Albert Bonniers förlag, 2010. ISBN: 9789100124458
Reviewed by Charles Harrison-Wallace in SBR 2010:2
Ränderna is the most recent in a sequence of short monographic novels by Magnus Florin, all written in a consistently distinctive style, elliptical, abrupt and occasionally absurd. Preceded by Trädgården (The Garden, 1995), Syskonen (The Siblings, 1998), Cirkulation (2001), and Leendet (The Smile, 2005), which were already familiar to me, Ränderna has proved the most difficult to interpret. The books are sectioned in a number of apparently unlinked passages, obliging the reader to make his own imaginative connections in order to extract their significance. Besides being more challenging than the earlier works, Ränderna is also more overtly autobiographical. A remark by the author, on page 97, seems an apt recognition of its enigmatic character: ‘I appreciate that my writing manner in fact uses tactics which smack of stratagems and trickery’. Repeated readings of the text still leave this reader in some doubt about the book’s basic content and objectives. A new study by the Karolinska Institute on the nature of creativity points out that creative people ‘think outside the box’, and Professor Fredrik Ullen has noted that they tend to lack ‘receptors [which] filter and direct thought’. A further comment by Mark Millard, a British psychologist, adds that ‘creative people ... tend to see the world differently ... It’s like looking at a shattered mirror.’ Ränderna draws the reader into ‘looking at a shattered mirror’. On page one the author announces that: ‘My name is Magnus Florin’. The following 100 pages could be perceived as a riddling reflection on the meaning of that sentence, but by the end of the book the need still remains for substantial external input, if there is to be anything approaching a satisfactory resolution.The book has attracted quite widespread attention, and the Internet supplies reviews of it by at least eight well-established Swedish critics, as well as a few more commentaries by independent-minded bloggers.These all contribute to an understanding. Florin himself offers some guidance. He describes the book as: ‘An account of how I traverse a pedestrian crossing, and discover what meaning the stripes hold for me. I am helped by two female pathfinders, M and S. And finally I can retrace my steps over the crossing.’ An interview with Stefan Eklund in Svenska Dagbladet provides a little more enlightenment. Florin tells him that the book is about ‘transformation and disappearance’.This may imply that art transforms, and that the self disappears. A possible interpretation would be that by writing this book Florin has succeeded in dispelling dark memories of his own childhood. Eklund points out that M is an artist, and S is a psychotherapist. Florin agrees, but notes that he has no personal experience of analysis or psychotherapy. He adds that (although verse occurs in the book) he has a fear of rhymes, and that the building bricks of the letters forming his own name can give rise to a variety of anagrams which may be frightening, but also reassuring. ‘Language consists of words made of elements which can be re-arranged, so that new meanings arise.’ This remark could apply to the manner in which the whole book is structured. References to death by drowning, perhaps another form of disappearance, crop up here and there, and Eklund mentions that towards the end of the book there is a dialogue between the author and someone who has evidently drowned herself. Florin confirms that this is a mother image – en modersgestalt. When pressed on this point, since the text is not at all explicit, Florin reveals that ‘it is about my mother’, but that ‘as I am engaged with the present I feel unwilling to say more than what the book contains’. Nevertheless, he goes on to explain that the text offers the possibility of a re-created meeting, in order to move forward.’ The book’s title relates in part to rippling waves on the surface of water, which parallel the stripes on the zebra crossing. Stripes also occur in different forms throughout the narrative, and sorrow is defined as ‘stripy’. One of the most thorough of the Swedish reviewers, Ingrid Elam, concludes that Ränderna is about the power of art, and story-telling, to give emotional relief. I might not have reached this same conclusion without her assistance.