Reviewed by B.J. Epstein in SBR 2014:2
Review Section: Fiction
Mary Read and Anne Bonny are two pirates out on an adventure. True, they’re stuck at a college in chilly southern Sweden rather than being on a ship in the warm waters of the Caribbean, but they don’t let that stop them. Together, they pinch jewellery and clothes from local stores, get drunk at parties and cope with the effects of painful childhoods and/or painful early twenties. Amanda Svensson’s third novel, Allt det där jag sa till dig var sant, is in its essence a story about friendship and a story about stories, even as much of it also explores the unnamed protagonist’s unhealthy relationship with a man she meets at college.
She wants to learn how to become a writer, but quickly discovers that she’d rather write prose than poetry, which is not much respected. She has to work out how to create a story from her own life, and this is a slow process for her because she does not seem to know what choices to make. Enter her lover and schoolmate, a loner who considers himself a misunderstood genius. This man tries to make the protagonist, known to some as Mary Read, into his muse, the way he believes that Vladimir Mayakovsky had Lilya Brik or Ted Hughes had Sylvia Plath. He tells her, ‘You and I aren’t like others, do you understand that? There’s nothing conventional about this. Never compare this to what others have, never, Lilya’, and for various reasons, including a desire to be desired and a yearning for something new, Mary/Lilya goes along with what he decides. The romance quickly turns sour because ‘Vladimir’ is abusive, but Mary seems unable to find her way out of it.
Then she meets Ilse/Anne Bonny. Ilse appears to be the friend that Mary has long needed. ‘Maybe it’s the child in me that decides, the one who thought that one day someone would come, someone would surely come, and add a spoonful of sugar to the medicine. Someone who was more than me. Deep inside my stomach and high up in the sky I feel it, a slightly unfamiliar swish of belonging. I believe she feels it too, even if she doesn’t say it. It’s not necessary.’ In some ways, they do belong together, but they are not always able to be honest with one another. It takes quite some time before Ilse understands that the scars, burns, and scratches on Mary’s body are not of Mary’s own doing. But once she does understand, together they find a way to cope with it.
Svensson’s novel is filled with both beauty and hurt, and it is likewise both beautiful and hurtful to read. She creates neologisms and plays with nursery rhymes, children’s stories, pirate lore, and other intertextual references, making this work intricate and intriguing. Allt det där jag sa till dig var sant isn’t always an easy read, but it forces the reader to consider what it means and what it takes to enter, and to leave, relationships, and to find and fulfil one’s own destiny.