Reviewed by Anna Tebelius in SBR 2013:2
Review Section: Fiction: The Present
Lina Hagelbäck’s hypnotic first novel or, rather, poetic short prose, revolves around a brilliant and destructive poet called Violencia. In the opening lines she is introduced by Stina, her shy and frightened confidante:
‘I början tror man att Violencia har en ständigt pågående fest inom sig’ (In the beginning you imagine that, within her, Violencia hosts a continuous never-ending party). Later on she is further explained:
‘Violencia består av fara och plötslig ömhet. Hos henne går det inte att vila. Hon har en vulkanhermeneutisk sjukdom som utgörs av fyrverkeribegär, expansiv fobikällare, gränspsykotisk lycka och sprakande neuros.’
(Violencia consists of danger and sudden tenderness. With her you may never rest. She has a vulcanic-hermeneutical illness consisting of fireworks-desire, an expanding cellar of phobias, happiness of the borderline-psychotic kind and a neurosis that dazzles.)
Stina, whom Violencia embraces because she resembles her deceased mother, is the narrator in all but one section of the book where the voice changes to that of Violencia. In the shadow of Violencia’s vivid intensity, Stina recites and recounts her words and actions, detailing their all-consuming relationship and eventually, piece by piece, begins to describe her own awakened desires and to narrate her own creativity.
Hagelbäck uses the introverted Stina and the extroverted Violencia to evoke two sides of a borderline state resembling that of the manic depressive. She describes the explosiveness of Violencia’s nature that both attracts and frightens Stina and the powerful effect that such feverish passion has on writing. What Hagelbäck succeeds in creating is a language that equals the characters’ volatile relationship and finds words to match the intensity of these manic mood-swings.
It is this aspect that impresses the most in Hagelbäck’s short novel. In Violencia’s and Stina’s imaginary world, language becomes a tool to conjure up a new vocabulary with which to describe their dream-like and fantastical territories. Words are formed, set alight and exploded in the sky. Words are attached or recombined, removed from their original meaning to become mystical and mythical entities. In the following extract Stina and Violencia are sitting together in a garden and Stina describes how Violencia:
‘...kattslingrar sig runt mig, har orkidéblicken och silvrar av sig på mig samtidigt som hon skissar på en dikt: “Det är en gammalrosa lördag och notpapper i vinden, det är en kvicksilveronsdag och en rågfredag, det är lakantätt, det är en annan dag som kan gripa tag om midjan, det är en drakmåndag med två ungar vid sin sida, skygga, arga…”
(...slinks cat-like around me, has that orchid-gaze and silvers on to me simultaneously sketching out a poem: “It is a pale pink Saturday and in the wind manuscript paper, it is a mercury Wednesday and a rye Friday, it is sheet-tight, it is another day that may grab the waist, it is a dragon Monday with two young by its side, shy, angry...”)
Stina and Violencia read passionately and their literary references are woven into the text. Despite this opulence, Hagelbäck’s prose is never exaggerated and the outpouring of words does not detract from the precision and thoughtfulness of the text.
When I first read Violencia I was amazed by it. It is a truly original writing that promises a lot from this highly original author.