Albert Bonniers förlag, 2011. ISBN: 9789100125363
Reviewed by Anna Tebelius in SBR 2011:2
One image from Eva Ström’s latest novel Den flödande lyckan (Flowing Happiness) is referred to in almost all its Swedish reviews. It is a powerful image that comes early in the book: the author-narrator witnesses the demolition of a building in her street. A wrecking-ball collides with the walls to expose religious motifs painted inside a missionary church. The image is used to present some of the underlying ideas in Ström’s novel. The force of destruction acts literally and metaphorically to expose and generate something unexpected – perhaps faith, or happiness. Ström attempts to weave these ideas together through three main storylines: an assessment of the narrator’s faith, a pre- and post-history of a relationship and an account of the narrator’s neighbourhood. The novelist experiments with a fragmentary style, allowing the story to go backwards and forwards in time, interchanging narrative voices and interrupting the flow of the text with short italicised poetic lines, both her own or borrowed quotes from a range of sources, from the Bible and Shakespeare to Leonard Cohen and Hjalmar Söderberg to old proverbs and Billie Holiday. The narrator asks what purpose faith serves in a secular society. Hers is still rooted in a childlike wonderment at miracles and angelic interventions. She reads Hitchens and Dawkins and feels freed, but discovers that annihilation of faith removes her ability to write. In her atheism, the words lose their possibility to be magical and become sterile – just words. She needs faith to be able to create. The destruction of the church walls is not the novel’s first image. An ordinary scene begins the book. A group of friends gathered around a table, a young child wakes up and choses her father as the only one able to comfort her back to sleep. For the reader, the moving impact of this choice is still hidden, only revealed at the end. The image is the prelude to Ström’s narrator’s description of the disintegration of a friend’s marriage. In several episodes, the reader meets a young, idealistic and naïve Swede, Anders Bruhn, who falls head over heels for a Dutch guide, Monica. Anders, who comes from a stable Sweden and a stable family, is psychologically unhurt, but Monica is scarred by the stories of her family’s wartime losses. Later we meet Anders moving into a flat on the same street as the author-narrator. Now he is hurting, because Monica has left him for another man. The narrator tells him, in an attempt to draw him out of his depression, that she is writing about their street and mentions the old woman that used to occupy the flat before him. In a series of conversations with Anders, the story of his relationship is retold and, in yet another chance encounter, Monica allows the narrator to view her side of it. Den flödande lyckan is a thoughtprovoking experiment. Some critics have felt that it remains too fragmentary or ambitious, and that the different stories, the big ideas, and the catalogue of interrupting quotes do not coalesce. For an established poet and novelist like Ström, this book might seem too wildly creative, too different. But it is exactly the audacity to dare and still push ahead with this unusual text that impresses. Ström takes risks by trying to examine how the unexplainable can feel as real and important as reality. Weaving together the narrative strands of the book, then, leaves us with something new, the possibility of something magical, a glimmer of happiness, a different state of being. Perhaps Ström tries too hard but at least she risks it.