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Stig Claesson, Efter oss syndafloden (Après nous le déluge)

Bonniers,  2002. ISBN: 9100580279

Reviewed by Henning Koch in SBR 2003:1


Efter oss syndafloden is a wistful account of the author’s early years in 1950’s Paris. Stig Claesson develops his narrative through anecdote. We learn, for instance, that his interview with Miles Davis petered out because the subject, like everyone else in this book, had consumed excessive amounts of alcohol. And, that he and Lars Forssell, with time on their hands, and plenty of wine, once retired to his room where he painted the poet in oil. And, that a favourite cheap bar served defective wine consisting of dried bull’s blood, water and spirits. While all this is fascinating, before long the reader begins to wonder where it is leading. We have no problem believing that the gallery of people that feature in this book, such as Carl Reuterswärd, Per Rådström, Gunnar Gredell and Jan Myrdal, really were in Paris, probably for the same reasons as the author. But only very rarely, if at all, do we explore their thoughts and dreams, or, indeed, what Claesson thought of them. The most common mistake of biographers is to rely on their readers’ capacity to understand what they have lived through. In fact, in itself it is not enough that Claesson saw Samuel Beckett sitting in a bar. Let’s face it, everyone saw Samuel Beckett sitting in a bar, and one is almost dismayed once again to chance upon this image. What is missing in this book is either a more substantial attempt to write biography, or a real attempt to write autobiographical fiction. What Claesson seems intent on portraying, in fact, are the dreams and hopes of a youthful set of émigré friends intent on living life - this, as we all know, being euphemistic for getting drunk, getting laid and getting published. In this, he succeeds very well, although in so doing, we find ourselves in so many bars, with so many glasses of poisoned Calvados, such a profusion of beers and early morning cognacs, that it all blurs into a haze of indifference. Claesson cites Rådström’s comment that “I have never understood people who don’t drink, and now that I’ve stopped, I understand them even less...” At the heart of this story is a sense that Claesson still has not come to terms with his nihilism, or his yearning for a life based on exile and non-attachment. Only in his love affair with Diana Thompson, a black American, do we recognize an event that holds real personal significance for him. For in spite of the creed of free love circulated among this group of friends, Claesson is clearly an archetypal, wounded romantic. Had Claesson more determinedly explored difficult ground such as this, instead of poetically holding off, this book might have achieved so much more. Many aficionados will read between the lines of this book to extract its every Parisian nuance of overflowing ashtrays, stale wine, and post-coital hotel beds. But Claesson does not allow his readers to fully enter the personal sphere of his youth, merely opens the door and shows a glimpse of a world that has gone. Then uncorks another bottle of wine and goes back to remembering...

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