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Fredrik Sjöberg, Flugfällan (The Fly-Trap)

Nya Doxa,  2004. ISBN: 9157804486

Reviewed by Henning Koch in SBR 2005:1

This book is something very unusual – a genuinely witty piece of self-deprecating autobiography. It is also an exploration of the obsessive tendencies of collectors, the mentality of island dwellers, and a biographical peek at the obscure life of celebrated entomologist and erstwhile sable farmer René Malaise. As for the single-minded collection of hoverflies, to which the author confesses, this is in its own right an activity that sets the individual apart – exiled to an abstruse metaphorical island – watched over by a mildly bemused and occasionally even irritated human race. In one episode, Sjöberg describes an amusing encounter with a puzzled onlooker who (with shades of imminent violence) insists that the insect in the author’s net is not a hoverfly at all – it is in fact a bee! Such ignorance solidifies the author’s sense of separation from the crowd, a pleasing sense of being the sole occupant of a private world. In another episode, Sjöberg becomes fixated with buying a cheap, dilapidated house that has been put up for auction. He bids for it, not particularly because he wants the house, but because there is good evidence to suggest that the privy in the back garden once belonged to Esaias Tegnér. And still on the theme of collecting (this time of art), the author later gets involved in a mysterious affair involving a stolen painting by Rembrandt van Rijn. In spite of his scientific outlook – and make no mistake, this book contains a good deal of entomological information – Sjöberg manages to make hoverflies an engaging, even crucial subject, with all manner of oblique references to the business of life. Before retiring to an island to build his collection of hoverflies, Sjöberg worked in the props department of the National Theatre in Stockholm. However, he began to question his line of work when one particularly exacting director required him (on a daily basis) to carry a live sheep through the streets of Stockholm, releasing it on the stage in time for the evening show. Cosmopolitan wit, humour, elitism and eclecticism are often thought of as typically English characteristics, products of the old empire and an entrenched class system. Sjöberg has a witty, erudite, incisive tone reminiscent of travellers and anthropologists such as Barlow, Chatwin or even Robert Byron. As such, his book feels more English than any Swedish book I have read in a good while. Sjöberg is a cultural columnist writing for Svenska Dagbladet, often on the interface between art and nature. Since his literary debut in 1988 he has written on everything from the history of the environmental movement to the insect collection of Tomas Tranströmer. The Fly-Trap has been nominated for the 2004 August Prize in the nonfiction category.

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