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Livet skriver kapitel
(Life Writes its Chapters)
Bonniers, 2001. ISBN: 9100577111
Reviewed by Sarah Death in SBR 2003:1
Vera is a nurse and married to Sigge, a farmer in a rural area where depopulation and closure of local services have taken the life out of the community. She has a long drive to her shifts at the hospital in the nearest town. Her husband can scarcely afford to pay his sole employee; her elderly parents, who live next door, need help; and her adult son Ville makes a meagre living by working all hours as the village mechanic. As the novel opens, Sigge has just died unexpectedly of a stroke, and Vera’s grief and loneliness are genuine, but she narrates her tale in a muted, almost philosophical tone. She finds, “on a shelf I didn’t even know I had,” reserves of strength to survive the shock. She derives comfort from solitude with only her dogs for company, arranges for the farm hand to run the farm and moves on surprisingly quickly to an intermittent physical relationship, fond but scarcely passionate, with a married man, a drug company rep she meets at the hospital. Her nurse’s eye gradually alerts her to the fact that he is exhibiting symptoms of what may be cancer, but he seeks treatment too late, and at the end of the novel he, too, dies. She visits him in another ward of her own hospital but is unable to express her feelings in his wife’s presence.
Even before Sigge’s death, Ville had embarked on an unlikely and ultimately disastrous marriage to Ylva, a fastidious and seemingly calculating dentist who uses him as good peasant breeding stock and then virtually refuses to have anything else to do with him. She withdraws with their son Benjamin to her own part of the house, exploits Ville financially and eventually divorces him and moves with Benjamin to Norway, to marry her lover. The boy is allowed only occasional visits to his father and grandmother, to Vera’s distress, yet her account of Vigge’s marriage and Ylva’s betrayal shows her as a strangely passive onlooker.
The novel certainly includes many perceptive insights into life in modern Sweden – its rural decline, its inadequate modern health service, the demise of the nuclear family, and so on – but the tone is not of anger, more of melancholy resignation.
Writing in Swedish Book Review as long ago as 1983, Helena Forsås-Scott identified one of Antti’s major short-comings as her “lack of distance to her subject matter in general and to her central character in particular” (1983:2, p.11) Little has changed. In Life Writes its Chapters – whose very title, like those of Antti’s earlier Inte värre än vanligt (No Worse than Usual, 1977), Ett ögonblick i sänder (One Moment at a Time, 1980) and Jag reder mig nog (I’ll Get By, 1983), indicates a stoic but powerless perspective – the central character is the only person to whose consciousness we are admitted, and she is too numbed, too passive. In a sense doubly widowed, then robbed of her beloved only grandchild, Vera would have every justification for grabbing our attention by shouting out loud, but instead her story emerges in a rather droning monologue, which this reader at least found hard to concentrate on for any length of time.
Other reviews by Sarah Death
- Therese Bohman, Aftonland (Eventide). Reviewed in SBR 2017:1.
- Ellen Mattson, Sommarleken (The Summer Game). Reviewed in SBR 2016:2.
- Jerker Virdborg, Skyddsrummet Luxgatan (The Lux Street Bunker). Reviewed in SBR 2016:1.
- Agneta Pleijel, Spådomen: en flickas memoarer (The Prophecy: Memoirs of a Girl). Reviewed in SBR 2015:2.
- Aino Trosell, Min grav är din. Krimineller II (My Grave is Yours. Criminelles II). Reviewed in SBR 2015:1.
- Mats Kempe, Det jag redan minns. En roman i 16 noveller (What I Already Remember. A Novel in 16 Short Stories). Reviewed in SBR 2014:2.
- Bodil Malmsten, Och ett skepp med sju segel och femti kanoner ska försvinna med mig (And a Ship with Seven Sails and Fifty Cannons Will Disappear with Me). Reviewed in SBR 2014:1.
- Ulla-Lena Lundberg, Is (Ice). Reviewed in SBR 2013:S.
- Karin Alvtegen, Fjärilseffekten (The Butterfly Effect). Reviewed in SBR 2013:2.
