AlfabetaAnamma, 2005. ISBN: 9150105078
Reviewed by Sarah Death in SBR 2006:1
Most English teachers think of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies in terms of getting it across to their pupils, but Eva-Lena Eliasson is obliged to experience its breakdown of civilized behaviour for herself. Wife of Erik, mother of three, EvaLena teaches in a small town in northern Sweden. It’s the start of a new school year, and the sparkle has gone out of her life. She is a neat, conventional woman who prides herself on her domestic and professional competence. In fact, she’s something of a control freak: this is a woman who delights in the sight and feel of sharpened pencils or a pristine box of new erasers. She compensates for disappointment at the lack of affection in her life with a compulsion to impose order on the work and family chaos around her. She sets high standards for herself: lessons always immaculately prepared; the house spotless; no snacking between meals! Eva-Lena is having trouble with the work-life balance; she’s stopped seeing her family as people and views their needs just as boxes to tick in her hectic schedule. Eric finds his wife’s relentless organization increasingly irritating. He spends as much time away from home as possible, and has made (unsuccessful) approaches to other women. One Friday evening, Eva-Lena decides to go back to school to do some photocopying and buy a few items from the nearby shop. The school has just had new locks installed, and the one on the door to the photocopy room jams. She hasn’t brought her mobile phone; her bike is parked out of sight; her son was surfing the web as usual and didn’t hear when she told him where she was going. Erik gets back very late and, feeling guilty about how he’s neglected her lately, initially assumes she is making a point by staying with her friend Aurora. Later, he keeps falling asleep when he should be raising the alarm. Eva-Lena is too inhibited to shout or pound on the door; the few people still in the school leave for the weekend without hearing her. The stage is set for a long wait. Trapped in a small, windowless space with only her groceries – a medium Coca-Cola, a lemon, some cream and soy sauce – to sustain her, EvaLena is forced to take stock of her life. For once she has time to think, and absolute freedom from responsibility. Initially she expects speedy rescue and is merely frustrated at the disruption to her routine, but as time inexorably passes and nobody comes, she feels increasingly desperate. She thinks back over the past days, weeks and years, feeling negative about most aspects of her existence. Propriety is abandoned as Eva-Lena has to cope with her basic bodily needs and functions. Exhausted, grimy and dehydrated, she lets her mind wander into daydreams and fantasies. But captivity peels away all the petty inessentials and reminds her what she really values: her family and her pupils as human beings. She finds the inner resources for one final, heroic escape effort. When rescue comes at last, it is satisfyingly dramatic and messy. Solja Krapu is a teacher, which comes as no surprise: her detailed, insider view of life at the sharp end of the Swedish education system will be familiar to all fellow teachers. She is also a performance poet, and her prose is both punchy and poetic. With its ingenious, tragi-comic plot, richness of characterization and spot-on psychology, this is a book that really speaks to anyone trapped in the daily grind. It lives on in the mind long after the last page is read.