Wahlström & Widstrand, 2013.
Reviewed by James Walker in SBR 2013:2
Review Section: Crime Fiction
Jobs bok is the second novel in recent years by Ulf Lindström and a follow-up to the acclaimed novel En god man (A Good Man). Once again we meet Andreas Falck, who is now working for the state as a prosecutor. To say that he hates his job and, for that matter, himself would be two understatements. Three years on and following a divorce, he now struggles with his job and his daughter Sanna, who has recently acquired a somewhat worrying push-up bra.
As if life was not difficult enough, he has also been threatened by Slobodan Matić, a criminal Falck has recently prosecuted and in consequence has to watch his back.
In a parallel narrative we meet Niklas Fridh, older than Andreas, also a state prosecutor (or at least he was) but equally critical and self-loathing. In Niklas’ case, he has grown up in the shadow of his genius father, a professor of Scandinavian literature and a huge fan of Knut Hamsun: when he is eventually confined to hospital he whiles away his time by writing out, by hand, Knut Hamsun novels one hundred per cent accurately from memory. Niklas, in order to torture his father, even disfigures the portrait of Hamsun that hangs in that holiest of rooms, his father’s study. He applies graffiti in the form of a swastika and a phallus. In a strange twist, his father exacts his own revenge by scratching his own graffiti into his son’s prize possession: his iPad.
Andreas Falck has a questionable relationship with his father too, a lawyer like himself but now incapacitated and in a care home where Andreas can seldom bring himself to visit the old man. Neither Andreas nor Niklas has a mother figure and they are, for better or for worse, their fathers’ sons. As a result of this abundance of male figures and lack of female role models, as well as Lindström’s treatment of women in the novel, it has also been described by some as a book about too many men. But it has also been described as a good, even a brilliant novel.
The frontispiece describes the book as ‘a novel about criminals’ (en roman om brottslingar) and this is where the narrative leads us (eventually). Both prosecutors end up turning to crime to reach their goals. This is not a conventional crime novel with actions followed by reactions, but rather a self-indulgent examination of the characters Fridh and Falck or Falck and Fridh or Fridh and Fridh or Falck and Falck! ‘..så jag gjorde te. Jag trodde att jag gjorde te. Jag trodde att det var te jag gjorde. Jag trodde att det var jag som gjorde te.’ (... so I made tea. I thought that I made tea. I thought it was tea that I made. I thought that it was I that made tea.)
Some critics think his style is superlative and a breath of fresh air. I, on the other hand, was reminded of a book I read years ago, in which the author’s conceit and tortuous prose made me throw it down on a beach. The book was Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess; like Burgess, there is no doubt that Lindström is a masterful wordsmith but not everyone will care for the artful results. In this case, rather than a feature that adds to and develops the narrative, the language has an opposite effect. There are many word hurdles to jump and this reader found them too close together.