the short story project

The Envious Hairdresser

Dana Caspi On:

The Envious Hairdresser by Lars Saabye Christensen

Years ago I came across a strange item in a local newspaper: a well-known hairdresser, or hair designer as they are often called, trimmed a client’s long hair against her will. The item disturbed me because of the violence it involved, but I quickly forgot about it, maybe because the brief description didn’t really offer me a glimpse into the characters’ world. However, Lars Saabye Christensen, the master of small moments – those moments in which the truly great emotions are expressed – took in “The Envious Hairdresser” a situation from that seemingly trivial world of relationships between hairdressers and their clients, and built a touching drama about loneliness, guilt and envy.

Bent’s character is typical of Saabye Christensen’s writing: a lonely country boy living in the big city and working so hard he finds it difficult to establish social relationships; a person of routine who always walks the same route for fear of change. At the same time, Frank the hairdresser, seems to be a character out of a piece by the Norwegian master, Knut Hamsun, who populated his books with eccentric characters who are not always aware of what they are doing and provoke a combination of identification and scorn in the reader. And in the background, the author’s beloved Oslo, the provincial town where he grew up which transformed before his very eyes into a yuppie hub of fashionable hairdresser salons. The estrangement, which he laments over in almost all the short stories and novels he has written about Oslo, is the price Norway has paid for the legendarily black gold that has made it so rich.