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Marianne Jeffmar, En vass obändig längtan. En norrländsk roman (A Sharp Ferocious Longing. A Norrland Novel)

Bokförlaget Podium,  2009. ISBN: 9789163344077

Reviewed by Birgitta Thompson in SBR 2009:2

This slim volume caught my attention because of the blurb on the cover. The novel tells the love story of Johan and Brita who meet each other in a vicarage in Jeffmar’s northern home province of Ångermanland in the 1920s. Since I am familiar with this region and have ancestors and relatives on my father’s side who were vicars here from over a hundred years earlier to more recent times, I started reading with considerable interest. I was not disappointed – Jeffmar has a doctorate in psychology to her name and knows how to weave this knowledge into her writing; she is a well-known journalist and translator with a varied and cosmopolitan life abroad in Europe behind her, and has published over twenty novels since 1978.

Like Kerstin Ekman, she started her career as a crime novelist, a genre she returned to with five novels from 1999 to 2002, featuring her alter ego Suzanne De Decker, a journalist on the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, specialising as a crime reporter. Middle-aged, she visits Sweden for the first time, in hot pursuit of unsolved murders and secret criminals; provincial Härjedalen becomes the main setting for exotic culture clashes. This modern-day drama seems to be a long way away from the love story in the novel under review that joined in holy matrimony Brita, the maid in the vicarage, and Johan, the future schoolteacher, denied for financial reasons the medical career he yearned for. However, a large part of the second book in the series about Suzanne De Decker, Mördarens ankomst (The Arrival of the Murderer), 1999, is made up of a diary kept from July 1934 to June 1947 by the mother of a murder victim in Härjedalen. The mother’s story is identical with the basic framework of En vass obändig längtan, but viewed from the angle of the woman; the murder victim is one of her two daughters. The diary reveals a tangled family history, sibling jealousy and child abuse, dwelling on the incompatibility between husband and wife in a more pronounced way than is the case in the novel under review.

It would seem that the current novel is an attempt by Jeffmar to understand the married life of her parents, a theme also discussed in Vargens mjuka tassar (The Soft Paws of the Wolf), 1994, republished in 2009 with an illuminating newly written author’s afterword: the cover features the wolf picture that is central to both novels. In no uncertain terms this earlier novel accuses her own late father of child abuse and rape against herself. It also outlines a far from harmonious marriage and family life, again with a number of similarities to the current novel. Although the latest book is more conciliatory than the earlier diary extracts, there are dark undertones from the very beginning of this love story. It is love at first sight, but Johan hides a troubled childhood at the hands of his father in the forest, abuse that he would later let loose on his own and Brita’s children, especially his first-born, the beloved daughter who was supposed to achieve all that he had failed to do. He claims he never wanted to harm her: it was all for her own good.

In her unconventional brief memoirs, Till Marianne från A till Ö (To Marianne from A to Z), 2007, Jeffmar declares that writing has been her psychoanalysis: attempts to reconstruct the life of her long dead father, his childhood, his relation to his own father. Her self-therapy goes back over several years, and was last manifested, she says, in the love-story of Jonas and Beata (sic).

The sharp, ferocious longing is Johan’s, articulated in his insane scream alone in the wilderness, a scream only Brita can silence. She is deter-mined to cure this longing of his, first by helping him financially in his studies, then by training to become a mental nurse in order to understand how best to help him. Although she loves her job, and it comes with a much needed income, she has to relinquish it when they marry in the early thirties. Johan, the patriarch, becomes gradually more and more rigid in his strict pietistic religion. Brita suffers but obeys, while secretly longing for the impossible great love of her life. Years later, the scream catches up with Johan, now more frightening than ever before, because it is joined by the wolf in the picture hanging over his own desk. Panic-stricken, he flees out on to the ice of the bay and drowns. The snow reveals his own footprints but also the criss-crossing of the pawmarks of a wolf.

There is a magical aura of myth and saga in the story, not least because Jeffmar is able to render the provincial oral idiom in such a masterly way. She has dedicated her novel to the memory of her mother.

Other reviews by Birgitta Thompson

Other reviews in SBR 2009:2

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