Book review: The Stormwater Drains in Canberra, by Paul Johan Karlsen

Karlsen, Paul Johan. The Stormwater Drains in Canberra: A novel. New York: Krutt & Plutt Press, c2015. 292 p. Paperback.  $17.95 ISBN 978-0-9969272-0-8

This is a strange but wonderful novel.  The title mentions stormwater drains in Canberra, the capital of Australia and the novel begins with a prologue about them, but the story itself never gets to Canberra or even Australia. The only reference to Canberra is an Oslo artist’s photo of the famous stormwater drains with boys playing in them.

Told in the first person, the author is a Norwegian research psychologist living in Oslo and New York City.  He is a talented writer.  The story begins in the little Norwegian town of Bodo, north of the Arctic Circle, where Kurt grows up gay and falls for Jonny, whom he meets via a gay newspaper notice.  But Jonny rejects him until later, when they both end up in Oslo for university.  They fall in love and live together in bliss.  In the meantime, Kurt enters an airline contest for five free flights for two anywhere in the world.  He begs his best friend Ragnar to come with him, but Ragnar declines.  Next he invites Jonny, who also declines, so Kurt takes a few flights by himself.  Jonny gets caught up in sex in free and easy Oslo and their relationship falls apart, but Kurt still has his best friend, Ragnar.

So, the novel follows the ups and downs of young love in Norway in the context of permissive sexuality.  It is well written, with lots of dialogue.  Characters are well developed, both major and background characters.  Parts appear to be Kurt telling his story to Ragnar, so it can get a little confusing at times, but it is well worth any effort it requires.  Highly recommended for collections of modern international gay fiction and for readers who enjoy serious novels.

James Doig Anderson
Professor Emeritus of Library and Information Science, Rutgers University

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