A Monster of Mendacity

I found this book at the e-book library, "Får man vara lite tilltalande i det här samhället" (=is it permitted to be a bit attractive in this society) by Marianne Höök. It´s a collection of her best work, three books, and a number of articles and columns, even extracts from diaries and letters.

Marianne Höök was a Swedish journalist and columnist who was also the most glamourous woman in Stockholm, in Sweden even, during the 50´s and 60´s. She was named the best dressed woman in 1970 and graced the cover of Veckojournalen (= the weekly journal), just a few weeks before she killed herself by means of pills and alcohol, only 51 years old.

I was surprised to see that the texts were so modern, and I suppose that is why they have been republished. Some of the things that were written as late as the 1940´s in Swedish are so old-fashioned language-wise, that young people find it hard to understand. I have even heard suggestions that old Swedish classics should be "translated" inte modern language, to make them accessible to a younger audience. Would the English ever consider modernizing Austen or Shakespeare? I hope not!

I became curious about Marianne Höök and started to parallell-read "Jag var självlockig, moderlös, gripande och ett monster av förljugenhet" (= I was naturally curly, motherless, pathetic and a monster of mendacity) by Anette Kullenberg, a journalist who became friend of Höök´s in the 60´s. She was shocked by the suicide, she writes, and now, more than 35 years later, she embarks on a kind of journey, to find out why she did it. Not that she finds the answer she wants, I suppose life just isn´t that rational and logical. But it´s really exciting to hear all the voices of collegues, friends, lovers, the children, and her own memories and speculations. I find myself arguing with Kullenberg, I listen to the voices and I hear, well, not exactly the same things she does. At times I´m filled with a feeling as if I´m watching something foul, something rotten.

What was it about Marianne Höök? Was it incest, as Kullenberg speculates? I doubt it. Was it "just" mental illness, would she have been helped by a simple medicine if she had been here today? Well, that´s a bit too easy as well. I have a feeling she was caught in circumstances (as many creative and highly gifted women were before the invention of contraceptives, before... well, still are, I guess) that didn´t allow her to do what she was meant to do. I think she self-destructed as a failure to be what she knew she had to be to "earn her keep", so to speak. She may have been deluded, but still, I think that´s what she felt, deep down. Many testify that it was painful for her to age, but I think that pain was deeper than just sorrow over her dwindling beauty. But what do I know, what do Kullenberg know? All we can do is listen and reflect, and learn.


Knowing what to think

I have been a lazy blogger. Or, actually, I read "Ett gott liv" (=a good life) by Ann Heberlein while it was so fresh the reviews hadn´t come out yet and I just didn´t know if it was fair to think what I thought about it. Then Tranströmer happened to us - cultural bliss in medialand - and when the reviews finally came I was kinda out of wind.

Ann Heberlein is a Swedish scholar in the field of theology, her particular speciality is ethics and more specifically she has written books about responsibility and evil. 2008 she published a book titled "Jag vill inte dö, jag vill bara inte leva" (=I don´t want to die, I just don´t want to live), where she "came out" as a sufferer of bipolar disorder. I didn´t read it at the time, but it was a major media happening and hard to miss.

The reason I picked "Ett gott liv" was, more or less, that it was available as an e-book at the library and it was on the first page when I was looking for something new to read. Coincidence, really. I quickly became hooked. And realized that this book is a kind of corrective to the other one, that she describes somewhere as her "suicide note". She writes that the book came out while she was still deeply depressed and suicidal and she thinks the publisher she then used never should have allowed her to go through with it. She claims to want to discuss how the publishing world "uses" people who are weak or ill and lacking in awareness of the consequences of baring it all, just to make a buck. Now, Heberlein writes well and seems very much on top of everything, so of course I became curious to see how she writes when she is ill and cannot be held accountable for her own actions, so I downloaded "Jag vill inte dö, jag vill bara inte leva".

Well, she sounded pretty much like someone who knew what she was doing at the time. Not much difference between the books in that respect, it´s very much the same Heberlein that the reader meets on the pages. I don´t know what kind of person one would have to be to have understood at the time that Heberlein should not have been allowed to publish the book. I also find, while I read both of them, that I´m arguing with her. I don´t agree entirely about the way she describes the world. I think she sometimes makes sloppy generalizations about culture and society and what people think and what people want and so on.

