By Lars Ramslie, New Island, €14.95
Reviewed by Alex Meehan, January 7th, 2007, The Sunday Business Post
Rarely has an author set out to create a ‘hero’ so objectionable as the protagonist in Lars Ramslie’s Fatso. Rino Hanssen is an obese, sweaty, ambitionless thirty four year old virgin who is obsessed with sex. He lives in an Oslo apartment owned by his father and spends his time watching hard core pornography and engaging in what can best be described as deviant behaviour.
He masturbates in phone boxes while watching a local girls’ soccer team, makes nuisance heavy breathing phone calls and engages in obsessive sexual fantasies about the women he sees around him. He’s a tragic figure, convinced that his physical appearance means he will never find true love, and his resultant behaviour virtually assures that he won’t.
He has one friend, the mysterious and dysfunctional Fillip, a hard drinking low life entrepreneur with a penchant for the strip clubs and prostitutes Rino is too much of a coward to frequent himself.
In short, Rino hates himself and is resigned to a world of loneliness, until his father decides to let out one of the rooms in his apartment to Maria, a sexy young liberated woman. Maria brings the outside world and a semblance of normality into Rino’s life.
She has sexy self confident friends and a boyfriend, Hakon, who intimidates Rino and seemingly never leaves his apartment. However, following Maria’s break-up with Hakon, Rino starts to fall in love. Don’t worry though, just in case you thought he might become a nice person, Rino promptly starts stealing her underwear and stalking one of Maria’s friends.
Fatso is written in the present tense and in the first person – something that gives it a sense of immediacy and vibrancy. It also sadly means that the reader spends more time than they would probably want to inside Rino’s head, seeing the world as he sees it.
In particular the opening pages are well past the point of being pornographic as we get to find out what exactly Rino would love to do to the women around him. Do to, not with.
This book was originally published in Norwegian and is author Lars Ramslie’s fourth novel. Ramslie is one of the leading lights of a new wave of young Norwegian authors, writing gritty modern stories that show the ugly underbelly of modern Europe.
Gritty is certainly a word that could be used to describe Fatso, and certainly if your easily offended, this is probably a book to avoid. The sexual references are extremely graphic and while Fatso is very well written, it’s ultimately hard to figure out why Ramslie bothered.
The motif of the self-loathing loser redeemed through the love of a good woman is a familiar one, but in Fatso that’s not really what we get. Because Rino isn’t redeemed, his repulsive behaviour is essentially rewarded and the end of the book sees him essentially unchanged and certainly no more worthy a character.
In one sense, it’s possible to feel sorry for this pathetic person, after all, it can’t be easy to be extremely fat in a world which values superficial ideals of beauty. However, in this case any such sympathy is short lived, because Rino is ugly on the inside as well as on the outside.