- Marie Norin, vit vit (white white). Reviewed in SBR 2013:1.
- Peter Handberg, Skuggor (Shadows). Reviewed in SBR 2012:2.
- Håkan Nesser, Himmel över London (Skies over London). Reviewed in SBR 2012:1.
- Liselott Willén, Ingenstans under himlen (No Other Name Under Heaven). Reviewed in SBR 2011:2.
- Harriet Löwenhjelm, Samlade dikter. Med forörd och kommentarer av Boel Hackman (Collected Poems. With Foreword and Commentaries by Boel Hackman). Reviewed in SBR 2011:2.
- Therese Bohman, Den drunknade (Drowned). Reviewed in SBR 2011:1.
- Carola Sandbacka, Under kriget (During the War). Reviewed in SBR 2011:1.
- Susanne Ringell, Vattnen (The Waters). Reviewed in SBR 2011:1.
- Anne Swärd, Till sista andetaget (Breathless). Reviewed in SBR 2010:2.
- Käbi Laretei, Vart tog all denna kärlek vägen? (Where Did All That Love Go?). Reviewed in SBR 2010:2.
- Aris Fioretos, Den siste greken (The Last Greek). Reviewed in SBR 2010:1.
- Jerker Virdborg, Kall feber (Cold Fever). Reviewed in SBR 2010:1.
- Henrik Nilsson, Den falske vännen (The False Friend). Reviewed in SBR 2009:2.
- Majgull Axelsson, Is och vatten, vatten och is (Ice and Water, Water and Ice). Reviewed in SBR 2009:2.
- Katarina Mazetti, Mitt liv som pingvin (My Life as a Penguin). Reviewed in SBR 2009:2.
- Ellen Mattson, Glädjestranden (The Joyous Shore). Reviewed in SBR 2009:1.
- Carina Burman, Hästen från porten: ett österländskt ävertyr (The Ottoman Horse: An Eastern Adventure). Reviewed in SBR 2009:1.
- Peter Kihlgård, Kicki & Lasse. Reviewed in SBR 2008:2.
- Göran Sahlberg, När tiden tog slut (When Time Was No More). Reviewed in SBR 2008:2.
- Inger Edelfeldt, Hemligt ansikte (Secret Face). Reviewed in SBR 2008:1.
- Åsa Linderborg, Mig äger ingen (Nobody Owns Me). Reviewed in SBR 2008:1.
- Jessica Kolterjahn, Ut ur skuggan (Out of the Shadow). Reviewed in SBR 2008:1.
- Niklas Rådström, Gästen (The Guest). Reviewed in SBR 2007:2.
- Anne Swärd, Kvicksand (Quicksand). Reviewed in SBR 2007:2.
- Susanna Alakoski, Svinalängorna (The Pigsties). Reviewed in SBR 2007:2.
- Ann Granhammer, Den indianska krassens blickande (The Look of the Nasturtium). Reviewed in SBR 2007:1.
- Liza Marklund, Nobels testamente (Nobel's Last Will and Testament). Reviewed in SBR 2007:1.
- Alexander Ahndoril, Regissören (The Director). Reviewed in SBR 2007:1.
- Lotta Lundberg, Skynda, kom och se (Roll up, Roll up). Reviewed in SBR 2006:2.
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- Solja Krapu, Mogen för skrubben (Ready for the Cupboard). Reviewed in SBR 2006:1.
- Jerker Virdborg, Försvinnarna: en efterforskning (The Disappearers: An Investigation). Reviewed in SBR 2005:2.
- Anna-Karin Palm, Herrgården (The Manor House). Reviewed in SBR 2005:2.
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- Marie Peterson, Du tror du vet allting (You Think You Know It All). Reviewed in SBR 2004:2.
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- Various Authors, .DOC (.DOC). Reviewed in SBR 2003:2.
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- Jerker Virdborg, Landhöjning två centimeter per natt (Land levels rising, two centimetres a night). Reviewed in SBR 2002:2.
