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Anna Ehn, Man ska vara tyst när man önskar (Make a Silent Wish)

Natur och Kultur,  2002. ISBN: 9127086615

Reviewed by Sarah Death in SBR 2003:1

In this squirmingly accurate picture of the cattiness, raging hormones, self-obsession and utter insecurity of teenage girls, a class of Swedish Year Nines brimming with bravado go by coach for a week to Zell am See to mark the end of their time at lower secondary school. In the claustrophobic atmosphere of a hotel in bad weather, tensions and rivalries surface and allegiances change in unexpected ways. Discipline from staff seems ineffectual, rowdy behaviour spreads and nightclub visits, drunkenness and hangovers become the norm. One girl even disappears for over 24 hours, causing the outing to Salzburg, the planned highlight of the trip, to be cancelled. But most of the class realize they have gone too far, and it is a straggling band of chastened individuals that finally returns home. They come together again on the last day of term before everyone goes their separate ways in life. It seems to have been as much a rite of passage as a school trip. Anna Ehn’s last novel, Vårfrost (Spring Frost, Norstedts, 1995) was a powerful account of 12-year-old Klara’s descent into the hell of anorexia nervosa. It was told from the girl’s point of view, but not targeted at any specific group of readers, and was undoubtedly a moving read for adults and young people alike. The teenagers in this new book are a little older, their interaction and jargon to the fore while the grown-up characters are kept more to the margins. The fact that the publisher is marketing it as a novel for young people means it is more likely to be read mainly by that age group. As in Spring Frost, the third-person narrative perspective is that of someone with a different agenda from the main crowd. Most of her classmates think Karin is a swot and a freak. She is a conscientious pupil, top of the class, and also very successful in her chosen sport of orienteering. She is due to compete in the Swedish junior championships a few days after her return from Austria, and is anxious that she won’t be able to train to her usual high standards. In one way she is more vulnerable than Klara in Spring Frost, because she has no proper friends. Karin views the antics of the others on the trip with a mixture of distaste and fascination, and in the end cannot avoid becoming embroiled in their petty feuds and betrayals. To her own surprise, she develops a sense of fellow feeling with one of the most rebellious girls. But all the time, the Achilles’ tendon which was aching on her last orienteering run is growing more and more inflamed, so at length she has to tell a teacher and be taken for emergency treatment. She returns home on crutches and has to give up all hope of competing, Thus even an orderly life like Karin’s is turned upside down by the fateful trip. Anna Ehn succeeds in getting under Karin’s skin with great psychological sensitivity. Finding it hard myself to escape the perspective of uneasy parent, I mused that the account of this fictional journey throws up some interesting differences between Swedish “class trips” and their British school counterparts. Of course, it’s never a good idea to rely on two staff who are romantically involved, but even so, the naively trusting approach of these teachers, and the lack of structured activities to fill the pupils’ hours and tire them out, would be seen in Britain as inviting disaster!

Also by Anna Ehn

  • Vårfrost (Spring Frost). Reviewed by Marie Allen in SBR 1996:1.

Other reviews by Sarah Death

Other reviews in SBR 2003:1

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