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Och ett skepp med sju segel och femti kanoner ska försvinna med mig Bodil Malmsten, Och ett skepp med sju segel och femti kanoner ska försvinna med mig (And a Ship with Seven Sails and Fifty Cannons Will Disappear with Me)

Finistère/Modernista,  2013.

Reviewed by Sarah Death in SBR 2014:1

Review Section: Fiction, Light-Hearted and More Serious

In Marc Blitzstein’s popular translation of Pirate Jenny: ‘And the ship, the black freighter, disappears out to sea. And on it is me’.

Malmsten has made herself into  something of a brand after relocating  to Brittany and starting to write about  her life there. Alongside her other titles,  she has published a series of ‘logbooks’  of which Och ett skepp… is the fifth and  final volume. These diary-like collections,  beautifully packaged by Modernista, are  distilled versions of her long-running  blog (over 2600 entries to date) and, like  the blog, they are illustrated, mainly with  her own often quirky and slightly blurred  photographs. 

The author is now back in Stockholm,  installed in a second-floor flat looking out  over a school, some trees and a nice bit of  sky. There is no lift but the exercise will  help her live longer, she declares, only to  be dismayed when a broken foot leaves  her on crutches for weeks. Like many  returning exiles, she sees home with a  fresh, critical eye, complaining about  everything from the demise of manned  ticket barriers on the underground to  the deviousness of city redevelopers.  Environmental concerns also loom large,  and the book is dedicated to ‘those who  are not yet born’. 

Malmsten does not waste much  time on regrets, yet the book has  an unmistakably elegiac feel, old age  encroaches and ‘the great inconceivable’  hovers on the horizon. She plans  extravagant balcony planting to rival  her cherished French garden but never  gets started, and the death of a loved  one deals her a huge blow. Her greatest  fear is a dotage spent staring into space,  but though her health seems shaky,  she is still a force to be reckoned with  and a person people recognise. She is  rendered temporarily speechless by two  smart young men who spot her at the  shops and tell her she is ‘cool’.

All the logbooks have literary  quotations for titles and Och ett skepp… comes from Brecht’s Threepenny Opera.  Pirate Jenny’s thoughts of revolution  (‘Kill them now or later?’) echo  Malmsten’s own sense of impotence  and injustice, but she also links the  quotation explicitly to a chambermaid  encountered in a classy hotel on a trip to  cover a New York literary festival. Social  inequality and loneliness are recurring  themes in the logbook: Malmsten feels  for the unemployed and the Rumanian  immigrants, for the silent ‘She of No  Fixed Abode’, wheeling her belongings  in a supermarket trolley, and for the  solitary old man scoring goals at the  football pitch. 

The scrapbook-like format is ideal  for a blog, but there are so many dripfeed literary blogs to follow, whereas  the book serves up a satisfying portion  of this forthright author in her older  incarnation. Despite the confessional  tone the author is doubtless creating  a persona for herself even here, but it  is a very human one, ready to admit its  insecurities and anxieties. The tone is  angry and uncompromising, opinionated  and unapologetic, melancholy, tragic  and comic by turns. Malmsten is always  eminently readable. 

Also by Bodil Malmsten

Other reviews by Sarah Death

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