Weyler förlag, 2017.
Reviewed by Hannah Charlton in SBR 2018:1
Review Section: Fiction
This is the third part of a trilogy set in and around Kalmar and the neighbouring island of Öland. Eva, the central character in all three books, returns to the family home at thirty to reconnect with her past and try to investigate how she has become the adult she is – and to see if she has a voice as a writer. She stays with Stickan, her grandmother, and her uncle who collects butterflies and lives in the basement.
Eva is a tortured soul who hovers perpetually between the extremes of artistic imagination and a kind of derangement: she both invites confessions and delves into family secrets, within the context of a very conformist community. As she seeks to retrace some of her idealised childhood happiness and her place within her family she unearths tragic and interlocking secrets: gambling, suicide, an illegitimate baby left to die out in the cold, a fostered son turned local landowner, and a family of highly artistic individuals who all struggled with island life.
And yet it is the island that plays a leading role as the narrative unfolds: Eva’s entire experience is transmitted through the physical aspects of the landscape and place. Each of her emotions is mapped through a sensation arising from light, temperature, colour, scents, texture, plants and the minutiae of the natural world around her.
Language is the guiding force for these experiences and sensations: early on in the book Eva comes across a list of the words her mother invented to describe sensations and visual experiences: solregn, for example, ‘when everything glistens like diamonds in heaven’. And Eva’s ‘madeleines’ were the mud pies made as a child with a mother watching who was present as an artist and photographer but not as a parent, and who late on in
the book defends with religious fervour the freedom she gave her children.
Major themes of isolated countryside communities versus a rootless metropolitan existence clash when Ramström, the illiterate foster child turned local landowner, battles with Eva over a boathouse that has been her family’s creative refuge. He demands that she leave; she, however, sees it as the focal point of all her family’s creative endeavours. It is also her own personal space, holding the diaries and drawings of several generations, and the source of her discoveries of family tragedies and yearnings.
The central relationship in the novel is between Eva and her grandmother; Stickan gives her a sense of belonging and place and gradually opens up with tales of her family that give Eva a feeling of pride and shared sorrow over unavoidable and wretched individual experiences. She consistently pushes Eva to write, to be the poet who links words and experience. Stickan herself is the stoical survivor of a difficult childhood. ‘Death’, she explains to Eva ‘doesn’t usually come as a surprise. It’s more like a letter in the post, not one with exotic foreign stamps but more like a bill to be paid.’
And as Eva literally unearths the secret of the baby’s golden heart, digging up a grave with her bare hands in the moonlight, we see her as the historian, confessor and witness who must bear the weight of past transgressions and misfortunes.
The book’s strength lies in the interplay between emotions and environment, and the way that is expressed, with the island’s song as the theme tune: ‘the song tonight is so strong I feel as if I could catch it in my hands.’ If there is a weakness, it is the sudden introduction, without enough context, of bit-part players in Eva’s story. It may be that this is covered if all three books are read in sequence. As a trilogy the books present an arc through time for Eva: the first book is set in Kalmar, the second, Sund, is the water between, and the third is rooted in the island itself, where Eva finally finds her own voice.