Imagination needs inspiration to bloom.



2014/12/30

9,3 på Richterskalan by Andreas Norman

It has been ten years since the fatal tsunami struck the cost of Thailand. In ”9,3 på Richterskalan”, Andreas Norman reveals great flaws in utrikesdepartementets, the Ministry of foreign affairs, help efforts. The tone is critical. Norman was a young official in the Ministry's diplomat program 2004, and got his first mission in relation to the catastrophe, without experience and preparation. The officials' telephone numbers were inaccessible during Christmas and Norman was contacted since his name was on a list of people that had been on a previous school class journey.

During his time in Krabi he tries to understand the impossible. Small belongings as bracelets and bus tickets remind him of the fact that these people have recently been alive. The prose is beautiful and colorful, the content dark and horrible. The text transforms into something similar to a movie and one of the most affecting scenes is that when a man comes up and want help with transporting two plastic bags home to Sweden. In the bags are his dead, infant children.

Andreas Norman was in Krabi for a week. He describes a world where people break down from despair and sorrow, and how inadequate he feels. Officials within the Ministry, Räddningsverket and Rädda barnen tried to remain professional and objective. That was easier said then done. Some of them broke and was sent home.

Norman witnessed a Ministry that was waiting, not reacting, in the beginning of the crisis. They opposed proposals about help efforts. The management is mapped out and the result isn't pretty. It's an uncomfortable and unforgettable read. UD is described as a Ministry with a byreaucracy and hierarchy that complicated, delayed and almost prevented its purpose. No one was prepared for the catastrophe, but according to Norman, the Ministry was nearly paralyzed, almost incapable of acting. Lower officials reacted, but the Office culture, with its ideal of self control, prevented early moves.

One has to remember that this is one man's story. One man that was situated in the middle of the catastrophe. On the other hand, this is an important testimony - for the same reason. It is an account of someone that was in the actual place, and was a part of the practical work. This story isn't polished as the Ministry's formal statements, this is the catastrophe, experienced by a help worker.

When Norman went home after a week he wasn't sure about how to return to his normal life. He had changed. It was a strange feeling to disappear into his every day life again. He had got a glimpse of the life of unfortunate people. For them the loss is constantly present, regardless of what day of the year it is. This book isn't letting go of the reader when finished. It stays with you and reminds you of the people that died that day and their relatives.

2014/12/29

Giraffens hals - en bildningsroman by Judith Schalansky

In a little village in the former DDR, a German, strict, cynical woman named Inge Lohmark is teaching a class in biology. She views the world in terms of biology. To her, the pupils are different species, whereas some of them have potential and the rest is eventually wiped out by the relentless, natural selection. Their genes, that is. The title refers to evolution and survival of the fittest. The longer the neck of the giraff, the greater possibility of reaching the leaves of the trees and surviving. 

Evolution is, according to the narrator, based on competition, which is of great importance, both to the main character and the pupils, but also to the ideology that has begun to grow in the German society. It's ironic that the strict Inge Lohmark - who despises the modern teachers, which, according to her, lack authority - herself symbolizes a species on the way to extinction. What does that kind of society do to the people? What do an ideology based on elitism lead to?

This is no easy book. It is comical, occasionally, but not easy. It has a serious tone, with rather dark elements when it comes to the mother - daughter relationship. The book also contains a lot of the educational fragments that the title promises. The teacher's view of life represents an interesting perspective of philosophy. The content is philosophical but the prose is objective in style, with short sentences. There's not much of a dialogue, and even though it would have been preferable, the educational monologue is interesting.

Lohmark is living in her own bubble, occupied with her biological views and unaware of what happens in her surroundings. Her knowledge somehow makes her blind when it comes to relationships. Schalansky makes everyday life connected to evolution. It's an fascinating perspective that will surely lead to interesting conversations.

2014/12/28

The Wall by Marlen Haushofer

In "The Wall", Die Wand, a woman in Austria is isolated from the rest of the world. An invisible wall has materialized during the night and everyone on the other side is dead.

The novel, first published 1963 in Austria and now translated again into Swedish, is a picture of the psyche of mankind. Bigger than the fight against famine, is the fight against depression. Haushofer explore loneliness in all its forms. Eventually, the woman learns to accept it as a form of solitude. Her name is never revealed, since it's irrelevant. A name is only necessary when talking about someone, and no one is going to talk about her. She is the only human being. A dog, a cat and a cow become her only consolation, her reason for living. They live in a mutual dependence, and form a community, a we, that seldom is described in literature.

The woman's life is a daily struggle, and there is no chapter divisions to enable the reader's breath. As much as her exterior is changing due to the hard work, her inner self is also going through a change. Her earlier every-day life seems shallow and meaningless, a slavery of capitalism. A civilization critique is a constant theme, and the human population is seen as a destructive force. Haushofer was borne in Austria in 1920, and studied in Vienna during the war. The lack of confidence when it comes to civilisation and the thought of the world as fragile can be explained through her witness of a downfall of a society. She very cleverly describes the unfathomable, surrealistic situation. The inner and outer world is melting together and raises the question whether the wall really exists in a physical form or as an opportunity for the woman's personal development. Perhaps it is a barrier between a life of illusions and imitations and a life, unique and existential, beyond the every-day life that is our existence.

The Wall is a novel of great proportions about existential values. Never has the woman felt så important and unimportant at the same time. Important for the animals to survive, and unimportant for the force of nature. The heavy, melancholy realization about her indifference when it comes to nature is oozing from the pages. On the other hand she sees herself as having become a more clear-sighted person. The philosophical prose is arising the question about relative freedom. We think we are free in the modern society, but the woman is starting to question the world of conventions. What is freedom and who are we when we are no longer formed by the norms of society?

