I don’t think this review’s title accurately captures its contents. James Wood dives into Solstad’s exploration of the “life-lie”, the structures and narratives we construct to provide meaning to our lives. Solstad uses the form of his books, such as one written entirely in footnotes, to decentre his characters from their lives, to emphasize that life does not fit into tidy narratives, that fiction’s standard form is, well, a fiction:
Solstad’s inventive approach allows him to reflect on the freedom and obligations of the novelist who is tasked with telling someone else’s life story. It also inscribes, in the novel’s very form, Solstad’s way of writing about people who are not quite the protagonists of their own lives. … We think that we know, reading a novel, what a “digression” is—a swerve from the main action—because we think we know what the main action is. But what if an entire life were merely a collection of digressions, a slalom of such swerves? What if a life—even an apparently consequential one, like an ambassador’s—had no discernible narrative, no coherent main action? Actual lives look nothing much like conventional novels. That is the challenge Solstad accepts and rigorously joins.
(Shout-outs to existentialists like Sartre and Camus make me want to pick up At the Existentialist Café.)