Norstedts, 2008. ISBN: 9789113018584
Reviewed by Tuva Tod in SBR 2009:1
Torbjorn Flygt’s novel Himmel inspires admiration for his competence and expertise in handling a complicated narrative. It takes in, at the extremes, international modern history, including war experience in Iraq and Iran, and the intricate gamesmanship that goes into the achievement of just one piece of modern architecture, in a town like Stockholm (it is understood). Men, mostly, are the perpetrators and executors of such exploits, a world of male hegemony. However, Flygt deals not only in traditionally male pursuits such as the technologies of politics and war but also equally with passion and love between the sexes.The dialogue is pre-eminently between three couples: Fredrik and Louise, who are upper middle-class professionals caught in a tug-of-war about fidelity; Janson, who gambles away two family homes and is in need of psychiatric care, and his long-suffering wife Lena, who teaches Swedish at a college for immigrants. The last couple we find together are two of Lena’s pupils.Their names are Amir and Parvaneh, from Iraq and Iran respectively, both refugees but with very different backgrounds. There is a pressure of social unease that makes itself felt throughout the story. It takes different forms.Thus the fashionable architect Fredrik and his sociably capable wife Louise each cheat on the other; Louise with a man who has a particularly fine physique, Fredrik apparently with every new goodlooking secretary he comes across.The unease in all this is not only the reader’s! Fredrik has more ease in his faiblesse for his horse than in devising any endearments for his wife. She takes umbrage when his newest horse is going to be named after her – Louise. Fredrik, in this instance, finds it easier to relate to his horse than to his wife. Parvaneh, the young Iranian woman, is very unfortunate in her first marriage to the Iranian student Rezvan. After their flight together, Rezvan disintegrates as a personality, evidently scarred for life by his experiences of revolution and war. Parvaneh finds herself a beaten wife, and runs away, fearing for her life. She has courage enough to find her own way, and if happiness evades her she has the strength to wait. Her personal standards are absolute. The prologue heading, referring to the subject in hand – horseracing – reads: ‘The Race is On!’ And then adds: ‘This is the world of men’. In this book this is true. Men do race. And the metaphors of structure, warfare and technology, employed throughout the book, totter on the brink of collapse without the support of women who are needed to lay down foundations and to reproduce. Thus sexual relationships need cooperation. But what if one of the partners has no idea how to give? If, in the prevailing culture, materialism and personal selfseeking is the order of the day? Fredrik is unseeing. But he and Louise realise they belong together. In their continuing marriage they will have to settle for less than the stakes.They will have to bear infidelity and a lack of trust.This will be unsatisfactory but better than nothing. Other couples struggling under the same ‘Himmel’ or ‘Sky’ have their own experiences of negotiating their way through the social labyrinth, of which they are all part. Immigration is not a grand political problem in this book. Flygt is concerned with the life of refugees trying to adopt as their own a country that on the whole does not welcome them. Other flawed social relationships in the context of the book include broken families, and conflicts between the generations. A sad example of this is when, because of their neglect as parents, Lena and Janson have to watch their only child, David, starting on a life of crime. This work offers more than just the light entertainment it might seem at first. It has a convincing structure as well as characters who are as varied as they seem truthful.The style has humour – evident in the person known as Diplomat, the professional removals man. Above all, however, in addition to his intelligence Flygt has compassion, which seems to carry the narrative through any difficulty. It is a rewarding work to read.