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Bodil Malmsten, Priset på vatten i Finistère (The Price of Water in Finistère)

Bonniers,  2002. ISBN: 9100577189

Reviewed by Eivor Martinus in SBR 2002:1

Bodil Malmsten is primarily a poet but in the past she has written some epic poems which are like finely tuned novels in their sparse, breathless style. Her latest book is neither a novel nor a poem, however, but it has the contained form of a prose poem. It is made up of short, pithy sentences, grouped in concise paragraphs and the language is clear and rhythmical. Malmsten writes about the trials and tribulations of an expatriate who has not mastered the language of her host country. It is a far cry from Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence — to which she refers in a derisory manner. This is a book about Bodil Malmsten, a middle-aged writer who leaves Sweden for a place in Brittany, finis terrae, at the end of the earth. Her disillusionment with her old country, with the Social Democracy that metamorphosed into a new kind of Conservatism, is recollected and commented on. Her roots and family traditions from the northern wastes of the Swedish countryside, are recalled against the background of a new life on a sunnier latitude, where the French language is slowly seeping in and — most importantly — where Malmsten is trying to ‘cultiver son jardin’ in Voltaire’s spirit. She sets out with great enthusiasm and we follow her brave attempts to make a splendid garden with plants that she could only have dreamt of in the cold village of her youth in northern Sweden. Her battle with her garden and all its destructive insects becomes a metaphor for life. Modern man’s need to put down roots in new countries and assume a new persona is well depicted. Stories abound about delicate — or sometimes hardy — plants which succumb or survive, as it were, guided by whim.

It is a delightful little book, humorous and sensitive, devoid of plot in the normal sense, but offering a thought-provoking account of the way we are breaking our ties with the past and transplanting ourselves in new soil.

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