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Hans Gunnarsson, Någon annanstans i Sverige (Somewhere Else in Sweden)

Albert Bonniers förlag,  2007. ISBN: 9789100112431

Reviewed by Željka Černok in SBR 2008:2

Hans Gunnarsson first appeared in the mid-90s with the wave of new writers influenced by Raymond Carver, including Cecilia Davidsson and Mats Kempe. His novels and short stories deal with lives of "little" people in small towns, the loneliness of midnight kitchen snacks, cheerful greetings next morning from nosy neighbours or standing at bus stops wondering what else there is beyond this little world where everybody seems to know everybody else’s business. Gunnarsson is a master of this kind of writing. He can give us three details about a person and we feel we know the type; he can describe a couple lazing in front of TV and we know what is going on through subtext.

In Någon annanstans i Sverige he uses the same technique as in his short stories to portray the little town of Borunda. Here are all the usual suspects: a dissatisfied wife, an alcoholic, an abusive brag, old school friends that do not really have anything in common, frustrated teenagers, old racists and an overweight cashier in Konsum who knows that "nobody really knows her". We learn about their lives from neighbours or accidental visitors who glimpse something they would rather not see, or from people’s own descriptions of dinner parties, a husband’s accident or a wife’s affair. The stories are skilfully intertwined and although the happenings might have an absurd feeling to them, the characters are never absurd, just deeply human. And just as we are starting to think that this is a masterfully painted portrait of a small town in Sweden (or anywhere) where nothing ever happens, Gunnarsson provides a twist: three people die in one night and it sparks change. The raging alcoholic and a lonely woman find true love. The abusive husband is killed, but not by the person everybody blames. The neighbours fear that things will never be the same again, as they sit down at their kitchen tables and comment on happenings as they always do.

Gunnarsson’s writing is not all introspection and melancholy. There are great sparks of humour here – such as a hilarious car chase when a refuse inspector is driven out of town by a disgruntled grandmother who does not believe he is from the council. What connects all these stories are the musings of Allan Lundberg, a self-proclaimed expert in what an idyllic town should look like and how good neighbours should behave. He is writing a chronicle on Borunda based on his observations. However much he wants to believe that he lives in an ideal little town, sugar-coating everything in lines cribbed from poets and passed off as his own, there are always people who irritate him and spoil it all. Because really, who would leave a Christmas star in the window all year long? And who, even though he is a wife-beater and a drunk, has the audacity to win six million crowns on the Lotto?

I have yet to read a Swedish author who gets it so spot-on in describing people as Gunnarsson. His books are always a real treat and it is no wonder that he is hailed in the Swedish press as one of the best chroniclers of contemporary life in Sweden.

Zeljka Cernok

Also by Hans Gunnarsson

  • Försmådd (Rejected). Reviewed by Tom Geddes in SBR 2013:1.

Other reviews by Željka Černok

Other reviews in SBR 2008:2

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