2014/12/20

The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moberg

"Utvandrarna", "The Emigrants", was published 1949 and is the first in a tetralogy about the Swedish emigrants during the 1800's. The conditions for the Swedish people back then were terrible, especially for the farmers. The ground was rocky and dry, nothing grew. The possibilities were very limited in the country-side. The men ended up with the same kind of work as their parents, often taking over their work on the farm, or becoming a farm boy somewhere else. The women were married to other farmers. Everyone fought against poverty and famine.

Karl Oskar and Kristina are fed up with their life in Småland and decide to embark on a small ship to Amerika, the mystical country where everything seems to be possible, and where there are no priests that decide what is right and wrong and you address everyone the same. Their opinions are without criticism. Amerika seems to be the perfekt place. The emigrants from Småland - Karl Oskar and Kristina, the young and curious Robert, the mistreated Arvid, the prostitute Ulrika and the religious Daniel, the latter belonging to "åkianerna", a group of a kind of puritanism - embark on the ship to Amerika. The crowded journey becomes a great challenge. It's interesting to be able to see the world from their perspective, their reflections of life and theories about the sea.

This is a glimpse of Swedish history. Many people have fought like these people for survival in a country with limited opportunities. The change Sweden has gone through in a hundred years is mind-blowing. When reading about priest's house calls examinations and the way farmers treated their workers, it's difficult to realize it's the same country as today. The hunger and poverty were wide-spread in the countryside. Everyone should think about and thank our ancestors for fighting so hard, it's through them we are living today.

2014/12/11

När man skjuter arbetare by Kerstin Thorvall

”När man skjuter arbetare”, When workers are being shot, is based on the lives of Kerstin Thorvall's mother. In 1920's, Hilma, a young teacher from the north of Sweden meets Sigfrid, a charismatic, charming schoolmaster. She falls in love with this vivid character with his strange manner completely foreign to people from Norrland. Eventually, Hilma realizes that their different status and origin doesn't entirely explain his behavior. No one tells Hilma that Sigfrid is in fact bipolar and their wedding night is a catastrophe without proportions.

The story is dripping with injustice and prejudices. There was a horrible lack of acceptance of people being or thinking outside of the norms and bipolar persons didn't get a proper treatment for their condition and weren't allowed to marry and have children. Hence, the responsibility fell upon the two victims of the story. To make the marriage work.

The prejudiced middle class and the relentless, envious ”jante”-law - that still lingers on today, despite Sweden being one of the richest countries in the world - within the working class made it difficult for the main characters. Gossip seems to have been the main way of entertainment during coffee breaks. Religion was eminent and there seems to have been a kind of puritanism stronghold in the north. This is an interesting time since nowadays Sweden is a secularized country.

The Swedish welfare had yet to arrive. The feudal society and people with socialist sympathies, like Sigfrid, had difficulties to introduce their ideology. The title of the novel refers to workers that were shot during a demonstration in connection with a strike in 1931 - a tragic event later referred to as "Ådalen 31". Several people were killed.


"När man skjuter arbetare" is a one of a kind history lesson about the destinies of ordinary people in a country very different from today that needs to be remembered.

2014/12/05

Vi ses i morgon by Tore Renberg


Tore Renberg's latest novel, now translated to Swedish, portrays people that stand alone. People that feel they are not part of the society, that there's no place for them. The book shows how it is to be at the bottom of Stavanger in Norway - the most wealthy city in the world, according to the author.

Most of the characters are destructive and on their way somewhere, but the destination is not clear. Among the characters is a criminal gang that view themselves as moral, a young rebel dating a religious girl, a loving father that desperately needs money. The characters meet in different way, and define each other - a complement to the third-person perspective.

Tore Renberg is a talented, established Norwegian author, "Vi ses i morgon" being the twenty-first book, published last year, but only now translated to Swedish. The language is rather expressive, but often harsh, including swearwords, and therefor it might not be a book for sensitive people. At the bottom of it, the novel is about who we are, and why.

Renberg paints a very tragic picture of society. Everyone hasn't got the same chance, not even in the most wealthy city in the world - something that is ironically repeated through the book. Most of the characters don't see a glimpse of the comfortable every-day life of the middle class and capitalism, that the town presumably is associated with. The characters unhappiness is growing. They feel they have to take matters in their own hands. They all have dreams.


2014/12/04

The Vampyre by John William Polidori

"The Vampyre",  published 1819, is considered the first vampyre story in English literature and the one turning the vampyre folklore into the classic tale, the mythical vampyre into the aristocratic, cultivated, intellectual and seductive creature. A young man, Aubrey, becomes fascinated with the mysterious Lord Ruthven that has entered London society. They travel to Rome, but Aubrey leaves Lord Ruthven due to certain circumstances. The next time they met, Aubrey's view of him would change irrevocable.

In this short story, the vampyre isn't charming as in later stories. He's egoistical, sadistic, ruthless and without empathy. He doesn't want to be a nice person. He wants to use people for his benefit. He is very generous when giving to people, with the seemingly good purpose of charity, but only to people that will use his money to end up in an even worse situation.

A great issue for Aubrey is whether to keep his word or save the one he cares about - which can seem absurd since most people would break their promises to save their loved ones. A word isn't always that much worth today. Back then, giving someone your word was probably something highly valued and irreversible.

There is not so much character development, as in many short stories, but the main characters are very interesting. Despite an almost non-existent dialogue the prose isn't heavy at all. The story is thrilling and Aubrey's anxiety and fear are felt by the reader.

