TO begin with, here are just a few of the things you will find in Jenny Hval’s new book Girls Against God: Norwegian black metal, Christian conformity, Edvard Munch, the idea of white as the colour of horror, the notion of art as a form of magic, witches, a demon made of spaghetti, menstrual blood, Ikea chairs, allen keys, God, natch (that may not need saying), a discussion on whether hardcore pornography is Catholic or Protestant (the books suggests the latter; “It has always seemed that way to me,” Hval says when I bring it up), language as a form of power, and possibly the angriest girl in the world.

What is it? It’s an experimental horror novel that’s also a feminist statement. It’s a book about Norway and artistic practice and the body as both an idea and a physical reality. It’s strange and seductive and challenging and, at times, very funny. And it’s a reminder that musician-turned-author Hval, is one of the most intriguing, provocative artists around at the moment.

It is early October when we speak. “I’m home,” she says when I call. “Isn’t everyone?”

Home in her case is Oslo. A month ago, she moved to the suburbs of the city “I’m used to seeing neighbours across a very narrow street. I’m used to seeing a naked guy or various random situations in other apartments. And now I see these beautiful very old trees. It’s a little magical for me to be closer to nature.”

It’s a strange time to move because of coronavirus, she admits. “And I share studio space with others in the city, so now I need to go on the subway and that’s something you’re not really supposed to do a lot.”

Right now, we’re all living in a horror story, Jenny. “Who needs books?” she replies, before adding, “Everyone.”

She has now had two novels translated into English. The previous one, Paradise Rot (published in Norway in 2009 but only translated into English in 2018), was a slice of body horror about fungi and decay. Reading it left a snail trail across my brain. Girls Against God just fried it. But in a good way, I tell her.

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The story behind the book goes back to the recording of her last album Blood Bitch, which she made with producer Lasse Marhaug.

“We’d been watching a lot of movies and eventually we decided we wanted to make a film at some point, and I started writing a script,” Hval recalls.

The film script eventually became part of the book. But only when she found her lead character. “I guess this angry protagonist voice became necessary to make this into a book. I’m definitely in two minds about a narrative and a plot, but when I found that angry voice I felt that motivated a lot of scenes and was fun to write and I felt that I connected with the Norwegian language a lot better than I had previously in my attempts at writing. I guess I tried to combine all these, which,” she says, “is why maybe it’s a brain-frying book.”

There’s nothing wrong with being challenged as a reader, I suggest. “I saw it as something super-easy until my parents tried to read it. That’s how I feel about my music too. I feel like my songs are so simple they’re really dumb. And then people listen to them and it appears people don’t agree with me. I don’t set out to be difficult. I’ve never been that kind of confrontational artist.”

Girls Against God begins with the line, “It’s 1990, and I’m the Gloomiest Child Queen.” The obvious question, Jenny, was that you too? “I don’t think I was as angry as the protagonist ever, though I had some of that in me. I do think that I had a raging attitude towards the Norwegian language.”

Norway’s black metal music scene is the background against which the book is set, in its initial stages at any rate. A music scene which eventually encompassed attacks on Christianity and ultimately saw the burning of churches and even murder.

“I was actually too young for the black metal movement,” Hval points out. “I didn’t see much of it growing up. The first thing I heard about it was the murders and the church burnings. But I did see the wider metal scene and I was part of that in a band.

“I see the black metal movement as almost impossible. Maybe it couldn’t have happened anywhere else. It’s incredible that it happened here. I think that’s how mainstream Norway thinks about it. ‘Why here? Why such an aggressive subcultural different type of scene in this country where everything is so quiet, and we have socialism?’”

Hval describes her own childhood as a world of reading and silence. She is originally from Oslo, but the family moved around and at points she did grow up in what she calls the “Bible Belt” in Norway.

“So, I did see a lot of Christian communities, different types of Protestant behaviour, different types of American influence. I did see the racist movement that was prominent in the 1990s in Norway. There were a lot of fights, demonstrations.”

All of this finds its way into the book. In that sense you could suggest it’s a surreal state-of-the-nation novel, with the nation being Norway.

“I’m definitely discussing what made it possible that a country can be peaceful and seemingly socialist and non-violent and at the same time have these extreme groups of very racist youths and this American religion coming in. There is so much hidden under this uniform community of Scandinavia. Maybe that’s why the black metal is important because nobody saw it coming. I don’t have any answers. I wanted to dissect it a little bit.”

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Her own family were secular, but, growing up, the kids around her were often not. “We moved closer and closer to a place where it was quite common to have a personal religious experience, to have faith. That to me was very strange. But at the same time, we were all friends, we were all kids.

“It was just a weird mini-America. I felt split between the secular people and the very religious people who were speaking in tongues in school meetings. But they were nice. You could interpret it as different ways of being kids full of hormones and a need to express themselves. I guess charismatic religion is an outlet that resembles my need to be an artist. There are so many parallels.”

If you want something that connects Hval’s music and her writing you could maybe suggest it’s that she manages to be seductive and disturbing in both. It’s interesting that Hval claims that she didn’t grow up that interested in horror. When she wrote Paradise Rot, she says, “I think I wanted to write a 1990s indie film. It was much more abstract than the book became. I had just read all the Harry Potter books and I was more inspired by that than horror. Feminist theory meets Harry Potter.”

Whether JK Rowling would recognise her influence is debatable. In the years since, Hval has become more interested in horror, watching Japanese horror movies and 1970s low budget horror exploitation films. “I’ve never been interested in mainstream scary movies. They are difficult to take when it comes to character, gender. And they’re usually not so scary when the mystery is revealed, and the monster is revealed.

“I did get very frightened by It Follows. That scared me. The monster was never revealed and the fact that it’s there it’s like death, always walking behind you, catching up.”

She’s not keen to compartmentalise or separate out the various things she does. But Hval does admit that she feels much less pressure making music than writing books. In the latter, she says, she still feels very much an outsider with something to prove.

“I don’t think so much about that when I make music. I’m probably more confident with music, or relaxed. I don’t have any education in music, so maybe I feel more liberated. I don’t have to please in the same way.”

Making music during a pandemic is not easy, however, she has discovered in the last few months. “I can force myself to be productive, but the results are mediocre, and I feel that’s what this time wants.

“I have less inspiration to go deep into things. I want to be superficial and average. Or that’s not really what I want to be. It’s just that I feel this time is wanting us to be like that.

“I’m trying. I’m not sure I’m succeeding very much and if I am succeeding, I’m not sure what I’m succeeding at.”

Finally, is she herself a girl against God? Maybe not so much now, she says. “I think that I have maybe become reconciled to the idea of God through writing this book and re-examining the idea of what God could be. I’m still as uninterested in the idea of the old Guy with the beard and the all-seeing eye, which I think works better in Lord of the Rings than the Bible.

“But I do think I am very interested in spiritual experiences. The possibility of magic, the possibility of God, spirituality, whatever you call it.

“I just find it to be an interesting part of any equation of experience. Now I don’t need to exclude it and there’s no need to be afraid of it.”

Girls Against God by Jenny Hval is published by Verso, priced £9.99