Book Review: The Hole by Øyvind Torseter

holeFirst published on 1st December, 2013 in The Star

A HOLE is whole with something missing, and not just the letter “w”. When my best friend leaves after a long, food-filled visit, she leaves a Jenny-shaped hole in my life. When I left my desk-bound job I felt, acutely, a desk-shaped hole in my life, the desk-shape representing a regular routine, a steady job, financial security.

We see holes as empty spaces needing to be filled. Our initial reaction to them tends to be negative. Better to be whole than to have a hole, right? Who wants to be empty, to be missing something or someone, a purpose or a plan?

There is a hole in Øyvind Torseter’s book. Literally. It’s die-cut right through, from the front cover to the back. You can peep through it and, no matter how sophisticated you think you are, you will find it hard to resist playing peek-a-boo. 

In the story, the hole first appears in the wall of a flat. Someone is moving in. He struggles with boxes of books and kitchen things. He cooks a meal. He the sits down to eats and … that’s when he notices the hole! As it turns out, this is no ordinary hole. It has a life of its own. It is a slippery, playful thing that darts about, and teases and hides. The actual hole in the book is of course fixed, in the middle of the page, but Torseter’s illustrations accommodate it and, with changes in perspective, the hole appears to be on the move, or perhaps, on the run. What do you do with a hole like that? You trap it in a box and turn it in to the authorities of course.

I didn’t expect a box to hold the hole. I thought it might create its own escape route, but this hole appears to be whole. It is something – solid at least in concept if not in actuality.

Once the hole is contained in its box, the die-cut hole in the book is free to take on other roles. Then we see its versatility as the illustrator incorporates it in his street scenes – as a whistling mouth, a traffic light, an eye, the letter o, a balloon, a headlamp, a nostril, a camera lens, the moon, and so on.

Oyvind Torseter


And what of the wily, lively hole? It is taken, in its box, to a lab, examined and tested. There are no conclusive results. The hole is shut away in a drawer and the flat-owner returns to his apartment, hole-less, and so, presumably, whole. The final pages see him settling into his new home, enjoying the moonlit evening with a cup of tea, going to bed. Pay attention … the hole reappears … but what of it?

What is a hole? Is it a void? Is it emptiness? Or is it a window? A nest?

A hole can be deep and dark. You may fall in it and be swallowed whole by uncertainty, you may drown in the unknown.

But a hole can also be space. It can be room to grow. It can be a familiar cubby hole. It can let in the light. A hole may help us be whole.

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