This short story is immensely influential. It began in the early 1800's when the author elite - Lord Byron, Percy and Mary Shelley, and Claire Clairmont - came together at the Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Among these authors were Byron's physician, John William Polidori. They decided to write a horror-story. This is a historical moment. Lord Byron and Percy Shelley discarded their stories, perhaps because they thought nothing could compare to poetry. Mary Shelley wrote "Frankenstein" and Polidori used Byron's discarded attempt and wrote "The vampyre". Thus, this story is a work by both of them, and furthermore, the characters Lord Ruthven and Aubrey are based on Lord Byron and Polidori. Neither of them wanted it to be published, but nevertheless, it was.

It's impossible to describe the impact these people had and still have on authors and readers. What did they talk about? What fascinated them? These works of literature are only a small part, a tiny glimpse, of their strong imagination.

2014/11/25

Vathek by William Beckford


The Caliph, Vathek, and his mother, Carathis, are cruel and ruthless in their search for knowledge and supernatural powers. Listening to Giaour, who claims to be an Indian merchant and has earned Vathek's attention, they abandon their faith, Islam, to live in sin and murder innocent people to sacrifice to Giaour - who work for the Devil, Eblis, and whose name means blasphemer - to be able to achieve these powers. Of course, it's not that easy.

Written in 1786, by the English author William Beckford, "Vathek" is one of the first gothic novels. One might view the book as a moral tale, or just a fascinating story about abandoning reason and empathy to achieve a goal that perhaps is superfluous. At the same time, the negative view of thirst for knowledge - apart from the cruel crimes committed to achieve it - is interesting.

Being a great inspiration to many authors, the expectations might be high. Unfortunately, the book, which is only 120 pages, is a heavy read and the character development, except from the main characters - is almost non-existent, which makes it difficult to maintain interest.

2014/11/04

Vitsvit by Athena Farrokhzad

In Athena Farrokhzad's debut book ”Vitsvit” there is a mixture of what is and what were. The family came from Iran to Sweden, and the poetry centers around politics and the breaking point - the relationship with the place they left and the place where they arrived. Fragments of testimonies describe memory and identity. Athena Farrokhzad has chosen an interesting way of expression. She lets her poetry consist of the voices of her family members. The mother's attempt to assimilate and her father's voice of revolution. It's violent and nostalgic. Brutal and beautiful.

There are glimpses of the author in the beginning, but she doesn't return. Instead, the reader has to get to know her through the eyes of the family, and there are often conflicts when they view her from their own perspectives. 

The white text on black strips resembles a collage, and perhaps that is the feeling the author wants to convey. It's a mixture of voices that should all be heard, together and individually. The strips might also suggest that the poetry is like subtitles in a movie, which reminds the reader of the fact that this is people's real quotes.

Farrokhzad uses the whole width of the language. Sometimes, it's casual, but more often it's beautiful, intimate and strong. The result makes Athena Farrokhzad a promising debutante. ”Vitsvit” is also leaving the reader with a self-critical emotion. Who is the blurry shape reflecting in the silver colored, shiny, mirror-like front cover?

2014/10/25

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The main character, Margaret Lea, amateur biographer and daughter of the owner of an antiquarian book shop, receives a request from a famous author, Vida Winter. The author is ill and wants Margaret to write her biography, which is confusing considering Winter's habit of fabricating her life story during interviews with journalists. Naturally, Margaret wonders why she would tell the truth this time. What is the purpose? Why is she chosen? 

Winter tells a fascinating but gruesome, sometimes even repulsive, story about her family in the mansion Angelfield. Winter wants to tell the story in her own way, leaving clues for Margaret to uncover while waiting for the story to unfold. What happened? How is everything connected? And who is Vida Winter?

Diane Setterfield writes in a mesmerizing way. The prose is wonderfully rich and colorful, throwing the reader into a world of melancholy and darkness. There are some parts that feel a little unnecessary, but nevertheless Setterfield is vague at the right moments, creating an atmosphere of suspense, where some questions are never answered and up to the reader to interpret.

This is a book for bibliophiles. The author's love for literature is shining through, and there are many similarities to Victorian literature. There are plenty of gothic elements and references to novels such as ”Jane Eyre” and ”Wuthering heights”. The book is a sort of tribute to gothic fiction. All the factors are present – old mansions and ruins, mysteries and hidden secrets, the supernational elements, the barren landscape, the thick mist and the melancholy. But most of all, these surrounding factors serve as a way of showing what's inside the characters. Their search for identity. Furthermore, there are considerably darker subjects emerging eventually and the ending is very sad.

"The Thirteenth Tale" is a rare piece of work that honors literature from a wonderful era, with an elaborated story, written in a mesmerizing way with well developed characters that haunt the reader a long time after reading it.

2014/10/21

Salome by Oscar Wilde

The classic, biblical tale has been portrayed many times, in different ways. Oscar Wilde is just one among many authors that saw the potential in the tragedy and made the story his own, as a play. The main story about the tetrarch Herod's daughter that gets John the Baptist's head in exchange for dancing, is the same. But details are different. Historically, Salome was a more passive character, not well defined, without many lines. Originally, she didn't even have a name. She was just a price for her mother to pay for her own will. Oscar Wilde made her an own individual, with thoughts and feelings. Of course, she is still a victim of the patriarchy, but she also has power which she knows how to use. Tragically, the only power women had, in most cases, was their body.

Oscar Wilde's Salome is an interesting character. She isn't helpless in the same way as other versions, but a victim to her own lust, in the same way as Herod is portrayed. She uses Herod objectifying her to objectify John the Baptist. She does anything to finally be able to kiss him - or abuse him. This version is more about Salome's lust and will than Herod's lust and Herodias will. In this version it's Salome that wants John the Baptist's head. Since she can't master him in life, it has to be in death. There's no silver platter. Like a brutish conqueror, Salome takes hold of his severed head and kisses it. In this way, Salome's part isn't passive, but active, complicated, vengeful and ruthless. However, in the end, one might speculate about who is the most powerful character.

