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Elisabeth Rynell, Till Mervas (To Mervas)

Bonniers,  2002. ISBN: 9100580449

Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 2003:1

Admirers of Elisabeth Rynell’s Hohaj (reviewed in SBR 1998:1), the novel that really made her name, have had to wait five years for this new work, but will not be disappointed. Marta, the central figure, is a middle-aged woman who has withdrawn almost completely into herself. What begins the painful process of re-establishing herself in the outside world is the arrival of a brief note from Kosti, her former partner who left her twenty-five years ago, informing her that he is at Mervas. Retrospectively we learn that Marta came from a troubled home, and that she felt unloved until as an archaeology student she met Kosti who, with his good nature and easy manner, brought her to life, as she expressed it. She wanted a baby but Kosti wanted to wait. An argument arose just before their departure on a year-long field trip, resulting in Marta issuing an ultimatum and Kosti leaving her. Enraged, Marta had a one-night stand with an inexperienced young student, and became pregnant. She gave birth to Sebastian, a seriously handicapped son. His removal to a special ward for treatment drove her temporarily insane. When recovered, she tended Sebastian lovingly, but then, on his fourteenth birthday, a sudden burst of madness caused her to beat him to death. She spent time in a mental hospital and then returned home to an isolated existence. Mervas is a former mining town in Norrland – Rynell territory. Marta sells up and goes in search not so much of Kosti but of herself. Through miles of empty wilderness she finally comes to a homestead where Arnold and Lilldocka, two self-contained pensioners, show her love and kindness. They also show her the way to Mervas, where she finds Kosti. Their reunion is not easy - they have both aged and have both borne strong feelings of guilt for most of their lives. Ultimately love proves strong enough, however, and Marta returns to life. The landscape, so beautifully described, is in many respects symbolic, and Marta is on a pilgrimage, searching for salvation, or at least atonement. She feels not just guilt but shame and: “En skuld kan gäldas men skam består” i.e. a debt (or guilt) can be repaid but shame remains. Reasons for her guilt are obvious enough, but her shame is connected with her relationship with her father, a brutal man whose aim in life “was to fill the world with his offspring”. He beat his wife unmercifully and raped her when the doctors warned her against having more children; and in effect he killed her, for she died in childbirth. Marta’s shame is that she was singled out as “daddy’s girl”, which cut her off from the rest of the family, and she made no attempt to protect her mother against the assaults. Although not including incest this time, E. Rynell’s graphic descriptions of wife-battering are as harrowing here as in Hohaj. Just as impelling are her beautifully lyrical descriptions of nature, sometimes the frightening, majestic sweep of a huge, desolate landscape, and sometimes a kind of primavera as Marta’s reawakening emotions are reflected in nature. Readers will readily understand why the novel was shortlisted for the prestigious August Prize.

Also by Elisabeth Rynell

  • Om skrivandets sinne (The Sensibility of Writing). Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 2015:2.
  • Hitta hem (Finding the Way Home). Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 2010:1.
  • Hohaj. Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 1998:1.

Other reviews by Irene Scobbie

Other reviews in SBR 2003:1

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