- Inger Edelfeldt, Riktig kärlek (Real Love). Reviewed in SBR 2002:2.
- Kerstin Ekman, Sista rompan (The Last String). Reviewed in SBR 2002:2.
- Åke Edwardson, Himlen är en plats på jorden (Heaven is a Place on Earth). Reviewed in SBR 2002:1.
- Torbjörn Flygt, Underdog. Reviewed in SBR 2002:1.
- Thomas Kanger, Första stenen (The First Stone). Reviewed in SBR 2001:2.
- Carina Burman, Islandet (The Ice Land). Reviewed in SBR 2001:2.
- Barbara Voors, Sömnlös (Sleepless). Reviewed in SBR 2001:2.
- Elsie Johansson, Nancy (Nancy). Reviewed in SBR 2001:1.
- Eva Claeson (ed), Metamorphoses, Journal of the Five Colleges for Literary Translation: Special Issue on Swedish Literature, Spring 2000, vol. 8 no. 1. Reviewed in SBR 2000:2.
- Anna Lindegren, Orola. Reviewed in SBR 2000:2.
- Kerstin Ekman, Urminnes tecken (Signs of Time Immemorial). Reviewed in SBR 2000:2.
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- Kerstin Ekman, Guds barmhärtighet (God's Mercy). Reviewed in SBR 2000:1.
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- Christina Doctare, När man väntar sig en man: Ansikte mot ansikte med kriget (When You Were Expecting a Man). Reviewed in SBR 1997:2.
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Other reviews in SBR 2003:1
- Majgull Axelsson, En stad av slott (A City of Castles). Reviewed by Linda Schenck.
- Ernst Brunner, Fukta din aska. C M Bellmans liv från början till slut (Moisten Your Mortal Ashes. C M Bellman's Life from Beginning to End). Reviewed by Birgitta Thompson.
- Stewe Claeson, Rönndruvan glöder (The Rowan's Cluster Glows). Reviewed by Charles Harrison-Wallace.
- Stig Claesson, Efter oss syndafloden (Après nous le déluge). Reviewed by Henning Koch.
- Åke Edwardson, Segel av sten (Sails of Stone). Reviewed by Irene Scobbie.
- Anna Ehn, Man ska vara tyst när man önskar (Make a Silent Wish). Reviewed by Sarah Death.
- Per Gunnar Evander, Plötsligt medan dimman lättar (Suddenly While the Mist is Lifting). Reviewed by Rick McGregor.
- Theodor Kallifatides, Den sjätte pasageraren (The Sixth Passenger). Reviewed by Peter Linton.
- Maaret Koskinen, I begynnelsen var ordet: Ingmar Bergman och hans tidiga författarskap (In the Beginning Was the Word: Ingmar Bergman and his early writings). Reviewed by Annika Lindskog.
- Björn Larsson, Den sanna berättelsen om Inga Andersson (The True Story of Inga Andersson). Reviewed by Tom Geddes.
- Ulla-Lena Lundberg, Marsipansoldaten (The Marzipan Soldier). Reviewed by Silvester Mazzarella.
- Henning Mankell, Innan frosten (Before the Frost). Reviewed by Laurie Thompson.
- Jan Myrdal, Gubbsjuka. Reviewed by Eivor Martinus.
- Cilla Neumann, Dem oss skyldiga äro (Those Who Trespass Against Us). Reviewed by Linda Schenck.
- Håkan Nesser, Kära Agnes! (Dear Agnes!). Reviewed by Stig Olsson.
- Johanna Nilsson, Rebell med frusna fötter (Rebel With Frozen Feet). Reviewed by Sarah Death.
- Elisabeth Rynell, Till Mervas (To Mervas). Reviewed by Irene Scobbie.
- Niklas Rådström, Kvartett (Quartet). Reviewed by Anne Born.
- Friedrich Strindberg, Under jorden i Berlin (Underground in Berlin). Reviewed by Eivor Martinus.
- Jerker Virdborg, Svart krabba (Black Crab). Reviewed by Stig Olsson.
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