Oscar Wilde's prose isn't as rich and full of wit as it usually is. Whether it is a deliberate choice or not is unclear, but Salome shouldn't be about the prose. It's a simple tale with many complicated themes and way of interpretations.

2014/10/10

Döden kvittar det lika by Anne-Marie Schjetlein

This is Anne-Marie Schjetleins debut novel, taking place in a hospital environment and centered around several characters, all seeking love in different ways, but finding loneliness. The chapters about the little girl, living in misery together with her mother and little sister, are the foundation of the story, and it's very clear they are the key characters, forming the novel.

The book is about what shapes us, the importance of or lack of willpower, and how deep the shadows of our past goes. What's interesting is that there is no judgmental tone. The author lets an unfaithful man, despite his selfish act, still be a loving father that cares about his family and his wife. Their marriage is a facade, a contrast to the raw reality that he must face as a doctor. His mistress becomes a safety-valve to his seemingly perfect, strict every-day life. However, a murder mystery makes everything even more complicated.

A fascinating stylistic choice by the author is to let the characters define each others. They regard each other from their own perspectives, which shows the reader different dimensions of them. It's difficult to introduce new characters after two thirds of the book. The police officers are almost superfluous and perhaps the book would have benefited without them. But all in all, it's rather well written for a debut novel, with some of the characters really defined and interesting.

Schjetlein is a nurse herself and really describes her characters fascination for their work, for life and death, as well as the vocation of helping other people. A hospital environment is a fitting place for a murder. As one of the characters notices, it is like a society in miniature with all sorts of people and facilities - a restaurant, a hairdresser, a church, a library and so on. It gives the opportunity of a tone resembling the atmosphere of Agatha Christie-novels.

2014/10/04

The beast within by Émile Zola

The novel is dark and brutal with plenty of fights, sex and more murders than in any modern book. The story begins with a brutal scene between a married couple. Then, it just escalates into a crescendo of violence. ”The beast within” is such a contrast to the prudent writing of Victorian England.

Zola is examining the cause of violence. Jeaolusy, hatred and egoism are common factors, as well as the more unusually emphasized concept of atavism. Not one person is good. Every single one is very flawed and selfish, perhaps with the exception of the Cabuche, becoming a kind of martyr, carrying the burden of the defects of man. Zola doesn't portray women as particularly good creatures, but as guilty and evil as men, only that the conventions have made them think they need a man to do the deed, with Flore as an interesting exception. Of course, being a strong individual and able to make decisions and execute them, good or bad, Flore had to be very physically strong and big boned – described as manly, because a woman apparently can't be all that and still be feminine. On the other hand, Severine, a more timid woman - easier to like and identify with - made not so different decisions, which prove that Zola found women, regardless of their more or less modest or timid personality, as good or bad as men.

Despite all their flaws, the characters are easy to care for because they are portrayed as very human, perhaps more so than we might apprehend. They were not good nor exceptionally bad, just emotional and not very controlled, which, of course, brought disaster. Other factors are the occasion and surroundings. 

The concept of good and evil is very much a matter of circumstances, but all characters have the ability to be both. Everything exists in man. Every human being has a violent nature. What makes certain people commit murder is just due to circumstances. Another theme is the repercussions of succumbing to one's instincts. ”The beast within” is a refreshing, experimental analyses of violence and its core, origin and consequences. The railroad with its passing, unknowing, uncaring trains is a colorful contrast to the emotions living inside the characters, and the modern ways contribute to hide and repress the violent human nature, the beast within, making them appear civilized. As well as today. Civilization, with the conception of man above beast, might just be an illusion.

2014/10/02

Hur man botar en feminist

In her fourth book, Nanna Johansson does everything to fit in, but it doesn't really work out too well. In the beginning of the book is an email she received which calls her a whore and that men have built the society and deserves to run it.

The title, translated, would be "How to cure a feminist", and she explains, very detailed and with sarcasm, that feminists exist only because they are not getting laid. Hence, she appears to have solved the problem. The book is a satire of the conventions and norms of society, both regarding politics and the patriarchy. She answer job ads, visits dating sites and thanks BIC for the female pen. Ironically, of course. She is relentless, ruthless and hilarious.

2014/09/30

Kunskapens frukt by Liv Strömquist

Strömquist's latest book describes the view of the female genitalia through the ages. She reflects upon the borderline interest for the female sex organ, and the reader gets to visit the stone age, the witchcraft processes, queen Kristina's grave opening, the influence of religion, the enlightenment period, and finally the ideals of today. Every age is characterized by taboos and attempts to construct the female sex organ according to the norm of the time. 

The book has elements of satire when it comes to the way men through history have shown an immense interest in the female genitalia and done all kinds of sick procedures on the basis of their contemporary opinions. The ambivalent perspective of women - the madonna/whore concept - originates from hundreds of years of twisting and turning of women's sexuality, from religious and scientific points of view.

Strömquist writes in the most insightful way and the book, despite the comic style, should be taken very seriously. It's a historical analyze of the view of the female sex organ and the implications on women's lives. If we are to understand today's view of women and the female genitalia, we need to understand our history. The author uses images, facts and comical reflections as a way of descriptive method. She claims that if men were menstruating, the taboo topic would be viewed as something wonderful, holy and mysterious. The period is, still today, not talked about, even regarded as something shameful. 

As a reader it's difficult not to be affected by the book's descriptions of the immense influence and implications the patriarchy has had through the ages. Of course, men have a rough history in many ways, as well, but this book is dedicated to women and a tribute to the female sex organ. The Swedish political feminist party Fi is only a few years old. It would have been needed a long time ago.

