I thought for sure I had blogged about Lena Andersson´s novel "Egenmäktigt förfarande - en roman om kärlek" (being translated to English as we speak: "Wilful Disregard: a novel about love" will be released next summer, according to British amazon) but I can´t find the post, so probably I read it while I was on blogging hiatus, in the spring. Well, now I have read her second book about Ester Nilsson, her passionate and not just slightly disturbed heroine, a novel called "Utan personligt ansvar" (= without personal responsibility). I read both in tandem with my reading friend, but I probably wouldn´t have considered it - a novel about love sounded a bit tiresome - if the husband, of all people, hadn´t heard it being read on the radio on his way home from work (he has a 40 minute commute, one-way, most days) and became so engrossed with it that he was quoting from it for weeks! He is not normally a reader of fiction, so of course I had to see what the fuss was about, and my friend jumped aboard.
The first object of her affection is artist Hugo Rask. He is much older than she, he is flattered, both by her youth and the applauding articles she writes about his art. He is single, sort of (there is a woman in another town that he seems to have some kind of long-standing relationship to, but sexually he seems free to stray), he surrounds himself with a team of young artists in his studio, and Ester´s life very soon focuses entirely on how far she can push herself into his circle. She dumps her old boyfriend without a second thought or any feeling of regret, and becomes what can only be described as Hugo Rask´s stalker. He does go to bed with her once or twice, but they are never in a "relationship" (though Ester tries to convince herself that they are); most of the time, he seems unaware of her. She is like an ant in his elephant´s life.
In the second novel, Ester Nilsson is at it again. This time, she falls for Olof Sten, another older, this time married, man, actor in a play she has written (and later director of other plays she writes). I feel more sorry for her this time, as she is clearly falling into the claws of someone a lot more vicious than Hugo Rask. She buys a car so that she can drive her lover from playhouse to playhouse, from town to town, all the while battling him for the truth of what is going on. It sounds something like this:
Ester: I want to live with you. I will not be your lover. (But of course, she jumps into bed with him every time.)
Olof: We are not in a relationship. I will not leave my wife or be unfaithful to her. (See brackets above.)
It´s very, very tiring. Ester´s girlfriends thinks so too, and after a few years of obsessively discussing Olof Sten with everyone, some of them begin to withdraw from her. If the book had been any longer (220 pages, slightly longer than the first), the reader might have given up as well, but as before, Andersson knows when to quit.
The first of the novels was awarded the prestigious Swedish August Prize last year, and Ester Nilsson has been discussed by everyone. Really, when people like the husband, who normally don´t have time to pick up a novel, throw themselves over the next chapter in the saga of Ester Nilsson, you know that this is something special. It is probably Andersson´s tone of voice: the exact, dissecting manner in which she slices Ester and her lovers open for us to see; this is the opposite of "show-don´t-tell"-writing. And, as tiresome as we find her, we have all been there, to some extent: hopefully self-delusional. Not that everyone interprets the novel the same way. Many seem to find Hugo Rask a predatory a***ole, but I don´t agree. Probably Roy Andersson doesn´t either, as he declared himself to be the real Hugo Rask some weeks ago, only to be ridiculed on the cultural pages of the papers (not that I think he cares in the least). Andersson insists that what she writes is fiction, but the debates have kept up the interest, and perhaps Andersson has written herself into the Swedish literary canon. Time will tell.
There is a very nice interview with Lena Andersson, in Swedish, but I guess Google translate can do something with it. I find I like her. I have always liked what she writes in the paper (she is a regular in Dagens Nyheter, on the editorial page), she is always analyzing those phenomenons that we seem to take for granted, turning the perspective around. She is a true intellectual and reading her will expand your horizon; authors like that are thin on the ground.