Norstedts, 2011. ISBN: 9789113034959
Reviewed by Rick McGregor in SBR 2012:1
Amanda Svensson’s second novel, Välkommen till den här världen:, starts in the southern Swedish city of Malmö, but soon moves its epicentre across the Öresund Strait to Copenhagen. It is a fast-paced triangle drama peppered with literary references and with an innovative use of language which helps to pick out its three main characters from among a number of twenty-somethings with artistic ambitions living at either end of the Öresund Bridge.
The colon in the title ushers the reader into this world, the world of the beautiful but socially inept, and a world made up of triangles, most importantly the one formed by Greta, Simon and Claus. Greta is Swedish, living initially in Malmö and working at a Japanese restaurant in Copenhagen. She dreams of becoming a DJ and does all she can to disguise the fact that she has asthma. Simon and Claus are boyhood friends who have moved from their provincial home town to the big city of Copenhagen. Simon is an insecure street artist who is beginning to be noticed by the incrowd.
His favourite motif is, perhaps a touch too obviously, triangles. As for Claus, he is, as the reader soon realises, a loose cannon and jealous of anyone who competes with him for Simon’s attention. When Greta moves to a flat in Copenhagen and meets Simon, love and hatred result. A triangle is formed, but it is an imbalanced one: ‘A non-equilateral triangle is not perfect, it must tip over in one direction or another.’ The question is, which side of the triangle will collapse first?
Svensson does an excellent job of depicting the characters through language. The story is told in three distinct voices. The larger part of the novel consists of Greta’s first-person diary entries, there are a number of chapters in the third person, largely from Simon’s point of view, and there are a few, very effective, short chapters in the inimitable voice of crazy Claus. The opening sentences of three short chapters in the middle of the novel illustrate the three points of view quite well: ‘He is Simon. It is one of the few things he has no doubts about.’; ‘I am Greta and the situation is starting to slip through my fingers.’; ‘i am claus end of story !!!!!’
Elsewhere, too, Svensson demonstrates a startling turn of phrase. For instance when Greta’s flatmate wants her room for her boyfriend, Greta comments in her diary: ‘He is her America... Love will be like a large, unknown continent. You land, and then want to spend the rest of your life setting up house and slaughtering the natives.’
A recurring theme in the novel is Wuthering Heights. It is the novel Simon has been reading and rereading since childhood, it is the name Greta and Simon choose for themselves for their art and music happening and it provides Simon with his secret name for Greta, Catherine (or Cathy). Other literary, musical and cinematic references abound, to Lars von Trier, Leonard Cohen, Charles Bukowski, Ulf Lundell, Hansel and Gretel, Goethe, Fröding, the Great Gatsby and no doubt others I have failed to spot.
Välkommen till den här världen: was much touted in the Swedish press as one of the front-runners for the 2011 August Prize, the most prestigious national literary prize in Sweden. It did not win, but it is well worthy of the attention it was accorded. Her earlier novel, Hey Dolly, was deemed an exciting debut when it was published in 2008 and Svensson (born 1987) shows here that she has been able to produce that difficult thing, a second novel, and one which is at least as good as her debut work.