Förlaget, Finland, 2017.
Reviewed by Janet Cole in SBR 2018:1
Review Section: Fiction
Vildsvin, the Finland-Swedish author Hannah Lutz’s debut novel, is set deep in the forests of Småland in southern Sweden. Previously exterminated, wild boar have been reintroduced and have spread like wildfire in the area. They are shy and move around mainly at night, causing devastation by grubbing up gardens and eating the farmers’ wheat. Though largely unseen in the novel, their presence is a constant menacing undercurrent.
In a series of unconnected short scenes – all written in the first person – we meet the three main characters: Ritve, Glenn and Mia. They have come to the village of Hornanäs for different reasons, but all seem lonely and slightly lost, their paths rarely crossing.
Ritve, a film-maker, has travelled to Sweden and Hornanäs to film the wild boar, inspired by a Swedish TV documentary about a local hunter and by YouTube clips. Pitching a tent in the forest, Ritve sets off at night to track down the animals. But the wild boar remain elusive and Ritve becomes increasingly desperate to find them, seeing them only in dreams and even fantasising about joining the pack.
Glenn has relocated to Hornanäs from Malmö with his partner Martina in search of a quiet life. He works for the local authority distributing grants from the cultural fund, but is disengaged and counting the days to his summer holiday. Glenn broods about climate change and thinks that a new Ice Age is approaching. The wild boar dig up his lawn, and one night he sees a pack of them cross his plot.
Mia has been awarded a grant by the local authority to stay with her grandfather, who is suffering from dementia, in his old school, Siggalycke, in the forest near Hornanäs. She hopes to trigger memories of his childhood and get him to speak again. With her tape recorder at the ready, she tries to persuade him to talk about the school’s legendary headmaster, Ivar Sandberg, and the wild sow, Sigga. At first he is totally unresponsive, and she sometimes wonders what she is doing there and whether it really is out of love for her grandfather.
Hannah Lutz draws on her experience of living in a converted elementary school in a Småland forest and the ravages caused by the wild boar as the starting point for her narrative. Vildsvin is a strange but stylish novel about man’s relationship with animals and nature. Lutz’s prose is poetic and evocative; her language is spare and direct with much left unsaid. In just 99 pages, she evokes a strong sense of place and the threat to the local community posed by the wild boar. Her characters are drawn as minimally as the landscape, yet are believable. Despite its brevity, this captivating novel stays in the mind long after reading it.
Vildsvin has been well received in Finland and Sweden and in Denmark, where it was published in Danish translation. In the daily Sydsvenskan, Amanda Svensson describes the novel as ‘a watertight allegory about mankind’s predicament in the face of threatening climate catastrophe’. Parallels may also be drawn with today’s refugee crisis. However, in an interview in the magazine Vi Läser, Lutz said: ‘I don’t want the novel to be read as a direct metaphor for the refugee situation. But of course those issues were on my mind: which species, which animals and which people are welcome where? And who decides that?’