Why does the narrator say that his greatest betrayal was his failure to tell Astrid, on their first evening in Lisbon, that he was on the point of leaving her to live with another woman? How would you describe the process and the consequences of the narrator’s betraying his “own inflated, self-consuming heart”? (53)
Q. The narrator admits that the story he tells “will only be one of many I could have told with the same strands. How could I know whether any one is more truthful than another?” (54) How would you answer that question? What are the important strands of the narrator’s story? Why does he tell his story? We do we all tell stories, to ourselves and others, about our lives and relationships, and how can we know which of our stories are truthful?
Q. The narrator likens himself and Astrid on the evening of their first embrace to “unknown, separate worlds, whose boundaries suddenly impinged on each other.” (62) To what extent do the partners in any relationship remain unknown, separate worlds to one another? What boundaries and thresholds are crossed and uncrossed in the novel, and with what consequences? How important do you think it is that boundaries-personal and other-be maintained?
Q. In relating his chance encounter with Inés in Paris, his life after returning home from the ruined house, and other incidents in his life, the narrator speaks of himself as two personalities-for example: the “old” person who loved Inés and the “he” to whom Astrid had come “like an unexpected gift;” and the hermit and the young lover. To what degree should we view the narrator as composed of distinct personalities, determined either by phases in his life, by his emotions, or by circumstances? What effect might such a view have on the credibility of the narrator’s narrative?
Q. What is the effect on the reader of the author’s presentation of events out of chronological sequence? How does Grøndahl manipulate our responses to characters and events by shifting among various levels of time, ranging from the narrator’s childhood to several weeks after Astrid’s disappearance? How might Grøndahl’s storytelling technique reflect the dynamic flow of memory itself?
Q. How accurate is the narrator’s mother’s diagnosis of his character when she tells him that “ever since I was a child I had carried a darkness within me, which I concealed from my surroundings and which therefore had only grown denser through the years, impenetrable not only to others but even to myself”? (261) What indications, and what consequences, of that darkness appear in the novel? Is the narrator’s mother the only person who has seen it? What does she mean when she says that one has to go out into the light on one’s own, “at least occasionally, when the darkness within grew too dense and impassable”? (262)
Q. “It is only our own helpless lack of synchronicity,” the narrator speculates, “the inertia of our senses, the illusory power of memory and habit, that shields us from facing the unknown when we open our eyes in the morning, washed up on the shore of yet another alien day. Every morning we tread an unknown path, and we have only faint and failing memories to tell us who we might be.” (291) What additional references are there to the sources and circumstances of our identities and the difficulties of creating and maintaining our identities? To what extent might we view Grøndahl’s novel as a study in the fragility and pricelessness of identity?
Q. What do you think are the narrator’s primary character traits? How do they affect the story he tells and the way he tells his story? How have they affected his relationships and his behavior?