Not a Pretty Person

Another 14 day loan, "Dagarna med Kerstin" (= days with Kerstin) by Åsa Mattsson and Caroline Roosmark (photos). Kerstin Thorvall is one of those authors that I have never read, have never even been tempted to read, but who I´m fascinated by and like to read about. I realize that she is very important, particularly to feminism (although she was not liked by the feminists). She made a huge scandal in the 70´s, daring to write about being a crap mother, having young lovers, exposing herself, warts and all. Perhaps it added to the scandal that she was known as a writer for children and young adults. She had even illustrated one of Astrid Lindgren´s books. She also worked as a journalist and fashion illustrator.

Mattsson does not paint a pretty picture of the aging writer, she finds Kerstin rather demanding, overbearing, manipulative and egocentric. And considering how Thorvall has written about herself, and one of her sons has also written about her, I suppose nothing but the whole and sordid truth would do.

I have known a few people like Kerstin Thorvall. They seem to assume that they are what they say they are, and that they have the right to be loved. However, in real life the words (and fiction) matter little, it´s what we do that others will base their opinions on. And Kerstin is just too much. Her tragedy is that she wants to be loved, she wants to be taken care of, but no one can stand her for long. Still, she has company a lot of the time, young people are attracted to her genious as a legendary author, but it´s never enough for her. She is always critical, always wants more. She just hasn´t understood that love is about giving, not about recieving no end.

Or hadn´t, I should say. This book is based on interviews made 2002 - 2004, when Thorvall was 77 - 79 years old and already ill and dependent on home carers to get through the day. Her last book was about the care of the elderly, and what it feels like to have strangers going in and out of your home. She died in 2010, suffering by that time from dementia as well. Not a pretty life, not a pretty end. As an over-emotional human being, she probably had more joy than happiness in her life. And a lot of rage as well.

Perhaps I should read her after all.


Reading snack

Reading can be hard work and one gets peckish and even hungry all the time. Let me share with you the perfect in-between-chapters snack. A piece of hazelnut cake, a layer of sour cream, and on top my sister-in-law´s home made chunky apple sauce with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Yum!


After the War

I had Antonio Tabucchi´s collection of short stories "Tiden åldras fort" (that´s the Swedish title, as far as I can find out it´s not been translated to English, but the title would be something like "time ages quickly") on a 14-day loan from the library, and because I´ve been travelling, visiting family in the south, I just had time to read two of the nine stories.

Tabucchi is a new aquaintance for me, I didn´t really know what to expect. And from two stories, what can I really say? The first one was about a girl and a man on a beach. She has been watching him for days and strikes up a conversation, probably being a bit bored, as one gets after a few days of leisure. He is a retired officer, not very old, and probably dying. And as they talk, it becomes clear that the girl is adopted (of dark complexion) to Italy and that she has been experiencing a kind of breakdown after meeting children damaged by war. It´s a fascinating conversation, light-hearted but there are depths hinted at. It´s like they really connect in the few minutes that they speak. When the story ends I feel a bit sad that I don´t get to hear them the next day, as they probably will meet again.

The other story I read is about another retired war veteran, but this man was an agent in what we refer to as the Cold War. He is now alone, a widower without friends, struggling to get through his days without something to give them meaning, reflecting on how betrayal and disguise has affected every part of his life. It´s almost comical how he finds it hard to walk the streets without someone to tail, and deeply tragic too.

Perhaps war and the effects of it is a theme in this collection - I don´t know. But as I have googled Tabucchi I have found some other really interesting books by him, that I might borrow. Short stories are always a good thing when one is a bit short of time. Even if you don´t make it through the whole thing, a few complete stories can be read in less than an hour. This is quality literature, a safe recommendation.


Deluding myself

So, I finally re-read something. J M Coetzee´s "Elisabeth Costello", bought on sale after I had read a copy on loan from the library. And now I´m thinking "What was I thinking?".

