Have I whined yet about the new order of the e-book library? Because of the expense of it - the libraries and the publishers seem unable to reach a sensible decision about this - the libraries have had to severely limit the number of e-books one is allowed to borrow, and the new limit is, unbelievably, two books per month! It used to be five or seven a week, more than one could read, really, but this is ridiculous! My reading friend and I lamented this but decided that perhaps it was time to turn towards the classics. The Swedish Academy has a good, open library with literature they consider part of the Swedish cultural heritage, Litteraturbanken (= the literature bank). I had been considering Karin Boye´s "Kallocain" for years, and my friend was up for it.

From Wikipedia.
Karin Boye was born in 1900, and is mostly known for her poetry, but also wrote novels and worked as a journalist. She also painted, and you can see some of her watercolours here, at the website of the Karin Boye Society. Several of them have been exhibited at Waldemarsudde, the art museum founded by Prince Eugen, who was not just a royal, but one of Sweden´s most prominent painters. After her death, by suicide in 1941, her friends published a book in remembrance of her, and for it Hjalmar Gullberg (who wrote the poem "God in Disguise") wrote a poem called "Död amazon" (= dead amazon), which is still quite well known: "for the Thermopyle of our hearts, some must still give their lives" (my translation).

"Kallocain", from 1940, is probably her best known work internationally, and can be viewed as a precursor to Orwell´s "1984", which was published about a decade later. The narrator of the novel is Leo Kall, inventor of the truth-drug Kallocain. He is a citizen of the World-state, lives in Chemistry City Number 4, which is more or less an underground factory, with his wife Linda and their two youngest children. Their oldest, at eight years old, has already been moved into a reformatory of sorts, where all children go to be shaped into good "fellow-soldiers". The World-state is a severely supervised society, where every home has an "eye" and an "ear" on the wall, behind which supervisors may at any time look in on family life (such as it is: most of their spare time, family members are assigned some kind of policing/supervising duty), and informing on anyone, even family members, not seemingly devoted to the state, is a proud duty, not a dirty secret.

Leo Kall is a fanatic, but about to crack. His supervisor is Edo Rissen, an introverted, thoughtful man and Kall projects all his insecurities on him; he even imagines that Rissen has an affair with Linda. As they start to test the Kallocain drug, Rissen sceptically says that every man over 40 has a guilty conscience, which Kall takes as admission of crimes against the state. The confessions they get from their volunteers are not about crimes as such, but rather "emotional infidelity" to the state, a disturbing longing for human affection and trust, a natural faith in one´s fellow. The police authorities order Kall and Rissen to start training Kallocain interrogators, but it turns out that now, anyone can be convicted. As is Rissen, when Kall finally turns him in. He also steals some of the drug and uses it on his wife, with surprising results.

I found it a captivating read, and fast, at only 130 or so pages. I got quite spooked for a while, as I think anyone with some degree of maturity - as Rissen says, with reasons for a guilty conscience - will recognize that state of awakening from truths earlier taken for granted. I think most teenagers feel what Kall does, as they realize that all families and societies are not alikel, but that there are several ways of doing things and looking at the world, not necessarily on a scale from good to bad, just different. I suspect being a lesbian at the beginning of the century, coming from a middle-class family, would have given Boye a profound insight into being at odds with ideas of what is normal and natural.

You can read "Kallocain" for free on-line, at the University of Wisconsin digital collections, but it is also available through amazon, as is her "Complete Poems". Her most famous poem goes "Javisst gör det ont när knoppar brister, varför skulle annars våren tveka?" (= of course it hurts when buds burst, otherwise, why would spring hesitate? the entire poem can be read in English here) and I think most Swedes with an interest in literature recognize it, even if they are not poetry readers; references abound. The Karin Boye Society even have short recordings of her voice, reading her own poems. (Although, for them to work I had to download them first, could be my browser acting funnily.) She has that very clear enounciation they had in those days.

All in all, a good read. I am quite keen on reading more of her in the future.


A Retro Crime Series

A few weeks ago, I saw the first episode of a new detective series on television (available on amazon as "Crimes of Passion"), based on a book series (three novels available in English on Kindle) by Maria Lang (pen name for Dagmar Lange) that was first published in 1949 and that she kept writing until 1990, which featured her rural Swedish version of Lord Peter Wimsey (or so the Wikipedia article on her claims - I find the comparison preposterous), Christer Wijk. I didn´t really know what to expect, I hadn´t read the books, but I was surprised how well made it was (though not perfect, for sure). It has a funny kind of noir vibe to it, as well as a 50´s retro milieu, with a slightly anachronistic adaptation to suit modern (feminist) sensibilities (which I know now, since having read three of the novels). And, of course, excellent actors, some of whom can say some pretty corny dialogue without making the audience too embarassed, particularly Tuva Novotny, who is perhaps the best Swedish actress of her generation.

Borrowed from tv4. Wahlgren, Novotny, and Rapace.
Actually, my first thought, about five minutes into the first episode, was how much the male body has changed over the last decades. One hears all the time how fashions have changed for the female body, from the 20´s gamine to the 50´s bosomy glamour girl, the 70´s fresh-faced "Charlie" girl to the heroin chic Kate Moss of the 90´s. But think how the male body has changed since body building started to become mainstream in the late 80´s, early 90´s. You know, when I started going to the gym in 1992 or thereabouts, I still had friends who refused to lift a single dumbbell, as they thought it would make them instantly look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, even though they were girls. The pumped up bodies of Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were controversial in those days, I remember a lot of heated discussions for or against that kind of training.

Borrowed from Finnish television.
Now, there are very few actors who doesn´t look like that, to some extent. (And even a fair amount of regular people, at least here, where winter outdoors training for the desk bound male is grim, and the gym a cozy option. I just have to look over at the husband and remember that he comes from a stock of wiry lumber jacks!) But they didn´t look like that in the 50´s (and they ate differently) which is why this first episode felt a bit off to me. Yes, the male actors Ola Rapace (ex-husband of more internationally known Noomi) and Linus Wahlgren do look very dishy in their suits, hats, topcoats, bowties and slipovers. And sleeve garters! Remember those? My dad used to wear them all the time, and I had a pair myself (I nicked some of his old 60´s suits and wore all through the 80´s). Now they accent the fact that both Rapace (particularly Rapace) and Wahlgren have very sexy upper arms. Novotny is made out more like a tomboy, but the other women in the series are gorgeously made out in colourful gowns, pinched waists and high hair.

(a short peak from tv4 on youtube)

Maria Lang wasn´t anything we read, in my generation. My mother didn´t read her either (at least I think not). The characters have been much changed. The narrator and our hero, Puck, is not a perky little 50´s academic young wife who stumble over corpses left and right, but rather a serious, introverted career-woman with a taste for analysis and writing crime fiction. Her husband Eje has been changed from what Puck has now become (in the books he is the crime writer), into a bumbling, slightly naiv teacher who goes back and forth between being proud of his wife and jealous of her attachment to his oldest friend and the real hero: police investigator Christer Wijk, who in the books is a skinny, tall, jovial, pipe-smoking man with a taste for checked tweed (even in summer), a father-figure for Puck. In the films, he is a sexy womanizer, a real contender to Eje, at the end of most episodes making due with a widow or other woman left-over from their latest investigation when Puck has turned away from his advances (yeah, his best friend´s wife, but he can´t help himself because of the passion, you see...).

Maria Lang would not have approved, I´m sure, though she was no stranger, even in the 40´s, to writing quite candidly about sex. Still, the films are entertaining, and so are the books, as long as you take them for what they are. I like. Oddly, I like quite a lot, both the books and the films.