Desperately Tragic

This book was an unexpected pleasure. It just stood there on a shelf at the library and whispered take me with you. And I did. The author is Jan Lundgren and the book is "Slapptask". (Oh, how do I translate that? Soft-dick? Limp-cock? You get it.)

The protagonist of this story is Dan Ellert, a journalist with a column at one of Sweden´s biggest tabloids. He is fairly successful, perhaps not particularly ambitious, more focused on the kids and the wives (two). He prides himself of being a modern, feminist man. Then he has a stroke, and nothing is the same any more. He comes home from the hospital with one thing on his mind: sex. And eventually, his wife leaves him. It takes him five years on his own to realize that it wasn´t the sex that was the problem. It was that he had also lost his sense of humour.

He struggles on, alone, trying to make a new life for himself. A lover gives him back some of his confidence, but offers him no love. His desperation leads him to do stupid things. He takes risks with relationships, gambles and looses, again and again. A friend backs off, a child severs all contact. He makes a fool of himself. Some of the scenes would be funny, if they were not so deeply tragic. It´s true, he has lost his sense of humour, the text purveys that on every level. It is impossible to laugh, it´s hardly possible to feel warmth towards him, because he brings me, the reader, so close to him that I almost become him, and his self-loathing infects my feelings. It is very cleverly done. Perhaps it´s the complete absence of clichés. Perhaps it´s because it is all true.

The novel is self-published, as far as I can figure. As most self-published books, there are imperfections, mainly in the proof-reading and editing. No, actually it doesn´t need much hard editing, but after about page 80 (of 169) it´s like the author ran out of steam and just decided not to bother. Or perhaps he took the wrong version to the printers, I don´t know. You can see where he has changed the text from first person to third person and missed in places. Like: "Dan cut his hair at least five times before he could bring myself to get out the pensioner´s ID and save some money." (my translation). And there are plenty of double commas and periods and such things. In one of the last chapters there is a reference to glass-plates (old photo negatives) that makes no sense.

It makes more sense when you google the author. Turns out his middle name is Ellert. Dan Ellert = Jan Ellert Lundgren. Everything I can find out about Jan is true about Dan, and he works with old photograps these days, after a career as a columnist at Expressen (national tabloid newspaper). One of the actual books he has written is mentioned in the novel as one of Dan´s, which he buys as a gift for his lover. And I find one photo of the author with a slightly lopsided mouth, typical sign of a stroke. I get the feeling this book is written with blood. A barely masked biography.

The very last scene is heart-breaking. A desperate act brings him to table with his ex-wife again. Is there a happy ending beginning here, or is it just a fantasy that brings him to the brink of suicide? One can speculate. I´ll tell you this: this is not a feelgood book. This is as heart-wrenchingly bleak as it gets. Lundgren manages to give written form to the most bleading heart I have ever encountered in fiction. It´s brilliant. Upliftingly brilliant, as good art always is, no matter what its subject. And it´s completely incomprehensible why a proper publishing house with resources couldn´t have made this novel what it deserves to be. Perhaps they weren´t offered it. I don´t know.

It´s easy to be a bit dismissive of self-published books, but I have found more than one gem among them. One must be forgiving of imperfections, of course. Clearly, it´s not that easy to publish to the level of quality that the professional publishing houses do even if you have been reading all your life and know what a book looks like. But it´s better to do that, than leave a good script in a desk drawer. Who knows why such brilliant writing is turned down. And I wish there were no barriers of language, so that I could recommend it to everyone, everywhere.


  1. "But it´s better to do that, than leave a good script in a desk drawer."

    i agree. i have a friend whose son has self-published a book. he had several people proof-read it and had a couple who gave him advice on editing. promotion is difficult, as he is lacking professional support and has to depend on friends and family to spread the word. it's sad to think of all those undiscovered gems languishing in desk drawers.

    1. Interesting. Have you read it? Reviewed it on your blog? What´s his genre?

    2. i think it was only available as an e-book, and i haven't yet embraced that brave new world. i don't remember the genre.