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Daniel Sjölin, Världens sista roman (The World's Last Novel)

Norstedts,  2007. ISBN: 9789113016689

Reviewed by Stig Olsson in SBR 2008:2

It is probably safe to say that Daniel Sjölin has not produced "the world’s last novel", but what has he produced? Is it a book of the same kind Olle Holmberg referred to when he called Harry Martinson’s Vägen till Klockrike "a book, a kind of a novel" in his collection of literary essays, Panegyric of Swedish Novels, in 1957? Hardly.

On the whole, Sjölin seems to have piled layer upon layer upon layer of absurdities with the occasional intelligible observation, thus giving the reader a breather in the struggle with the elusive text which accounts for the vast majority of the many, long 372 pages.

"As everybody else I write autobiography, but without beating about the bush, without posing with my elitist language proficiency. No, I pose in front of the text with my fucking elitist alcoholic face. In front of the text, in the middle of the picture. I am only imitating an idea of myself. The one I want to be", Sjölin states early on. There is a lonely intimacy in the last two sentences but it slips away, back into the writer’s provocatively harsh and abusive language.

There are a few exceptions, however. One is a scene in a hospice, again early in the narrative. The writer visits his dying mother and becomes a witness to another patient’s death struggle. Detailed, painfully explicit, but irresistibly fascinating language tells the story in a couple of pages. Another, immediately captivating brief passage about "one of the first days of spring" in Stockholm disappears too soon into the prevailing linguistic morass Sjölin has created.

Familiar street names in Stockholm keep the text geographically in place but content, purpose and ambition seem illusory.

It is clear that the book, in part, is about the author’s life ("grew up on Östermalm in Stockholm"), his parents ("Mother’s life has been a bloody hell, as far as I know. I cannot blame everything on her deep alcoholism, though. We always had money enough") and about books, writing and criticism. Specifically about the novel Sjölin writes, "All these bloody novels that must have some allegorical dimension or other. Hurrah! say the critics and find it so talented. Damned hypocrites! It’s always about yourself! I love confessional novels, they are not hypocritical. One is quiet when one should be quiet. Only then can there be a miracle at the end of the novel. I can only sit here wrapped up in my senility."

The fragmented narrative, the embedded, empirical experience, the abusive language and the always present anathema of all previous efforts to write fiction ("poets don’t know anything about silence") make it difficult for the reader to fully pay attention and give credence to Sjölin’s "confession" toward the end of his book.

Stig Olsson

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