The Conqueror is the second novel in a trilogy concerning Jonas Wergeland, a famed Norwegian documentary producer who, for reasons left unexplained at the end of the previous novel, The Seducer, has murdered his wife and, after a whirlwind of media attention and a trial in which he refuses to defend himself, sits in jail.

Told in short, seemingly unordered, chapters, The Conqueror is in the dark side of the rosy story of Wergeland’s life and rise to fame that was presented in The Seducer. While both novels are told in a similar style—with a narrative that jumps from place to place and from time to time indifferently, daring the reader to keep up, while maintaining a nearly unbelievable story-telling momentum and straightforwardness—The Conqueror, for its darkness, is something of a departure from the previous novel.

Gone is the hagiographic feel imposed by the unknown narrator of The Seducer, to be replaced by a more malign, and more mysterious, narrator. Appearing on the doorstep of a professor who has been hired to produce the definitive work on Jonas Wergeland’s life, this stranger has access to stories from Jonas’ life that throw a different light on Jonas’ murder. While at the end of The Seducer we feel that we know little about Jonas’ motivation for murder, the narrator in The Conqueror systematically tells us stories that make Jonas’ action seem more and more of a piece with his character.

He almost jumped out of his skin when the power saw started up. It sounded hellish in the darkness, as if the ghost of the Blücher itself had risen again from the deep. Jonas had already cut the lanyards of the shroud on the one side, and it won’t take him long to fell the mast, he knows what to do, cuts into the wood between the mast step and the fife rail; stands there in a cloud of exhaust fumes, watching the saw blade slice through the mast. No sign of Gabriel, although by the racket you would have thought someone was driving a motorbike around the deck. Jonas watched the mast slowly topple over…

Jonas was in the dinghy and some distance away from the boat by the time he saw a white figure come stumbling through the hatchway and heard this person grunting into the darkness, asking whether the Hell’s Angels were on the go or what. It was Gabriel — Gabriel in anachronistic long-johns and long-sleeved undershirt, eccentric to the bone, you might say.

‘You bastard,’ Jonas hisses. ‘You fucking bastard. I should have sunk her, but you don’t get off that easy.’

Translated from the Norwegian by Barbara J. Haveland, The Conqueror weaves together an incredible amount of small detail, and continues the addictive narrative begun in The Seducer, both drawing the reader further into Jonas Wergeland’s, and Norway’s, world and doing more than most novels in attempting to investigate the mysteries that make up a life.

The Conqueror
by Jan Kjaerstad
Translated from the Norwegian by Barbara Haveland
Arcadia (UK)
493pp Paperback

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The Conqueror
By Jan Kjaerstad
Translated by Barbara Haveland
Reviewed by E.J. Van Lanen
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