Wahlström & Widstrand, 2011. ISBN: 9789146220855
Reviewed by James Walker in SBR 2011:2
The title is borrowed from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: ‘All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’. Claes de Faire is a journalist turned novelist. In this, his debut novel, he sorts the chapters throughout the novel according to each of the three main characters; the father, Jan-Carl, Louise his wife and Julia their daughter. They are narrated by a third person narrator. Jan-Carl is a self-made captain of industry, an unfaithful yuppie. Louise is from an upper-class landed family and is a successful(ish) Stockholm lawyer. Their daughter is unhappily sleeping her way through public school. The novel attempts to lay bare the upper class and their seemingly perfect lives but, perhaps because I am a Brit and live in a far more class-bound society than Sweden, the multiple clichés adopted by de Faire fall short of the mark. For example, this about Jan-Carl: ‘He grunts happily as he notes that the smell of leather from his handmade Crockett and Jones shoes reaches up to his face’ (‘Han grymtar till i sitt välmående och slås av att läder-doften från de handsydda Crockett and Jones-skorna sträcker hela vägen upp till ansiktet’). Louise is consumed by whether or not she is a bad mother to a child she has little interest in. Julia is a spoiled rich bitch taking comfort in a series of sexual pursuits, at the same time as she is extremely self-disciplined and ensures that she gets good grades. The reviews have been mixed (some have been very admiring indeed. Ed.); some commented that the journalist de Faire is accused of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’ and I agree. He ‘tells’ for the first two hundred and fifty pages and then, when he finally ‘shows’ in the last fifty, it is too hurried and hence less than plausible. As I was reading the book, it reminded me of American Psycho without the pornography and The Bonfire of the Vanities without the drama and tension.