Wasted women, Sigrid Combüchen

I don´t know how to illustrate this post. I can´t forever take pictures of my e-book reader, can I? What I have read over the Christmas holiday is Sigrid Combüchen´s "Spill" ("Waste" in English, but as far as I can find out, it has not been translated. Yet.) Combüchen recieved this year´s August-prize for it, and well deserved, I think.

Combüchen calls "Spill" a "lady´s novel" and she defines it herself in the novel as a story about clothes, jewellery, beauty and illusions of love and that every girl has the right to be a princess one day of her life. Ok. It´s a story about a novelist, Sigrid Combüchen, who starts a correspondence with one of her readers and then is inspired to write this person´s story as a novel. The protagonist, Hedda, is a young girl of nineteen, twenty. It is the 1930´s and she has finished school with excellent grades, straight A´s. However, the family funds (her mother´s inheritance, most of which the father has wasted) are invested in the oldest son, who is studying to become a doctor, and she is expected to keep house for her sick father, sick younger brother and worn-out mother while her other older brother tries for a career in film.

To "save" Hedda from this fate, her grandmother pays for her to go to Stockholm and learn sewing at a fashion house. These are skills not considered "wasted" on girls, apparently. I won´t give more away, in case you want to read it. (I urge you to want to.)

So yes, the novel is about clothes (sewing), it is about jewellery (a few rings plays a big role in the story), beauty (she is one), illusions of love (there´s a lot about why and how couples end up married), and the right to be a princess one day in one´s life (a disappointment, you´ll see).

In between the chapters about Hedda, we read excerpts from the author´s diary and the letters written by the "original" Hedda. And we are invited into the process of creating fiction. What really makes this book great is that it asks questions, rather than telling a finished, closed story. It´s all an illusion, it´s all in the writer´s mind, and this is confirmed with a small gimmick: all the voices, the author´s, the original Hedda and the young Hedda, they all use a lot of English expressions. It´s like the text hasn´t been edited, like it has just flowed from the creator´s mind and all the voices are one and the same. Of course this is deliberate, very considered.

I really enjoyed this book. It´s good, literary fiction, it makes you think while you enjoy a good story. And I imagine most women reading this can identify. Heddas 1930´s dilemma is hardly historical, only a week ago the Swedish Prime Minister said in an interview that Swedish women don´t work (for wages) enough and spend too much time and energy on their homes and families. I´m not sure I think he is right, but I know a lot of (most) women do, and not necessarily out of choice. Just this morning I saw a comic strip commenting the Prime Minister´s statement: a man sits in the sofa in front of the telly and reproaches his wife that she works too hard, while she is taking care of (his) babies and stiring a pot and putting the Christmas ham in the oven, all at the same time while the Christmas tree twinkles in the background.

And whatever the politics of men and women, whatever that, there will always be the needs of children to consider. That is an aspect Combüchen does not deal with in this book, the needs of those Hedda refuses to care for. But, as she says, it´s a "lady´s novel".

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