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Carina Burman, Vit som marmor - ett romerskt mysterium (White as Marble - A Roman Mystery)

Albert Bonniers förlag,  2006. ISBN: 9100109371

Reviewed by Stig Olsson in SBR 2006:2

“It was Friday, March the fifth, 1852”. This, the opening sentence of the third chapter of Carina Burman’s book, is also the first explicit time reference in the text.The protagonist, Euthanasia Bondeson, a Swedish woman in her forties, has earlier defined the place geographically as Rome. This latest novel from Carina Burman concerns the doings of a group of Swedes in Rome 150 years ago. Intriguingly, she has created a protagonist who communicates directly with the reader (“What do your own notes look like, my dear reader?”).What consequences, if any, should all this have for the language of the narrative? In Sweden at this time writers such as Runeberg, Rydberg, Almqvist, Fredrika Bremer, and, of course, Strindberg, dominated the literary scene. Bremer but not Bondeson inflects the verbs in the plural, e.g. “alla voro församlade; jo, här leva vi; vi ha medvind...” etc. Carina Burman shows no compliance with the morphology of the Swedish language of the period, but many other period details set the tone and atmosphere. The conceited (“Everybody loves me - the great Dickens has been at my feet”), vain, clever and affluent writer and amateur sleuth with the unlikely name Euthanasia Bondeson is in Rome among other Swedes, “the Scandinavian colony”, among them her friend Emilie and her young lady companion Agnes. The seemingly carefree Swedish women explore Rome, visit archaeological excavations, catacombs, Roman baths (a hilarious scene in a Roman steam bath!), reflect upon beauty and art, and on top of all this, Euthanasia studies Latin. However, the idyllic and relaxed life in the eternal city is soon to change. Two grotesque murders and one accidental death, all intertwined with the disappearance of a marble sculpture, draw the three women close together in a sinister, twisted tale with an unexpected and violent outcome. Euthanasia is personally affected by one of the horrific murders, but despite pain and grief she is determined to solve the mystery of the sculpture and subsequent frightful crimes.Working with Agnes she compiles a list of suspects – not excluding themselves – and analyses the relevance of “the three most important reasons for crime”: religion, money, and love (eroticism).Who stole the marble sculpture of the Roman god just laid bare by the archaeologists at the excavation site, and who committed the murders? The indigenous Romans are excluded from the list of suspects – “the inhabitants of the eternal city are seldom interested in antiquities.” Eventually Euthanasia’s “knife-sharp” mind puts her on the right track. “The plinth had come off and the god had fallen on Emilie and crushed her. No fear could be seen in Emilie’s face, just a trace of astonishment. It seemed as if she had been hoping for a long time to be embraced by the god. I could have told her the embrace would be lethal.” The reader will have to find out for himself how such a denouement is reached in this story which is every bit as whimsical as the name of the main character, while also paying homage to urbs romana, all in a light, witty, scholarly and pleasant Swedish prose that reads very well. Once in a while a beautiful and touching poetic glimpse of native Sweden flashes by, as in this reflection at a funeral at the Protestant cemetery in Rome:“Jacob Blomqvist was brought to his final rest far from the white church at Fryken, far from the whispering trees in Uppsala cemetery.”

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