Alfabeta, 2007. ISBN: 9789150108682
Reviewed by Anna-Lisa Murrell in SBR 2008:1
Katarina Mazetti is well known in Sweden for her humorous novels and short stories. Her style of writing is hilarious, often bordering on the farcical. Here in her latest work of fiction she tackles a classic setting – a group of people gathered together in a country house, isolated from the outside world, such as you might expect to find in an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, but you would be mistaken. Mazetti has chosen another storyline: a group of people spending some weeks together discussing and contemplating the existence of God. But do not expect the usual meditation, yoga, healing, angels, or self-improvement setting led by a number of possibly charismatic gurus, often Americans, spreading their wisdom around the world in idyllic havens of natural beauty. Here they meet in a very drab, freezing-cold scouts’ hut in the middle of nowhere in rural Sweden.
The participants are a mixed bunch of average Swedes, not a particularly spiritual lot, who have to do their own investigations and give talks on their ideas of God and spirituality. And on top of that they are obliged to do their own housework and cleaning. As there is no glamorous charismatic leader figure to persuade them or hypnotise them into accepting spiritual beliefs, they end up getting on each other’s nerves and arguing in a rather farcical manner – not on the whole conducive to spiritual development.
One of the participants, Wera, is a tough young journalist, who hides a microphone in her clothing and records their talks. She is only there to report on the group and is not really interested in developing her own spiritual side. We learn something of the background of the participants. Madeleine carries a heavy rucksack filled with rocks – she is a modern mendicant, while Bertil comes over as a very sympathetic doctor, who has lost his licence because of professional misconduct. Adrian is perhaps the least sympathetic participant; he has a hippie background and is portrayed as a demagogue, who thunders against the way God has been used as a tool for wars and conflicts between religions. His partner Annette is an artistic woman, who has a gift for making life pleasant for other people. She supports Adrian loyally, but underneath the pleasant appearance there hides a disappointed feminist. Karim, a young Iranian, is saddened by the present religious strife between nations and wants to build bridges between Islam and Christianity. Eva-Maria, the lady in grey, is a serene person, who seems to have found what the others are looking for, but she expresses herself in rather obscure ways and mainly only hints at solutions.
Strangely enough no one mentions mysticism, Indian philosophy, Zen or other forms of Buddhism, Sufism or any of the great saints of the various religions. The action often verges on the farcical, and the reader can hardly sense an atmosphere conducive to a spiritual quest. This style of writing cannot convey the deeper feelings of the participants – pain and a serious longing for another dimension, which many Swedish writers and poets have so convincingly conveyed, e.g. Torgny Lindgren, Dan Andersson and Hjalmar Gullberg. The ending is not very convincing, either, though it does serve the reader with some surprises.