Albert Bonniers förlag, 2011.
Reviewed by Anna Tebelius in SBR 2012:2
New edition 2011
Does the fragmented elegance and fragile intimacy so characteristic of the topography of Tomas Tranströmer’s poetry stem from his early interest in entomology? Bugs and beetles discovered, examined, organised during seemingly unending summer breaks spent on Runmarö, an island in the Stockholm archipelago – a young man observing the minutiae of a particular habitat. Fredrik Sjöberg’s slim volume of short essays takes a magnifying glass to the result of those long summers between the years 1944 and 1947: a collection of insects amassed by the boy who grew up to become a Nobel laureate and who left the collection to gather dust in an attic.
Sjöberg, who himself lives and collects insects on Runmarö (the island in question), knows Tranströmer and his wife, who still keep a house there, and he knew of the collection.
It is with the discovery by Sjöberg that the collection contains a rare beetle, the only example of the rove beetle Velleius dilatatus known to have been found in the county of Uppland, that the essays begin.
What follows from this does not answer my initial question as to the literary importance of these insects. Perhaps I had assumed that this would be more of a creative meditation on the connection between entomology and poetry than it is. Instead the essays present us with a fellow entomologist’s interest in a collection that happens to be of some importance, and its historical context. To a reader like myself, with no prior knowledge of the life and rarity of insects, some of its fascination remains elusive. Despite this Sjöberg writes with ease and clarity, allowing the layman an insight into the peculiar world of entomology. At the end of the essays Sjöberg lists the contents of Tranströmer’s collection from Runmarö, dividing it into orders: Coleoptera – beetles; Lepidoptera – butterflies; Odonata – dragonflies; Blattodea – cockroaches; Orthoptera – grasshoppers, crickets and locusts; Heteroptera – bugs; Hymenoptera – comprising sawflies, wasps, bees and ants; Neuroptera – the net-winged insects; Trichoptera – caddis flies and Diptera – flies. Giving the Latin names and who first described the particular species, he reflects in short paragraphs on these authors, on the peculiarities of the insects and on the poetic nature of some of their Swedish names. Here in the naming, the counting out, the lists, there is a return to a poetic quality. Amongst the Latin and the Swedish names, listed one after the other, a poetic melody hides. Maybe a melody Tranströmer the poet recognised but one which Sjöberg the entomologist only hints at.