2014/09/15

Imorgon är allt som vanligt by Lina Stoltz

In her new book, the author takes the reader to a place of emotions such as uncertainty, insecurity and shame. A young girl's life centers around the condition of her mother. Will her well kept secret be revealed? How long can she carry a burden that begins to shatter her life?

The reader has no difficulties to understand the main character Lilian. Her emotional outbreaks and pretended indifference are easy to connect to the fact that she is living in a totally different world from anybody else. Freedom is just an illusion. Everything depends on her mother. When Lucia is approaching and Lilian is planning the celebrations in school - she finally gets to decide something and take control - she overdoes it. It's difficult to be just enough in a world without references. Her sudden want of intense control over something is understandable because of her dependence at home.

Feelings of guilt and shame of having a parent that is an alcololic and not being able to do anything about it really burns behind your eyes. The book has many dimensions. How it is to be totally powerless. To carry a burden. To take an immense responsibility that young people shouldn't have to do. To always put yourself last. To have to keep a secret that you don't understand. To feel invisible. To live in uncertainty. To have to be the parent when you are the child. And, finally, the relief when realizing that you are not alone. To be able to share the burden with someone. To make it less dramatic and to feel normal.

Many young people undoubtedly recognize the main character's life in the book, and those who don't can get a glimpse of a life that is lived by many young people and perhaps get insight.

2014/08/31

Rhampsinitus and the Thief by Herodotus

The story is one of many myths and fairytales collected in a volume. This particular tale involves a builder making a chamber of stone in the home of king Rhampsinitus, the biblical Ramses. But he disposes one of the stones in such a manner that it could be taken out easily. When he is old, he tells his two sons how the gold can be found. The story is brutal, somewhat bloody and lacking in humanity and respect for other people.

Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC (c.484 BC – c.425 BC). He was considered the "father of history" in Western culture and the first historian known to collect information in a certain way, to test their accuracy and arrange them. He learned this tale in Egypt around 440 BC, perhaps by priests. Herodotus didn't believe it to be true but never the less reported what he was told. It's fascinating to read such ancient stories that have influenced people and perhaps literature, culture and believes as well. It resembles the tales of "The Thousand and One Nights", but this one, with only three pages, is too short to manage much of a captivating ability.

The torture garden by Octave Mirbeau

The novel, published in 1899, examines an attitude to life without right and wrong, good and evil. Beauty and pain are constantly present, mentally or physically. They are melting together and eventually it's difficult to see the difference. Perhaps they were always the same.

The story follows a young man, a corrupt politician, on a journey where he meets his love interest, a sadistic woman. She brings him to a torture garden in China, where old forms of torture are practiced and where he learns that pain borders on pleasure, and love and suffering originate from the same source of brutal emotions. The contrast, or perhaps the collaboration, between sadistic expressions of love and sensual expressions of death makes it beautiful and fascinating. The fact that they are codependent, that one can't be appreciated without the other, is apparent. Since the torture garden is beyond good and evil, neither one is less important and dignified. The infinite amount of passion and the perverted nature of human beings that might be the true nature, not the norm, have no limits. There is a freedom of expression that couldn't be found Europe in the late 19th century.

In the torture garden the beautiful flowers feed on blood from the tortured prisoners to prosper, and people are, in a way, reborn in a limitless cycle of life. In this world, pleasure is pain, love is suffering, torture is a work of art, blood is the wine of love and beauty is murder. At the same time the portrayal is a critique of the European society. The pages of murder and blood are ironically dedicated to people like priests, soldiers and judges, people who kill or restrict others from freedom and beauty. The torture garden might be interpreted as an allegory, an intense, miniature Europe. Mirbeau claimed that "the law of murder" was inconsistent in the late 1800's and wanted to portray the European civilisation as not so civilized. The government allowed murder when it benefited from it, but not when it had a real purpose. According to one of the characters in the book, the accepted view of war and colonialism were necessary because the government was only legitimized by murder. As this might also be the belief of the author, much of the book deals with these forms of hypocrisy. Just as in real life, executioners in the torture garden kill people in the service of death, but not for a meaningless purpose but as a work of art. Since we don't question murder in the service of rulers, politicians and judges, why would we question expressions of freedom and the beauty of art? Wouldn't that prove that we haven't learned anything the last century, and make us the very same hypocrites that Mirbeau indicated we were?

2014/08/17

The necrophiliac by Gabrielle Wittkop

The story centers around a necrophiliac and his lovers that he brings from the cemeteries. His love for them is uncompromising and inconsiderate. Naturally, the story is absurd, bizarre, repulsive and desecrating. But, at the same time, it's beautiful, describing a sublime element in something horrible. An expressive prose flows wonderfully and as a matter of fact the choice of description liberates it from being vulgar.

The author describes the necrophiliac as between two worlds. He would like to live and to die, but can neither live nor die. The way he looks at death might be described as liberating. He perceives living people as if on their way, waiting for them. All flesh carries the seed to it's own destruction, as mentioned in the book. But to never be able to have something everlasting is a void, never being filled, and makes it possible to sympathize with him, whose life centers around a struggle to satisfy his repugnant needs. One after the other he has to get rid of them, however carefully he tries to preserve them. But what is really everlasting?

Gabrielle Wittkop was an interesting author, known for her peculiar literary works. She vindicated a strong sexual indulgence and breach as the only way to give life meaning. Not surprisingly, she was a fan of Markis de Sade. Le nécrophile, published in 1972, was her debut novel.

2014/08/14

Clarimonde by Théophile Gautier

This collection includes four horror stories with gothic elements. La Morte Amoureuse, Le Chevalier double, Le Pied de momie and Deux acteurs pour un rôle. La Morte Amoureuse – Clarimonde – is the first and the most interesting.

