Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Scandinavian book snuck in.

I've been meaning to read more Scandinavian books for quite some time (6 months or so?), especially books in Swedish since I always end up reading in English these days. And I did finally. Thesis, degree, exams - finished and all that, I actually read something Scandinavian. A whole magnificent total of two books, Out stealing horses, which I won't write about here because it's so über-famous anyway, and Salome.

Even the cover is lovely.
Lo and behold, this is something as exotic as a coming-of-age book NOT about a young man, but about a young woman. Obviously, since it's a bout a woman it cannot be "universal" and a "must-read" for everyone, but would probably be categorized as "minority literature", and therefore it will probably not gain the recognition it deserves. It has 20 reviews on Goodreads. What is wrong with the world?

People should really read about young girls. Without that, you never really grasp the full cruelty and pettiness human beings are capable of. I do hope this book gets translated soon (translations of quotes are mine).

Innan jag går frågar Miriam: "Vill du hjälpa mig att träna de här sista veckorna? Jag måste öva på att dö!" 
"Jag hjälper dig gärna att dö", säger jag kallt.

(Before I leave Miriam asks: "Will you help me practise these final weeks? I need to work on dying!"
"I'd gladly help you die", I say coldly.)

The plot of this book is irrelevant. Not because it is bad (it isn't, it's brilliant in its simplicity) but because the point is not the plot. This book just exists, it's an experience, a part of a life.  The plot could have been whatever, it could have been any aspect of Elsa's life and it wouldn't matter, as long as it's about Elsa. You think it's about Elsa and Veronica, then about Johannes, perhaps about Veronica and Johannes, Elsa and the dancing, and then you realize that these are all just aspects, and that none of them is more important than the other.

Det var alltid i skymningen, alltid violetta och rosa stråk som ikväll. Ibland nyanser av gult likt ett gammalt blåmärke som tillfogats en himmel som inte längre skyddade sina varelser. Veronica var vinterblek hela våren. Vi fortsatte att klä ut oss. Det hände att hon svimmade men kvällarna var alltjämt rosa och violetta, jag struntade i de långa diagonala sprickorna som spred sig vart jag än vände mig. "Det påminner om Spanien", sa jag till Veronica som log allt mattare.

(It was always at dusk, always the violet and pink streaks, just like tonight. Sometimes shades of yellow like a faded bruise inflicted upon a sky that no longer protected its creatures. Veronica was wintery pale all spring. We continued to dress up. On occasion she would faint, but the evenings were still pink and violet, and I ignored the long, diagonal cracks that spread wherever I turned. "This reminds me of Spain", I told Veronica, whose smiles grew increasingly weak.)

Mamma lutar sig framåt och hon är plötsligt för nära, jag känner doften av hennes olidliga parfym, hennes händer farligt nära min mun, åldrar hud och rött nagellack. Ta bort dem, tänker jag.

(Mom leans in and all of a sudden she is too close, I can feel the scent of her unbearable perfume, her hands are dangerously close to my mouth, aged skin and red nail-polish. Get them away from me, I think.)

Elsa is not a very lovable character. She's a typical teenage girl in many respects: cruel, selfish and proud. But she also lacks the typical reactions to certain things (such as the odd relationship with the hockey playing brute), and that makes her unique. She's not very intelligent, which typical makes me dislike characters, but she is diligent in what she does, and that makes up for any other flaws. That, and the fact that it doesn't matter if you like Elsa or not, it doesn't affect the book in the slightest.

In addition to everything else, this book is perfectly written. I haven't read a Swedish book with such a perfect grasp of every day vulgarities (in the spoken language) that is at the same time beautifully, even poetically, written. There are lovely descriptions of things, circumstances, feelings, that go into unorthodox abstractions and strange pictures that somehow work - and then the most perfectly described mundane scene where none of that belongs, and doesn't appear either. Mara Lee really, really knows what kind of language to use in different situations, and it's quite obvious that she's not just a hobby author, but a professional (she teaches writing). I will definitely be reading anything Mara Lee writes.

Märkligt, att inuti månaden juni bor en liten vinter som blommar ut vid fyratiden på morgonen, för att sedan trängas bort av solen.

(It's odd how inside the month of June, there is a small winter that blossoms at four in the morning, to then be pushed away by the sun.)