Albert Bonniers Förlag, 2016.
Reviewed by Eric Dickens in SBR 2016:2
Review Section: Fiction - Adult
This is a sophisticated novel with a complex narrative structure. The main narrator, an academic, is the daughter of a figure who could well resemble the real-life author Ulf Eriksson (born in 1958). But this father also wrote a text about his own father, entitled Scenes from a Father’s Life.
The main part of the novel, involving the daughter, Britta-Linnea, is set in the year 2050. But this is no futuristic sci-fi novel with spaceships and ray guns; it is a cool, almost sociological examination of what is termed the ‘Period of Transition’, the years between 2000 and 2015. Eriksson does not deal with futuristic technology, as is described in Nineteen Eighty-Four, but the novel nonetheless has an unmistakable anti- utopian flavour.
Britta-Linnea often goes out to her father’s abandoned summer cottage, somewhere in the Stockholm region, and looks through her father’s numerous papers. What is urging her on is the quest to find out more about her father and grandfather.
Interspersed with the episodes where the daughter is the central figure are pages taken from real-life Swedish newspapers and periodicals from the Period of Transition itself, i.e. a time that is contemporary for readers. These paragraphs are listed at the back of the novel to avoid any accusations of plagiarism, but also to demonstrate the frequency of such observations. The vast majority come from the Swedish media, but some are drawn from the German and Spanish press. All these quotes, which often involve measurement and assessment, quietly point at aspects of our current society that are surreptitiously shutting down human choice and the way we control our own lives.
The episodes themselves also contain a good many intertextual references, usually to European philosophers, and there are a very few black-and-white illustrations of paintings, landscapes, and photographs, in the spirit of the German novelist W.G. Sebald.
Apart from Britta-Linnea, the novel includes two characters whom she meets on the campus of Stockholm University at regular intervals: the academics Greenroth and Ueda. The latter is of Japanese extraction. These two are rivals; Greenroth especially tries to belittle Ueda. This rivalry makes little sense to Britta-Linnea, who tries to be on good terms with both of these 2050-style academics.
Erudite knowledge of Spanish- speaking culture is in evidence throughout the novel. As Ulf Eriksson is a reviewer and critic of Spanish and Latin-American literature, it is no accident that, several pages into the novel, readers encounter the 17th-century Jesuit, Baltasar Gracián, whose works were admired by writers and philosophers such as Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and André Gide.
Ulf Eriksson is closely interested in urban space, and in the interaction of space and time. Such interests were already to be seen in his literary essays from the 1990s, and he is no stranger to postmodernism. And so this is a Stockholm novel with a difference. The streets and other features become a kind of map, associated with wanderings through a city that has changed beyond all recognition in spirit, since that distant age, the Period of Transition. The names are still there, but what do they represent now?