The story centers around a priest, Romuald, and his meeting with a young, beautiful woman, Clarimonde. He is incapable of restraining himself and falls into a peculiar situation. The gothic segments are profound, and the story includes everything from death to vampires. Although, it's a rather nice vampire and a victim that prefers to be with her instead of living his chaste life.

The novel alternates between Romuald's two conditions and he is not aware of which is his real life. Is he dreaming when meeting Clarimonde, or when he is a priest? What is reality and what is illusion? Another question is whether it could all be a dream about seduction considering his newly taken wows?

Gautier was one of the initial French authors in the romantic period. According to Gautier, art is eternal, while everything else perishes. The phrase ”l’art pour l’art” - art for art's sake – is credited to him, even if not made up entirely by him. He claimed that art didn't need moral justification and was allowed to be neutral. Gautier was highly influential in the early romantic era.

2014/07/06

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

A governess is in charge of two orphan children, taken care of by their uncle who works in London and never wants to be disturbed. Eventually, the governess suddenly begins to see two phantoms, a man and a woman, near the children, and suspects that the latter know about these ghosts.

It's a chilling story, with gothic elements similar to ”The woman in black” and references to ”Jane Eyre”, but it's not as thrilling as it's reputation. Perhaps the reason is Henry James writing style, of course rich, but tricky and with endless punctuations marks that usually is rather favourable, but in this case might be considered used beyond all reason.

The interesting aspect is the many interpretations that can be made regarding the ghosts, the children and sanity of the governess. The two children, Miles and Flora, are utterly perfect, both their countenance and their behavior. Perhaps that is why something feels strange about them. The reader might wonder if they are real. What has been speculated and reflected upon is whether the governess is right in her conviction about the ghosts and the children's awarness about them, or, perhaps, that she is psychologically disturbed, imagining things and belonging in a alysum. The author gives no answer, and the reader is left to interpret the story.

2014/07/01

Allt det där du sa till mig var sant by Amanda Svensson

The main character is a young woman falling in love with another student at the same school. He calls himself Majakovsky and her Lilya Brik. The relationship is based mostly upon, and soon they almost believe they are, these characters. It's the beginning of a destructive relationship that only turns more desperate, and the young woman runs the risk of losing herself.

Amanda Svensson's third novel is a sharp description of power abuse in an isolated envivonment, as well as a subtle view of influence of thoughts upon daily life. Sometimes it's difficult to interpret what's real and what's fantasy. The real name of the young protagonist is never revealed, and she lives in two worlds. She is the helpless Lilya Brik and the adventurous pirate Mary Read. In one world she is a powerless victim of a psychopath, and in the other, as a counter reaction, she is an active pirat together with her friend Anne Bonny and writing her own story, deciding her own destiny. It's interesting how the environment and different people affect us, making us grow or shrink. The novel is about creating your own world, where you exist. The one you want to belong to.

Svensson is experimenting with a colorful version of identity and the identification process amongst young people that feel they don't fit in. The suffocating daily life and the feeling of being invisible. The abuse of such people. The will to be free. And she does it brilliantly. The reality has never been more subjective and multi-faced. What does the physical reality really tell us about ourselves? When do we not pretend? What is reality? Svensson emphasizes the importance of stories. how they can make us very small, but also very big and strong, conquering everything, like a pirate.

2014/06/26

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Dumas tells the story of the adventurous D'Artagnan, leaving his home to join the King's musketeers in the 17th century France. Athos, Porthos and Aramis are the persons referred to by the title, and D'Artagnan soon challenges each of them to a duel, which leads to an initial friendship that grows through the novel. The story contains everything. It's exciting, hilarious, adventurous and thrilling. The only thing that might, in som way, be lacking is the profoundity that ”The Count of Monte Cristo” possess.

Unfortunately, the women were either helpless or deceiving, except from the modest but brave mercer's wife, Madame Bonacieux. The villain of the story, the ruthless, devious Milady de Winter, showed no fainting qualities, but played with what she had - her intellect and her beauty – to overcome obstacles. Never the less, even though there can be no comparison regarding the source of evil, the men weren't exactly honourable and innocent, either. Though they remained loyal to the King, they had other, less favourable qualities. The musketeers might be regarded as exploiting their position on certain occasions. Sometimes, they treated people around them badly, especially their lackeys. D'Artagnan, at times, seemed to have a difficult time deciding who would receive his love. According to the author, one of the customs of the 17th century France was for the musketeers to receive gifts from married, wealthy ladies that served as their mistresses. That's interesting. Only a century later, virtue and honour would rend it impossible. 

The contempt of death and constant duels show that some people wanted to preserve the earlier culture, and refuse to accept the prohibition of duels. Undoubtadly, there were different opinions of that. A hilarious thing the musketeers dedicated themselves to was breakfasting in the bastion in the middle of a war with England, refusing to stop before the repast was over. Then, Athos obstinately left the bastion, with the bullets flying around him, at a walking pace. The character of Athos is intriguing. It was clear from the beginning that he suffered from some great misfortune or disappointment of some kind, which turned out to be romantic. The way it was described, however, was in a unusual, funny kind of way. He seemed tired and didn't give much for words and he communicated with his lackey through signs which sometimes turned into a pantomime or a sign-language, and the latter eventually developed an impressive alertness.

The way in which the story is written is a clever mixture of admirable character development, pensive declarations, high-paced suspense and comedy. It's not, as mentioned, as thoroughly impressive as "The Count of Monte Cristo" but a comparison is unnecessary because of their differences. This one is comical, adventurous and full of intrigues, while the other one is sad, profound and much darker.

2014/06/24

Psykodrama by Magnus Dahlström

A psychotherapist is treating a patient that has problems to cope after a fire killed her entire family. Initially, the roles of the characters are defined, but eventually the psychotherapist begins to assimilate the patient's characteristics and memories, and projects his own feelings onto her. Does the psychotherapist use his patient for his own means, or is he manipulated? There are elements of guilt, relations of power and the exploiting of it. The story is layered, offering many interpretations throughout the book.

