There is one genre that I don´t really touch, and that is romance. When I was little, my mother had several grocery bags full of these books, Harlequin and others, in her closet. I was curious, of course, and puzzled that they were not on the regular shelves, and when I was thirteen or so she allowed me to read them. I picked two, and when I was done I remember saying to her that if I would swap the last chapters of these books, and change the names, no one would notice. I hope I wasn´t too stuck-up about it... Not my cup of tea, anyway. At the time I was really into sci-fi, but was also exploring some more grownup stuff, like Henry Miller, Erica Jong, and Susanne Brögger.
A few months ago I read an article in "Skriva" (= to write), the Swedish writing magazine, about romance fiction, and how the genre is becoming more respected. I decided to find out if things had changed and bought a few books at the newsagent (which is where you find them). They were worse than I remembered, such total, utter crap. Badly written, laughingly bad characters, ridiculous plot. And I thought, was Sandemo this bad? So I asked to borrow them again.
I re-read the first two volumes. No, Sandemo isn´t all that bad. She is no writing genius, but I have to say, she is a very inspired storyteller. She creates a world of her own around a family that is cursed, where love constantly is up against death. There is a storyline concerning an evil ancestor that runs through all the books, and in the end there is a great battle of good against evil, where representatives of the Ice People can be found on either side (the Devil is on the good side, surprisingly, having married into the clan...). There is plenty of sex, plenty of witchcraft, true love conquers all. Men are often beastlike and dangerous, women are often clever, independent, and, of course, beautiful.
She really draws her reader in, emotionally. As cynical as I try to be, I become really attached to these characters, and when they hurt I cry. The handicraft is simple, but effective. And even if I see the flaws, the anacronisms, the clichés, it really doesn´t matter. The stories are powerful, it can not be denied, particularly in the first third of the series.
Sandemo herself is quite a character. In an interview a few years ago she claimed to have killed a man during the war and hidden him in the forrest, someone who had tried to rape her. She has also been committed to psychiatric care at one point, claiming to be a psychic.
According to Wikipedia Sandemo has sold 39 million copies of "The Legend of the Ice People" (translated to English and several other languages). It´s still available in Swedish, as far as I can tell, as some kind of subscription deal. Would I recommend them? Well, if you like romance, you could do a lot worse. Perhaps the fantasy element isn´t to everyone´s taste, but I have known all kinds of people who loved these books: men, women, manual workers, mechanics, academics, young, old. I have never seen them on anyone´s bookshelf, at least not in the reception room. I suppose it´s something people keep in their more private corners, if not actually in the closet.