Introduction to Björn Larsson and his Work
Laurie Thompson
This article appeared in the 1998:2 issue.

bjlarsson.gif (3770 bytes)Björn Larsson was born in central Sweden in 1953, and went to school in Jönköping, but was soon smitten by an irresistible wanderlust. At the age of fifteen he spent a year at high school in Arizona, and on leaving school lived in Paris for four years, becoming fluent in French and studying for his university degree by distance learning. As he puts it himself, "I only went back to Sweden in order to sit my exams, to collect my study loans, and to go to prison."

Inextricably linked with Björn Larsson’s wanderlust is his total dedication to freedom, and he flatly refused to take part in compulsory military service — hence his spells in prison, where he took the opportunity, he says, to read for the more boring parts of his doctorate in French (his first degree comprised French, English and Philosophy). He once told an interviewer that "Freedom does not in itself result in either good or evil, but compulsion is always evil."

Having been a research assistant at the University of Lund for some time, he accepted a post as lecturer in French there; but he actually lives with his wife (a marine biologist) and daughter in Gilleleje, a little fishing village at the northern tip of Denmark. That is also where his sailing boat, Rustica, is berthed.

While university lecturing earns him his steady income, sailing is Björn Larsson’s real passion. The freedom to move wherever the winds and the sea permit has an overwhelming appeal as far as Larsson in concerned, and his Danish wife, Helle, is of a similar breed.

Björn Larsson has published several academic and technical volumes, ranging from a treatise on the use of French adjectives to an instruction book for deep-sea diving, but he has now achieved considerable success as a novelist, and may soon have to decide whether to give up his day job and devote himself full-time to his boat and his writing.

His first literary book was a collection of short stories, Splitter (Splinters, 1980), which received mixed notices; but he really made his mark in 1992 with Den keltiska ringen (The Celtic Ring), a novel whose main character Larsson says is his boat Rustica. That may be tongue-in-cheek, but it is set largely in Scotland and Ireland where he and Helle spent a year on board Rustica (wintering in Kinsale) before sailing over to Brittany, the Bay of Biscay and Galicia. A key theme in the book is the desire of the Celtic nations to break free from England and form a federation of their own. It is interesting to note that Larsson started to write the novel before the Berlin wall came down, and before devolution came to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. He seems to have anticipated a trend that became widespread throughout Europe — but as he says, it is our good fortune that the process has proceeded rather more smoothly in northern Europe than in Yugoslavia. That was not obvious in 1991 when The Celtic Ring was being written. (George Simpson’s English translation was published in England and the USA in 1997, and an extract is reprinted below.)

Freedom and the seafaring life was also at the heart of Björn Larsson’s second novel, Long John Silver (1995). Tom Geddes’s translation of the novel will be published by Harvill Press, London, in 1999. The one-legged pirate of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island is determined to have his real character and motives — not least the dedication to freedom that is a recurrent theme throughout the author’s works — explained to the reading public, warts and all. The bone-chilling extract below is preceded by a general introduction to the novel, and a discussion of the principles followed by Tom Geddes in making his translation.

droemmar.gif (2322 bytes)Björn Larsson’s latest novel is Drömmar vid havet (Dreams by the Sea, 1997), and once again the setting is the sea and a central theme freedom. But while those two aspects are common to all three novels presented in this issue, it will be obvious to the reader that the atmosphere and action of the books are very different. Ian Hinchliffe introduces Drömmar vid havet, and has translated three extracts as a taster which will no doubt whet the appetite for more.

Björn Larsson says he is "very interested in trying to work out just what literary fiction is, and why people have such a pressing need of fictional communication". He is undoubtedly an author to keep a close eye on.