The patient is somehow familiar to the psychotherapist. Whether there is a relation or not, and what it might be, is not clear. Is the patient as innocent as she seems? What about the psychotherapist? When he begins to analyze the session's influence on him and seek guidance from his handler, the story gets ambiguous and the boundaries are fading and melting together. It's difficult to discern the difference between the roles and there is great room for speculation.

Most of the book is dialogue, and the reader never gets to enter the patient's mind. In what way are the two depending on each other? How far is a person willing to go to cope? Is the patient there for a reason unknown? Is she even real? Leaving gaps for the reader to fill in is an interesting stylistic technique, but occasionally the repetitive details about airplaines and other objects, colors and sounds get tedious. The constant moving elevator, the impression of the colour white and the fact that people come there, to be able to cope and move on, gives a possible theological wibe, though. The book is, according to the author himself, somewhat brushy, and the reader is left with many strings to attach with only a few clues. While other books are unfolding, this one gets more fragmented.

The author shows great knowledge in psychology and therapy. The book takes place during therapy sessions. Small variations demand the reader's attention, and the story is evolving and progressing throughout the book, but on the contrary to other books, this gets more and more complicated, with no way of confirming the theories developed by the reader. It's impossible to view the story in a objective light due to it's many psychological dimensions. This is a story with subtle elements, about reality and illusion, recesses of memory and instinct of self-preservation.

2014/06/02

The Stand by Stephen King

When a plague strikes, the few people left begin having dreams about two different people that are each other's nemesis. They can choose to be a part of an old woman's fellowship, or to join the dark side, a totalitarianism. In the beginning the chapters alternate between different characters such as the pregnant Frannie, the musician Larry, the deaf-mute Nick, the slightly introverted Harold, the imprisoned Stu, the intellectually challenged Tom, the intellectual Glen, the mysterious Nadine, the criminal Lloyd, and last but not least, the dog Kojak. They are flawed and absolutely no saints before the plague – a brilliant concept. Thus, they are no given leaders. But, all of a sudden, they get a second chance to take responsibility, and save themselves from destruction. Some of them does, despite moments of hesitation. Others don't. There's no foreseeing who will be sympathetic and not, who will take the opportunity to face their past and who will exploit the change to power. They all get a second chance. Stephen King is cleverly describing the core of a person's true identity. When the filter of materialism and comfort are gone, as well as the lack of structure, rules and laws, it's easier to unfold people's inner nature. Suddenly, their true identity emerges. The existence of, or lack there of, sympathy and empathy become very clear.

The story about a group of people's current construction of a new society gives birth to some interesting questions. The question of democracy. Is it the opinion of the majority of the people or the decision that is best for them? The question about whether people are born with morals or something that they possibly incorporate later on. The question about good and evil, and whether people are really aware of the difference - is there a difference? Can we choose who we are, or are we incorrigible? What's fascinating about the evil Flagg is that he is powerless without people's fear and lynch behavior. He feeds on it. Evil can take many shapes, but is only as powerful as people's minds permit.

It's interesting to consider the normal society we're used to from a stranger's perspective. After living a free life for a while, how would we perceive the traditional structure and rules of society? The characters speculate about what kind of society they want to build and if they are going to change something from the old one. What if there are other ways to run a society? Without materialism there wouldn't be the same kind of differences between people. The struggle between the traditional laws and individual freedom becomes distinct during the new organisation of society structure, and the potential danger of organisation and power is reflected upon. This makes the reader speculate about how close we really are to become our own destruction.

The unabridged version of 1200-pages offer a profound description of the main characters, something that feels tedious at times, but might be healthy for the reader to be able comprehend the amplitude of the story. The book contains different themes such as speculative realism, science fiction, fantasy and religious symbolism. Perhaps the story would have benefited from simply one of them - speculative realism. The reader might choose which perspective to view it from, but it's not really necessary to throw in fantasy and supernatural elements. The reader might even have difficulties to interpret certain parts. What really caused the catastrophy that threw the world into a dystopian setting? Mankind or God?

The book, more than anything else, leaves the reader with one question. Are we able to learn from our mistakes? Stephen King seems to have faith in us, but we are easily tempted. This is one of his most famous works, perhaps because it's subtle and layered and contains many different sub themes, where people's inner nature and the contrast between the right choice and the easy choice are very distinguished.

2014/05/22

The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol

A great inspiration to authors like Fyodor Dostoevsky, Gogols ”Overcoat” has survived 170 years and continues to mesmerize readers over the world. The short story centers around a titular councillor named Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin and his unfortunate experience with hierarchy and bureaucracy. When Akaky realizes he needs a new overcoat for work, his problems start.

There are certainly many different hidden meanings to interpret, if ignoring the practicalities and consider it from a more psychological perspective. The immense importance which is associated with materialism, not only when it comes to protection against the cold, but also regarding status in society, is worth considering. The way Akaky changes when wearing the new overcoat is interesting - perhaps the story is about an invisible man suddenly, with a piece of fabric, becoming the center of attention, just to be made invisible again? What happens, psychologically, if the feeling of communion and acceptance from others, is given and suddenly taken away? What is most prominent, however, is the bureaucracy that Akaky is facing - a down right obstacle, complicating everything, even preventing the purpose of the ministries. The message of the story is how this could affect someone of low hierarchy.

2014/05/10

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

This is not a book about a main character who meets difficulties in life and learns how to overcome them. It isn't about revenge, love, or injustice. It's about everything! But most of all, it's about miserable, unfortunate people struggling to maintain some dignity in life. Victor Hugo blamed the flawed society for the fall of men, the corruption, the wretchedness and greediness of men, which thrive in darkness and misery, and prevent insight and reconciliation.

