Book review: Fatso, by Lars Ramslie

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.

3 Replies to “Book review: Fatso, by Lars Ramslie”

  1. This might just be the worst review I have read about this book. I think you really missed the point, and did not understand Rino, the main character. I was actually shocked by reading your opinion about this book, but not surprised though, concidering you being a man. You would probebly think the movie is funny though.

  2. Well, reviews are by their nature subjective things.

    They contain the reviewer’s opinion and I believe that what is important is that the opinion is considered and thoughtful. I have a lot of respect for authors and I know that they work hard on their books, so when I’m being negative about a book in a review, I always try to be fair.

    On that basis, I believe the opinions I express in the review above are considered. I’ve provided explanations of why I liked and disliked the things I did about this book – and even though this review was written almost two years ago, I remember reading the book and writing the review – I liked the style the author had used and I thought it was a well written book, but the main character was really unpleasant.

    I didn’t know a film had been made of it. I can’t say I’d be in a rush to watch it, as the subject matter doesn’t strike me as particularly funny. Maybe I didn’t understand it – that’s always possible.

  3. unpleasant, hes that way because he doesnt have love. no? Maybe i just understand, because ive gone through youth quite lonely(and horny). But do you really feel repulsed by him? Isnt this what perpetuated him into his unpleasantless, people thinking hes nothing, or ugly, inside and out. Is my call for more sympathy, pathetic?

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