«Last year, in the middle of the summer, a small Norwegian town was the scene of some highly unusual occurrences. A stranger appeared in town, a certain Nagel, a peculiar and eccentric charlatan who did a large number of odd things before disappearing once again, as suddenly as he had arrived.»

2017-04-2608:58 Marianne Gjelseth

Mysteries (1892) starts with a riddle: who is this person who goes ashore from the coastal ferry one summer’s day, in this small, flag-bedecked southern coastal town?

It turns out that the stranger’s name is Johan Nilsen Nagel. He is wearing a very striking yellow suit, and carries a small bottle of Prussic acid secreted in the pocket of his waistcoat.

With his outrageous appearance and his eccentric behaviour Nagel at once attracts attention. He falls for Dagny Kielland, the priest’s daughter, who is already engaged, and strikes up a friendship with the Midget, the butt of the town’s bullies and practical jokers. In due course he proposes marriage to Marta Gude, white-haired and one of the town’s poor, before he commits suicide.

But the mysteries survive him: who, in fact, was he? What lay behind his fascination with the Midget? And is Nagel in any way connected with the death of the theologian, Karlsen?

The novel received a mixed reception in Norway. Many were provoked, seeing Nagel as a mouthpiece for the author’s own crude and politically incorrect opinions.