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."
linked with Björn Larssons 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."
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.
university lecturing earns him his steady income, sailing
is Björn Larssons 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.
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.
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 Simpsons English translation
was published in England and the USA in 1997, and an extract
is reprinted below.)
and the seafaring life was also at the heart of Björn Larssons
second novel, Long John Silver (1995). Tom Geddess
translation of the novel will be published by Harvill Press,
London, in 1999. The one-legged pirate of Robert Louis
Stevensons 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 authors 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.
Björn Larssons 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.
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.