I also increasingly, as I read, get the feeling that she is trying to play me, that I´m being manipulated into thinking, well, I´m not sure what I´m supposed to be thinking. That she is sane, perhaps. She is quite honest about the first book being an attempt to get away from responsibility (one of her pet projects, that). I have seen that in a few people I have known over the years: they are eager to bare it all, to confess and lay all their shortcomings before you, so that they will not have to say NO to anything. They want you to do it for them. Pull the brake when they can´t do it themselves, for whatever reason. (Heberlein has now, when she is supposedly sane, made a pact with her husband. Next time she is ill, he is allowed to stop her. If he can.)

I imagine being bipolar is not easy. It must hurt to try and patch up ones lost esteem, self- and professional, after an episode and repair a damaged reputation (if indeed it is). Heberlein is well worth reading, probably has one of the best intellects in this country and I´m curious about her other books, including a novel that she is allegedly writing with her husband. Read this as a peek into a mind that sometimes runs away with itself and that is trying to regain control. Treat it as a field trip. You might not be able to put it to words exactly, but you will learn something if you listen to Ann Heberlein.


First Class Rome

I can´t remember if I have blogged before about what I consider to be the best travel guide in the world: Eyewitness Travel Guides. (Swedish: "Första klass reseguider"). I discovered them more than ten years ago, when we were planning a week in Prague. I bought one and it so informed our stay there, it just became one of my best vacations ever.

Thing is, what I need from a vacation is to be stimulated. I need that much more than rest, probably because I make sure I get enough of that during the year. Burning both ends of the candle never seemed a very attractive option to me, perhaps because what I love to do requires a rested and alert mind. It forces you to take responsibility for your health if you don´t want to find yourself in a state where reading just becomes impossible, let alone thinking a complicated thought. I have been there, I have no desire to go back.

Anyway, these guides are gold struck for anyone who wants a historical background, an overview, detail, suggested walks, a few tips about tipping, hotels, customs, what to eat, what to drink, where to shop. The books are heavy, of course, being so packed with information, but I have a solution to that. I read it, find the pages that are interesting, photograph them (the camera is a fabulous notebook, haven´t you noticed?), make a few lists in a small notebook/diary, and leave the heavy book at home. Or return it to the library, as I´m about to do with this one.

So what am I looking for in Rome? Well, if the weather gods are with us (November is apparently the rainiest month of the year in Italy) we will see the city from the outside. Walk, walk, walk. Forum Romanum, the Vesta Temple, the Colosseum, all those (hundreds of?) churches, the Pantheon, the Tiber. If it rains, there are a few museums on my list. But with only two days, one must realize it´s impossible to see it all.

And then there´s the food: the spaghetti, the cheese, the cookies (who knew they had world famous cookies?), the bread, the porchetta. What I will try to avoid is what the call "the fifth fourth", which is the intestines. Something of a specialty that, tripe and such. Not so interested in that.

Only a month until we go!


Scary people

I found this book through a newspaper article about the author, Sigvard Lingh. I think it was his birthday or something, and it mentioned this book he has recently written, "Psykopater och Sociopater - ett spektrum" (= psychopaths and sociopaths - a spectrum). Lucky for me, the local library bought it on my suggestion. It´s a large book, A4-format and almost 470 densely written pages. However, that does not mean that it´s difficult to read. On the contrary. The tone is the one you´d find on a very interesting and entertaining lecture. You can hear Lingh´s voice very clearly, speaking directly to you.

This is on one hand a compendium of all the research that has been made about psychopathy, the footnotes are extensive and it´s easy to go from Lingh to any other author that you´d like to dive more deeply into. On the other hand, it´s a very personal account and reflection about the psychopath in general and psychopaths that the author has met, both in his profession as a psychologist and as a lecturer and teacher. I reminds me a bit about my own binders from the courses I took at university. You get the feeling Lingh wants to share a lifetime of collected knowledge and a huge fascination for these people.

Surprisingly, I find that I´m pretty well read on the subject. I have already encountered most of the authors he mentions, one way or another. Why does one get this fascination for people that are "mad, bad and dangerous to know"? I suppose it´s like being really into World War II documentaries or horror flicks. You´re attracted to what scares you the most. Perhaps the instinct is that knowledge will make it less scary, like trolls that go "poof!" when you look directly at them. I´m not sure it works, though. Which is probably why literature is, has always been, and always will be totally preoccupied with war and scary people.

If you are as fascinated by the subject as I am, I do recommend it. You´ll get through it rather quickly, because it´s a bit of a pageturner. At least, it was for me.