I had to go back to my notes (yes, I have notes on most everything I have read since 1999 or sometime like that, before I got the blog) to see what I thought about it then. This is what I wrote:

A hybrid between a novel, a short story collection, and essays. It´s about the author´s relation to life, man, and work, in six chapters. In the first one we see Elisabeth through the eyes of her son. He accompanies her as she goes to accept an award and we see the gap between the image of the author and the real woman. In the second chapter it´s about her relationship to other artists, the distance, the closeness, the admiration, the competition. Then it´s about faith and science, or reality vs the ideal, when Elisabeth goes to visit her sister the nun. In the fourth chapter Elisabeth disputes another author´s work, she is torn between admiration and repulsion for a work that describes evil. She doesn´t want to see it, she argues that the world might become a better place if we remain quiet about certain things, but at the same time she suspects it´s a weakness in her that has to do with her age. Then she thinks about the divine and how it is to be found in imperfection. And in the sixth chapter she is facing the gates of heaven and finds herself in front of a kafka-like court, where she is being asked to declare her beliefs. Finally, as an afterword, a letter from another Elisabeth C to Francis Bacon, about her husbands madness. Almost poem-like. 

"Elisabeth Costello" is not easy to understand. It is a riddle I can not open. 

That´s what I wrote. Not a single word about wanting to read it again. And I have to say, it´s still rather puzzling to me. Well-written, yes, sure, but it takes more than genius to win my love. Perhaps I confused my feelings for this book with the ones I had for "The Lives of Animals", where Elisabeth Costello also appears. I do remember being quite in love with that one, but I can´t find any notes on it, I probably wrote about it in my diary, and I´m just not up to leafing through thousands of pages to find them.

I read that last bit again, that letter to Francis Bacon and I suppose Coetzee is finishing the whole thing off with the declaration that words are just not enough. That truth, or life, is not to be found in literature.  At least that´s what I think he is saying.

Perhaps I need to grow older, much older, to get this. Or perhaps I should just read something else. The world is full of good books. I´m just a bit shocked that I didn´t love it, I had this idea that I love everything Coetzee has written. That´s one less illusion. But I think I´ll hang on to it. In another ten years, or twenty, perhaps I can really relate.


Classic Swedish Tant Mag

Due to a mistake at work (mine most likely, I hope someone elses) I came home yesterday with this weekly Swedish magazine, "Hemmets veckotidning" (= Home Weekly), and since I seem to have a tant theme going on, I thought I should share it with you.

These magazines have been around a long time, this particular one was started in 1929. It´s the housewife´s companion, my mother and grandmother always had them. They still look pretty much the same as they did when I was little. Let´s leaf through it!
91-year old heroic tant saves her neighbours from dying in housefire.

Heroic dog saves his owner from evil & dangerous snake.

How to decorate and succed with house plants.

Nice clothes (not typical tant style, though!) for healthy bodies.

Thrilling novel.

Crime of the week: First three murders - then oysters and champagne!

Display of reader´s cute grandchildren.

Recipies of sensible, traditional and affordable food (for those with small pensions).

Crossword puzzles, to pass time and ward off the Alzheimer´s.

And crochet patterns. Pretty lace brooches to give to the young hip tant generation.

In praise of the Swedish tant

Ok, so I found this super charming book called "De sista tanterna - från husmor till modeikon" by Fatima Bremmer. (How do I translate? It would be something like = the last old ladies - from housewife to fashion icon.) The Swedish word "tant" is not easy to translate. My dictionary suggests "aunt" or "nice lady". It´s what married women were called by children when I grew up. We had two neighbours, both of them tant, but they were tant Ingrid - first name, but still a bit distant to us kids, and tant Lund - last name (noone would ever have thought of calling her tant Dagmar, that would have been unthinkable!) tant, but we were really close to her, she was a true play mate.

Not any more, though. Kids these days call everyone by their first name. Women of my mother´s age, who grew up as the first generation of teenagers, hate being tant-ish, like every generation hates being like their parents.

My grandmother was the quintessential tant, she cared not for fashion, she was thrifty, sensible, she baked, knit socks for all the grand-children, wore patterned polyester dresses, and she had that iconic tant hairdo, which is actually the kind of hair that movie-stars had in the 40´s. Not all old ladies are tant, my mother-in-law does not fall into that category at all, she is just too modern, too fashionable, too changeable. And I suppose some younger women are considered, if not tant then tant-ish, in the sense that they are a bit old-fashioned, conservative, and narrow-minded. Tant is often used that way, as a derogatory term.

I imagine this book would not have been written at all, if tant hadn´t also been rather hip among some young girls. I suppose they are more into the tant-esthetics than the tant-ethics. Personally, I feel a bit like I´m the opposite. I do a lot of things like my grandma would have done, I learned a lot from her, and tant Lund. And tant Kampmann. Great tants, all of them.

It makes me sad to think that in just a few years time women like this will be gone. I think we can learn a lot from them in terms of sensible economics and sustainability. And growing old with a sense of worth.