Author Marit Christensen and Norwegian publishing house Aschehoug were being both praised and harshly criticized on Thursday for not only going ahead with the release of a controversial new book about the mother of Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik, but for allegedly speeding it up. Lawyers had tried to halt its publication, while others agreed with Aschehoug that it’s important Breivik’s mother’s story finally comes out.
The book written by Christensen, a former journalist for state broadcaster NRK, offers the first glimpse of how Wenche Behring Breivik reacted to her son’s bombing of Norway’s government headquarters on July 22, 2011 and the massacre he later carried out on the island of Utøya. She went into seclusion immediately after her son’s attacks, which killed 77 people. She never granted any interviews to the news media and she didn’t testify at his trial. Court records involving her and her family, including her son’s upbringing, were not publicly released.
Yet Christensen was introduced to Breivik through a mutual acquaintance, and Aschehoug claims Breivik asked Christensen for her help “in putting words to her life story.” Both women, Aschehoug notes, were born just after World War II and belong to the same generation, suggesting that led to an understanding between the two.
Christensen has earlier said that she then had several meetings with Breivik, describing her as “a mother in shock, sorrow and angry over her son’s gruesome acts.” Aschehoug claims that “Wenche Behring Breivik’s initial desire to get help to write a book, and her later desire to get the book finished under other conditions, became another story about the last year of her life, while she battled terminal cancer.” That story, according to Aschehoug, is also part of Christensen’s book.
Thursday’s release of the book, though, was hotly disputed, because Wenche Behring Breivik reportedly changed her mind about her cooperation with Christensen when she was dying of cancer earlier this year. After all her earlier meetings with Christensen, Breivik hired a lawyer who tried to restrain Christensen from using the information Breivik earlier had willingly revealed. After the same lawyer seemed to suggest legal action, Aschehoug released the book two weeks earlier than expected, thus avoiding any court order that might have blocked its publication. Aschehoug officials deny they moved up the release date, claiming they never had “any exact date” of publicatino.
Christensen insisted Thursday that Wenche Behring Breivik wanted her to complete the book. At a well-attended press launch, Christensen it was a “very difficult” book to write but claimed she had handled Breivik’s story “responsibly.” While conceding that there was “a lot of back of forth” involved with the book’s production, she considered it an “important book” that she simply had to write, as part of her own sense of public duty given the enormity of the attacks on July 22, 2011 and what it meant for Norwegian society.
Aschehoug earlier had released some portions of the book, like how Breivik thought her son had been injured or killed in the attacks himself when police called her on the phone on the evening of July 22, asked her to come outside and hand over her key to the flat she’d shared with her son. Instead, she was given the message that “the terrorist is your son” and that’s why he hadn’t come home to the dinner she had prepared for them.
Christensen also writes that Wenche Behring Breivik called her on the first anniversary of the attacks, and said she wanted to address the nation, to let fellow her Norwegians know that “he who created this tragedy has hurt me, too.” Breivik expressed fear in the speech she never did make, believing that someone would shoot her as well if she went outdoors.
Now there is no question that both Christensen and Aschehoug are under pressure, and on the defensive. Speculation flew in Norwegian media on Thursday that lawsuits would be filed over the book, which reportedly reveals intimate details of the lives of the Breiviks, including the terrorist’s sister who lives in the US.
While some, including author Aage Storm Borchgrevink who also has written a book about the July 22 attacks, agree that it’s important for the public to learn more about the mother of Norway’s right-wing terrorist and mass murderer, others assail Aschehoug’s publication of the book as “distasteful,” even on Aschehoug’s own website. They think his dying mother should have been left alone and that the public doesn’t need to have the option of reading about her. Borchgrevink argues that Anders Behring Breivik’s troubled childhood with divorced parents, an absent diplomat father and a “flighty” mother had a lot to do with his hatred that evolved later in life, and which came to affect Norway forever.
Jens Breivik, meanwhile, the terrorist’s father, told radio station P4 on Thursday that Christensen’s book “was not rooted in reality” and that he is amazed that Christensen never took contact with him. Newspaper VG assailed the book itself and Aschehoug was bracing for mixed reviews at best. One thing is clear: Christensen and Aschehoug both were getting plenty of publicity.