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Björn Larsson, Den sanna berättelsen om Inga Andersson (The True Story of Inga Andersson)

Norstedts,  2002. ISBN: 9113010964

Reviewed by Tom Geddes in SBR 2003:1

Larsson’s previous prescient novel, Det onda ögat (The Evil Eye, reviewed SBR 2000:1), with its fictional planned terrorist atrocity in Paris, regrettably did not appear in English before 11 September 2001 (nor yet since). It may not have forewarned specifically of New York, but it was a prime example of life imitating art. His new novel is equally deserving of wider recognition. Not only does it sound another warning through fiction, in this case about the singular “rogue state”, it also investigates the very relationship between fiction and reality which imbues literature with its unique combination of aesthetic delight and psychological, philosophical and socio-political insights. Inga Andersson is a high-quality literary thriller in which overt quasi-biographical elements are employed in a serious yet jocular sustained metafictional exploration of the relationship between a writer and his characters. Inga Andersson, like Larsson, is a lecturer at the university of Lund who lives across the water in a Danish fishing village. Her research is on secret organizations, from religious sects to the USA’s National Security Agency and Echelon, the multi-national intelligence monitoring system. Her attempt to present a paper on Echelon at a French conference attracts the attention of the NSA, and she has to go into hiding. Aided by two Danish fishermen who provide a thematically linked historical perspective in their reminiscences on the evils of the Nazi occupation and the secrecy of the Resistance, she offers a trade-off which is only fully revealed to the reader much later and which explains her intense commitment to her research. In venturing as a criminologist into the field of literature, she seeks advice from a university colleague, who is both a novelist and professor of French (viz. Larsson), named Anders Ingesson. The transposition of name to suggest two parts of an authorial persona may seem facile, but the playful side of literature is integral to the structure and theme of this novel. There are two parallel, semi-alternating strands: an impersonal and omniscient narrative about Inga Andersson, and a first-person narrative by Anders Ingesson, in which he considers attempting a novel on the basis of the little he knows about Inga. Instead he finds himself falling in love with the “real” rather than the imaginary character. The result of this intricate interweaving is the fascination of a double suspense - not only narrative, in the sense of plot, but also narratological, in that we are unsure how much of the narrative will turn out to be “true” (in fictional terms) and how much will have been imagined by the fictional author. The authorial process itself separates and connects the inner fiction, the parallel or framework fiction, and the real world: for instance, researching into his “fictional” character or fellow-participant, the author travels to Menwith Hill in Yorkshire for first-hand experience of the listening station there and its descriptive incorporation into the plot, a plot into which he himself is then drawn. Biography and fiction become intertwined on multiple levels. In this engrossing experiment with the conventions of the thriller, we may be left wondering whether it is emotionally or aesthetically acceptable for heroines as well as villains to die if their story lives on. Inga’s obsession with developing a theory of the motivation for human evil prompts her to expose all secrecy, whether malevolent or benign and at whatever cost to herself. But this reviewer will obey the constraints of both thriller and review, and not reveal all.

Also by Björn Larsson

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