Reviewed by Mia Österlund in SBR 2015:2
Review Section: Fiction - Adult
Felicia Stenroth’s second novel Indianlekar (Indian Games) is a laconic account of the vulnerable underdog existence of Ebba, a fifteen-year-old girl from a small town. Stenroth’s debut, Bilder som inte angår mig (Pictures that don’t Concern Me, 2012), revolves around a similar void, with small-town girls in their early teens who have no one to care for them. The sense of opaque fragility in the new novel is the same as in Fredrik Edfeldt’s film Flickan (The Girl, 2009), which also depicts a neglected girl left alone on a farm for the summer. Hoyte van Hoytema’s award-winning cinematography creates a feeling of transparency and exposes the child’s severe neglect. Stenroth, too, focuses on ill-treatment and dysfunctional families.
The situation of Ebba and her cousin Edith is devoid of hope. The social worker who sanctions the self- mutilating Edith’s summer leave from an institution and allows her to stay in Ebba’s boyfriend’s empty flat is the only middle-class ‘alibi’ figure the reader meets. And that is not a comfortable position. The thin story, with its potentially explosive content, gives the reader an inside view of underclass life, told from an apathetic perspective. Stenroth is skilful in creating a creeping feeling of nothingness. Empty fridges, hunger and emotional numbness are recurrent themes. The setting, the ‘Indian village’ – a nickname for the flats belonging to the local Volvo factory – symbolises the democratic dream of providing a decent life for all workers. But the dream of equality is trashed by the brokenness of those who live there today. They have nothing and feel nothing.
The novel is light, almost transparent, yet black as the lumps of mascara Edith keeps smearing into her eyelashes. Stenroth captures the emptiness a summer can hold for those deprived of even the most basic needs, such as food. The girls dye their hair, steal make-up from storerooms behind a supermarket and walk barefoot to harden their feet. They take care of Ebba’s boyfriend’s ill- treated dog while he is away working in Norway, the current solution for Swedes with few opportunities.
Class oozes from every pore. The details in Indianlekar are as striking as in Åsa Linderborg’s Mig äger ingen (Nobody Owns Me, 2007), which also depicts an upbringing in the shadow of a working- class man who neglects those closest to him. The difference is that there is no warmth left in Ebba’s relationships. Everything is flat, and her futile attempts to comment on the emptiness melt into air. Instead, a shivering emptiness and disillusion creep into the reader’s mind via a series of snapshots straight from the contemporary misery of those who have nothing left to dream of.