Reviewed by Anna Paterson in SBR 2014:2
Review Section: Fiction
Two of Sweden’s most interesting writers have joined forces to write Region X. Precisely because both have such distinctive profiles as writers – a point I will come back to – the knowing reader expected a striking cut-and-paste job. Wrong. This is a genuinely singular book. It is seamlessly written and its wit illuminates aspects of a shared vision of the lives of Western European wo/man, seen as bleak and troubled by a sense of something cultural that has been lost.
The main narrative is an insightful play with time and place but, now and then, the writing and layout get tricky, as if someone suddenly remembered that it was meant to be an avant-garde-style publication. All the pages are unnumbered and the first eleven are empty apart from tiny stacks of meaningful words gradually building up in the corners, accumulating words like Movement; Human being is; Repetition; Transformation is, etc. The final seventeen pages are filled with an incoherent CODA, a nightmarish breakdown of meaning, which would surely make some kind of subliminal sense if only life was long enough to keep looking for it.
In between that beginning and that end, the reader is offered a fest of funny and provocative writing. The storyline is made up of fragments of lives strung together by the slightest of coincidences. There are, at last count, twenty-nine of them, a floating population drawn from the cities the authors know best, Malmö and Berlin. In the stillness of the night, when only foxes and taxi drivers are on the move, insomniacs ponder questions of being. ‘Is this my life? Can I even claim that I have a self?’ People emerge into the morning, some sad, like the woman whose daughter cannot stand her mother’s hopeless drift into addiction, and some mostly funny (and a little bit sad) like the Heavy Metal fan who works for DHL (‘in full subculture kit’, including a black T-shirt with the logo Nifelheim). He meets a mate, they spot their former schoolteacher as she walks to the swimming pool, and we follow her as she ponders her fractured relationship with her sister. In the pizza bar she is served by overworked, aspirational and resentful Mahmoud and we stay with him for a while until a black Volvo drives past at speed and we move into the driver’s head. He is unhappy, full of self-doubt and longs for ‘the purification that violence offers’. And so it goes. All images of the lives people lead are poignant, sharp-edged miniatures. By the time the narrative reaches Berlin, the story lines lengthen into short short stories, but the mix of humour (art in basements, a Euro-couple’s treacherous conversation) and disappointments – as in the personal defeat of the rootless journalist who loves someone who doesn’t want to know any more – continues. The story of the Greek window cleaner who won the lottery and went to New York, only to see his hopes fade, runs on for longer than most.
Who are the authors? Both belong to a loosely defined group of socially aware and experimentally inclined writers, which also includes Ida Börjel, whose new powerful examination of people’s misery is reviewed in this issue. Andrzej Tichý, known as a radical novelist, is also unafraid of deep seriousness and dark visions of the future - his novel Kairos, a review of ’current history’, is reviewed above. It is harder to pin a label on Pär Thörn, a multi-talented wit with a biting line in social satire and a prolific output. The one Thörn work that has been reviewed in SBR is another engrossing co-production, a mock reportage of a murder brilliantly illustrated by the artist Ragnar Persson. His continuing collaboration with graphic artists features in this issue.
Will this style of new Swedish writing get published in the UK? One can only hope so. Both Thörn and Tichý have shown a liking for small independent publishers (Glas, OEI editör, Modernista, Orosdi-Back), and there are many like them in this country.