Albert Bonniers förlag, 2012.
Reviewed by Kevin Halliwell in SBR 2012:2
Review Section: Drama
In less than a decade, Sara Stridsberg has confirmed her status as a major novelist with the publication of Happy Sally (2004), The Dream Faculty (2006) and Darling River (2010). Writing for the theatre requires a different set of narrative skills but, in Medealand and other plays, Stridsberg builds on the monologues and dialogues in her previous novels to prove that she is more than up to the task. And anyone who regards the reading of drama as a less than uplifting experience should rest assured: these plays provide a genuinely compelling narrative experience in their own right.
In this collection, Stridsberg reprises some of the themes outlined in her earlier work: the marginalised role of women in a society essentially designed and run for men; the torment of childbirth and motherhood; romantic love and marriage as a destructive force. The undercurrent of melancholic pathos is also reminiscent of the earlier work. Each of the three plays – Medealand, Dissection of a Snowfall and Valerie Jean Solanas for President of America – focuses on a female protagonist: Medea; the androgynous ‘girl-king’ of Snowfall; and the radical feminist Valerie Jean Solanas, already the subject of Stridsberg’s Dream Faculty and whose SCUM Manifesto (Society for Cutting Up Men) she has also translated into Swedish. The wild craziness of this one woman movement is echoed in the desperate fury of Medea who, when dumped by Jason, we suspect might echo Solanas’ own sentiment that ‘every man, deep down, knows he’s a worthless piece of shit.’
Stridsberg’s protagonists are characterised not so much by their victimhood as by their ‘otherness’; an otherness imposed by a patriarchal society – the ‘Medealand’ they all inhabit. The three protagonists in this collection reject the prevailing world order: Medea, who sees her only way out in the eradication and annihilation of the patriarchal (i.e. all that is Jason – including his sons) within her; the ‘girlking’ of Snowfall – a Queen Christina figure who refuses to ‘do her duty’ and provide an heir to the throne; and Valerie Solanas, whose new world order is based – at least ostensibly – on overthrowing the government and eliminating men.
A dream-like atmosphere runs through all three of the plays. Medea is set in ‘a kind of non-environment, a waiting, an afterwards, an eternity… an antechamber to nothing, to a consciousness or a room brought forth in a dream.’ As Snowfall begins, it is ‘eternal and no time. It could be the present; it could be a mythical tale or a cold violent century from a vanished time.’ Even Valerie Solanas, which Stridsberg explicitly fixes in time and space (San Francisco in April 1988), is a feverish dream: ‘a delirium in which Valerie calls for all those she has lost; they come to her in her room as figures in a dream.’
In an afterword, the novelist and critic Steve Sem-Sandberg describes Stridsberg as ‘one of the best things to happen to Swedish literature for ages. In a time of caution and restraint, she refuses to hem herself in, refuses to set any limits. And in so doing she pushes the boundaries clearly forward: not just for herself as a narrator, but also for the narrative; for narration itself.’ As this collection of plays shows, Stridsberg is indeed a literary force to be reckoned with.