Reviewed by Agnes Broome in SBR 2015:1
Review Section: Fiction
Having enjoyed Lyra Ekström Lindbäck’s columns in Swedish broadsheet Dagens Nyheter, and having sensed the literary promise in her debut novel Tillhör Lyra Ekström Lindbäck (Belongs to Lyra Ekström Lindbäck, 2012), my expectations of Ett så starkt ljus were high. My anticipation was further fuelled by the rave reviews the novel met with in the Swedish press and its nomination for the prestigious August Prize.
Maybe this was why I found myself slightly disappointed when I finally opened the book. Don’t get me wrong, Ett så starkt ljus is by no means poorly written; indeed, in most respects, it is accomplished and enjoyable enough. Given the rapturous reception it received, however, I had expected a good deal more.
The one aspect of Ett så starkt ljus that lived up to the hype was Ekström Lindbäck’s prose. The language is light and unobtrusive and at times lyrically innovative in a way that can make you stop and reread a phrase, a line or even a whole paragraph. Some of the descriptions of Stockholm’s urban environments stand out in particular. The August Prize jury rightly commended Ekström Lindbäck for writing with ‘bright, niveous longing’. That said, I found that she sometimes slips into a slightly forced idiom, reaching for beauty of form and falling short. Similarly, while the liberally applied intertextual references that were enthusiastically lauded by critics were often elegantly and poignantly incorporated, on occasion they gave the impression of simply trying too hard.
Aside from the language, I was sorry to find that Ett så starkt ljus left me quite cold. To some extent this detachment is the product of of Ekström Lindbäck’s style and subject; her Stockholm is cold, exposed and lonely, and her protagonist and narrator more often than not wanders the streets alone, rejected by both lovers and society. But my failure to engage with the novel also sprang from the story’s lack of nerve and edge. It is in this, perhaps, that the author’s relative youth shows. Although Ekström Lindbäck is an accomplished writer, I can’t help but feel that parts of the book read like a very young woman trying to write like a much older one.
Though disappointed that Ett så starkt ljus failed to draw me in, I am nevertheless already looking forward to Ekström Lindbäck’s next novel, convinced that this young writer will eventually produce something special that will prove well worth the wait.