Albert Bonniers förlag, 2014.
Reviewed by Mia Österlund in SBR 2014:2
Review Section: Fiction, Young Adults
(Reviewed with Tove Folkesson, Kalmars jägarinnor)
Girlhood has been one of the most appealing motifs in contemporary literature. So also in two recent novels, Tove Folkesson’s Kalmars jägarinnor and Stefan Lindberg’s Du vet väl om att du är värdefull. These novels take us back to pre-millennium times. There is nothing new about these stories from the late 1990s: the small-town atmosphere is claustrophobic, survival is spelled ‘community’ – whether you like it or not – and the friendships young girls form are both extraordinary and painful. The girls melt into a collective and consequently their individuality is at risk. Both novels are brilliantly well written and use poetic language to revitalise commonplaces in fiction. The stories are thin and as predictable as youth itself. The mood is a recognisable mix of melancholia and aggression. But everything depends on how this state of mind is turned into language. Both novels deliver outstanding one-liners and are tight, poetic and provocative. In Kalmars jägarinnor, the shy but splendid Eva finds an Edith Södergran volume on the seat of a bus. The poet is a kindred spirit and this discovery brings her strength. The vitality that is the essence of youth and the pain of growing up coincide, as in numerous other – if slightly more hopeful – young adult novels. Folkesson is akin to Monika Fagerholm as she interrogates life through the lens of girlhood. ‘You can never wear too much eye shadow’ is one of their mantras, just as in Sanne Näsling’s Kapitulera omedelbart eller dö (Capitulate or Die), makeup and lipstick are used as ‘gurlesque’ props. The gurlesque writers in contemporary Swedish fiction are obsessed with combining girlhood with anger, danger and excess. The story is redundant, nostalgia and stasis threaten on every page. These girls are raw. They drink, have sex, steal and push back boundaries together. We have seen them in a flood of YA novels and films. They recklessly pour liquor into bottles of Wash&Go and have a thesaurus of their own with synonyms for acne, sex and masturbation. These girls hunt with boundless appetite.
Socioeconomic circumstances colour the protagonists’ lives in both novels, where stereotypes are distilled into iconic poetic visions. Malin in Du vet väl om att du är värdefull thinks small-town life is hell. Nothing seems to touch her: ‘Our only diagnosis is that we are in the world,’ she states grimly. To get lost in mediocrity is the great threat. She is a sexual predator and utterly devoid of romance. Malin has a dysfunctional mother – described to perfection – who has formed her cynicism. Her job at the local store allows men to gaze at her, and an affair with her middle-aged married boss illustrates male obsession with girlhood. A male author enters into a twenty-two-year-old girl’s mindscape at his own risk, yet Lindberg succeeds in creating a complex portrait in which Malin’s penetrating power of observation is in no way incompatible with her affection for a boy with Asperger’s syndrome and for her dysfunctional family. Folkesson’s and Lindberg’s snapshots of small-town girlhood are breathtakingly acute images of the strength and fragility of their protagonists. Among beauty bags and wine bottles lingers a refreshing attitude of acceptance and hope. When you have hit rock bottom often enough, you accept life as it is.