"Nothing in Elias' measured life, in his whole career as a teacher of literature, in his marriage to the 'indescribably beautiful' Eva, foreshadowed the events of that apparently ordinary day. He makes sure he has his headache pills and leaves for work as he has done every morning for the past twenty-five years." He is only too familiar with his pupils' hostile attitude both to his lectures and to himself, but today he feels their impatience, their oafishness, more painfully than ever before and, after their ritually dismissive and bored response to his passionate lecture on Ibsen's The Wild Duck, he reaches a point of crisis. Shyness and Dignity is the story of a man's awakening to a world that no longer recognises what he has always stood for or his talent.
Bjørn Hansen, a respectable town treasurer, has just turned fifty and is horrified by the thought that chance has ruled his life. Eighteen years ago he left his wife and their two-year-old son for his mistress, who persuaded him to start afresh in a small, provincial town and to dabble in amateur dramatics. In time that relationship also faded, and after four years of living alone Bjørn contemplates an extraordinary course of action that will change his life for ever.
He finds a fellow conspirator in Dr Schiøtz, who has a secret of his own and offers to help Bjørn carry his preposterous and dangerous plan through to its logical conclusion. However, the sudden reappearance of his son both fills Bjørn with new hope and complicates matters. The desire to gamble with his comfortable existence proves irresistible, however, taking him to Vilnius in Lithuania, where very soon he cannot tell whether he's tangled up in a game or reality.
It is Christmas Eve, and 55-year-old Professor Pål Andersen is alone, drinking coffee and cognac in his living room. Lost in thought, he looks out of the window and sees a man strangle a woman in the apartment across the street.
Professor Andersen fails to report the crime. The days pass, and he becomes paralysed by indecision. Desperate for respite, the professor sets off to a local sushi bar, only to find himself face to face with the murderer.