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The cover of this novel quotes a review which appeared when it was first published in Norway in 1992. It perceptively observes that the book could be called both ‘a children’s book for adults’ and ‘an adult book for children’. Although these definitions were meant as compliments, they do point to a problem in locating the book’s intended or likely readership. Its main character, Herman, is an 11-year-old boy, but most readers will need to be several years older than that to understand his story.
Herman lives in Oslo in the early 1960s, a period which is carefully evoked (radio rather than television; visits to the cinema for ‘Zorro’; lack of telephones). His problem is that he is going bald. An only child, already something of a loner and an oddball, easy prey to bullying, Herman must first endure the private shock of his condition and the mockery it causes, then a later phase of curiosity, statutory tact and pity which is just as hard for him to bear. But in his own way Herman is a spirited and humorous boy, with a gift for creating private fantasies and for perceiving what is actually fantastic and bizarre in the adult world. He is a damaged child, but a surprisingly resilient one, and the odd result of his ordeal is to leave him better integrated in his world than he was before it started. The day-to-day events of the story are both comic and sad, but the novel is chiefly an intimate character portrait, with much to interest mature readers but little to attract most children of Herman’s age-group. PH