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Stig Claesson, Sekonderna lämnar ringen (Seconds Out of the Ring)

Albert Bonniers förlag,  2005. ISBN: 91000107417

Reviewed by Rick McGregor in SBR 2006:1

As Claesson himself admits in a note on the back cover, the story in Sekonderna lämnar ringen is very simple. (It also bears all the signs of being largely autobiographical.) It has a framing device in which the author, suffering from a back injury that restricts his mobility, describes himself sitting in a cabin in dark woods writing the book. It has a prologue in which the author meets a young Italian woman named Stefania with an unusual surname and eventually realizes that there is another young woman with the same name but that the two are not aware of each other’s existence. But primarily the action of the book takes place during a week in Tampere, Finland. The narrator/author has a brief love affair with a Greek woman, Marilita, who (like him) is reporting on the World Amateur Boxing Championships in the spring of 1993. As well as reporting on the boxing, he is himself the subject of a half-hour documentary for Finnish television’s Swedish-speaking channel, directed by an old friend. Stig Claesson is also an artist, so the book is illustrated with a number of fuzzy, faxed pen drawings from the boxing tournament, with rather idiosyncratic spelling of some English words. (He also confuses the Duke of Canterbury and the Marquis of Queensbury when discussing the origin of the rules of boxing.) Like his prose, his ink drawings are sparse, almost simplistic. A number of novels that blur the boundary between fiction and autobiography have been published in Sweden over the past few decades, by writers such as Per Olov Enqvist and Per Gunnar Evander (indeed the veracity or otherwise of the characterization in Evander’s latest novel has been the subject of some debate in Swedish review pages recently). Here, however, I feel the journalistic elements outweigh the literary ones. Perhaps I would have enjoyed the book more if it had been marketed as “Gonzo Journalism” (Hunter S. Thompson’s term for journalism in which the reporter is part of the action) rather than as fiction fading into fact. The boxing functions more as a backdrop to the story than as an important part of it, but one might nonetheless agree with Claesson’s own comment: “I have probably watched more boxing than is good for me.” Stig Claesson has written over 80 books since his debut in 1956. With such a prolific production it should come as no surprise if the quality varies. This novel lacks that little extra that makes such earlier works as Vem älskar Yngve Frej? (Who Loves Yngve Frej, 1968) and På palmblad och rosor (On Palm Leaves and Roses, 1975) such a delight to read. Not that Sekonderna lämnar ringen is unreadable – on the contrary, it is very easy to read. No, my problem with this book was just that it does not seem to be saying anything much.

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