Wahlström & Widstrand, 2005. ISBN: 9146212647
Reviewed by Martin Murrell in SBR 2006:1
“Actually, I hadn’t intended to produce a second novel so soon after my debut with Hon hette Agnes (Her Name was Agnes, published 2004). But this story was inside me and had lain inside me for many years. It was chivvying and chafing to get out, pitching and tossing. In the end I gave in and sat down in front of the computer. Certain things just have to be done, and so it was with Utanför allt.” Elisabeth Lindfors’ second work of fiction consists of diary entries and letters written by a former film director, Elma Oter, the letters all addressed to her daughter Minna, who lives outside the borders of the unnamed north European totalitarian state – a crumbling dystopia – in which Elma has been trapped for the past seven years. Elma lives in hiding, dependent for her survival on the goodwill and kindness of her neighbours, under a false name, in a cold, bare room, and sustained by a meagre diet comprising little more than potatoes and water. Paper and pens are banned, but she is secretly supplied with some to write letters to her daughter, little knowing the motive behind the provision. The letters and diary cover the last four months of Elma’s life: she dies the day after the declaration of independence – achieved in large part through the publication of her letters, which succeed in arousing sympathy abroad and gaining material support for the opposition movement led by a group calling themselves “The Like-minded”. But she worries about the numbers that have died and is pessimistic about the future of her country, even under a potentially democratic regime. She wonders whether the revolutionaries shouldn’t call themselves “The Feeble-minded”. Elma, the insider-outsider, is both artist and realist. The country is in the state it’s in because of its rapidly dwindling resources. The frontiers are closed as much to stop people coming in as to prevent departures. She dreams of the day when she can be with her daughter again, and this dream helps her survive. The story is that of a woman subjected to extreme suffering, pain, cold, hunger and loneliness, who can express her feelings, her love and her opinions, in a vivid, realistic way, so that the reader gradually gets closer to her as her story unfolds. To this extent it takes on a uniqueness, warmth and vitality that distinguish it from many other novels set in future dystopian societies. And the underlying message to those oligarchies that seek to exploit the resources of our precarious world is delivered with clarity and subdued urgency.