There are loads of unfortunate people. There is Jean Valjean, who wants to be a good man, and repeatedly tries to be, but is constantly reminded of his past, by society. As soon as he has created a new life for himself, the past keeps catching up and destroys it. It's as if the rules of society imprison him and between the bars he can perceive freedom, but never reach it. All because he, as a former convict, has destiny written upon him. A few times he has been on his way back to darkness, but someone has showed him kindness and that's the only thing it takes to make him remain on the right path. The thing which makes this book political, is that Jean would be a saint, living a happy life, if it weren't for the rules, prejudices and judgements of society. That is the common denominator for several of the characters. The beautiful, modest character Fantine would be a happy mother if it weren't for the conventions of society. Her fatal destiny has to be one of the saddest stories ever written.

The book is heavy at times and some parts are very detailed and long. Victor Hugo introduces new characters throughout the book, which can be a little exhausting at times. In the middle of the book we meet Marius, an unfortunate young man who would have become a "cold-hearted" royalist (Hugo's political opinions can be interpreted) if it weren't for a letter from his Bonapartist father. Marius grows up and is woven into the story and his struggle for love and the void which suddenly has to be filled in his heart is extraordinary. Marius inner political struggles can in fact be based on Hugo himself, because the author had a similar adolescence.

Another thing which is heavy and worth mentioning is Hugo's digressions. You would think that the book would become easier when you're well into it, but Hugo kept leaving the story to write some forty pages about a topic he found interesting. There are hundreds of pages about things from political views and the battle of Waterloo, to the the sewers of Paris. It seems like he put whatever he fancied into the book and you can't really understand the relevance of it, until the end of the chapter, when it turns out to be very relevant. All digressions are a bit too long, but always turn out to be necessary to understand the situations of the characters. Therefore, it's important to read the unabridged version, to really comprehend the content and context, because it shows Hugo's purpose with the book. Victor Hugo was an exceptional author. He could really understand the psyche of man, he could portray a man's reflections and ethical dilemmas such as choices between saving a man's life or one's own, and struggles between saving a man's life or obeying someone's last wish, with so much emotion that it truly captures the reader.

The part where Jean meets Cosette is beautifully written. The father-daughter relationship between them is powerful and they complement each other perfectly. Without each other, they would have been at the bottom, but with each other, they become something extraordinary, able to provide a life for themselves in the shadows. The void in Jean's heart has been filled, and when Cosette is growing up into a beautiful young woman, he begins to worry about eventual suitors, partly because of her mother's destiny, and partly because of egotism. Jean Valjean is probably one of the most complex characters in the history of literature, due to his flaws, endeavoring and battle with himself. The most beautiful part of the book is doubtless the relationship between him and Cosette. Hugo had a very fine perception of paternal feelings. 
Few authors ever come close to so utterly revealing descriptions of the deep, unfathomable, incomprehensible, natural fatherly love. Probably may readers get a new perspective and understanding of the father perspective. Here are a few lines that reveals Jean's feelings for Cosette:

"This man who had passed through every distress, who was still all bleeding from the lacerations of his destiny, who had been almost evil, and who had become almost holy, who, after having dragged the chain of the galleys, now the invisible but heavy chain of indefinite infamy, this man whom the law had not released, and who might be at any instant retaken, and led back from the obscurity of his virtue to the broad light of public shame, this man accepted all, excused all, pardoned all, blessed all, wished well to all, and only asked of Providence, of men, of the laws, of society, of nature, of the world, this one thing, that Cosette should love him!"

Hugo wrote in this exceptional way, as if he had been inside the characters heads and fully understood them. He had a unique ability to, very insightful and comprehensible, portray people's inner nature, 

The unabridged version gives a thorough picture of a society during a critical time, about what deprives people of their freedom. Probably it would have been more difficult to understand the thoughts and motives of people such as the Thénardiers if it weren't for the really profound parts that the quantity of pages allow. The story benefits from it. It takes time and demands a lot, but then again, these parts give so much more in return! This book is one of a kind, and makes you succumb to reverie and want to be a better person.

2014/05/02

The Eight by Katherine Neville

In 1972, Catherine Velis, a computer expert, is given an special assignment in Algeria, and when an antique dealer hears about it he approaches her with a request. Even before her departure, strange things starts to happen and she realizes that she is part of something she doesn't understand. Everything seems to be connected to an ancient quest.

People from different parts of the world search for an ancient, moorish chess service given to Charlemagne and hidden in Montglane Abbey. The Montglane service is more a than a chessboard with pieces of gold and jewellery. It contains an immense power that can explain the history of the world, and make the owner of it the most powerful man on earth. 

In a parallell story, the French Revolution is approaching. Dangers are coming to Monglane in France and the novice nuns Mireille and Valentine from the Montglane Abbey have to disperse some of the chess pieces and hide them. They can't trust anyone and have to choose wisely when forming the necessary alliances. The dangerous game involves people like Robespierre, Talleyrand, Newton, Napoleon, Voltaire and Catherine the Great.

In 1972, Catherine enters the game. Together with a mysterious friend, a daughter of a friend and a Russian chess master Catherine encounters many dangers in the search of the chess service. She realizes that of the people searching for it, many are professional chess players. They are all pieces in the game and a pawn is easy to get swept off the board.

The Eight is an adventure that is thrilling as well as intelligent. Neville plays with numbers and information in an extraordinary way, mixing true events with fiction. Even though some of the things seems a little far-fetched and too colorful – everyone seems to be a player in the game and the number eight figures everywhere - it's easy to overlook them. The mixture of chess, ancient secrets, fascinating places and interesting characters makes The eight an entertaining read.