Albert Bonniers förlag, 2008. ISBN: 9789100120188
Reviewed by Linda Schenck in SBR 2009:1
You don’t have to travel far from the three major conurbations in Sweden to feel you are entering a time warp. I note this with both consternation and satisfaction when I find myself at a conference in Stenungsund or Tranemo. There is the pleasure of the countryside, the lovely sense of the years standing still as the seasons change, and the frustration of the eternal telephone line failures, out-of-order copying machines and no dressing for what passes for salad and consists of nothing but either wilted iceberg lettuce or grated cabbage. In his seventh and latest novel The Valley of the Clamorous (read: Madding) Crowd, Erik Andersson (also a translator into Swedish, most renowned for his new translation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings) takes the reader on an odyssey through the province of Västergötland, aptly compared by one character to the Iowa corn belt in the United States. His protagonist is Ina Ljung, a recent graduate in journalism who has garnered for herself a summer traineeship on the daily paper Varas Värn (‘Vintage Vara’ or literally ‘Vara’s Shield’).Thus commences a dual journey, the second being through the maze of editorial offices of a rural daily paper. This is historical sentimentality at its best, every inch set in the present-day, every major event on the local scene a microcosm of the wider world, and at the same time with a strong nostalgia for the past, for a way of life nearly gone but certainly not forgotten. Erik Andersson’s prose is sensitive and sprightly, insightful and incisive, often tongue-in-cheek and always a pleasure to read. Ina spends her summer as an exhausting and exhausted breath of fresh air in a musty office atmosphere, learning the ropes all the way from proofreading (spelling the names of the locals correctly being the only important point) to hiking through muddy fields in the rain to write a piece on (eighteenth century) fish death, to having to cope with readers’ outraged reactions to one of her reports. At one point she is like a foreign correspondent covering a lorry driver slowdown in the Pyrenees, but on a local level. As the summer rolls on, Ina finds herself becoming a fixture at the paper, torn by the pull of the ‘real world’ in one direction (which makes itself known mainly through SMS messages) and the enticement of becoming a permanent big fish in a small pond in the other. Suffice it to say that the epigraph to the novel ‘They xall cum owt so hydowysly’ (‘They shall come out so hideously’) refers to the legend of Gog and Magog – two peoples who devastated the earth until Alexander built a wall with brass gates to protect the world from their invasions.