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Johanna Nilsson, Rebell med frusna fötter (Rebel With Frozen Feet)

Wahlström & Widstrand,  2002. ISBN: 9146182004

Reviewed by Sarah Death in SBR 2003:1

The unconventional first-person narrator of this funny and quirky novel is Stella Björk, a far-from-typical student at the Stockholm School of Economics and Business Administration. The reason Stella suffers from cold feet is that she finds an open roof the place most conducive to constructive thought. She first set out to read theology in the hallowed precincts of Uppsala, where she perceived herself and her peers as an intricate network of narrow, winding paths. Finding herself in something of an existential crisis, she decided “I might as well study Mammon as God while I try to discover the meaning of it all,” and so she transferred to the city and the School of Economics, where the people turned out to be “more like straight motorways”. Her scorn for the School’s prevailing ethic – career ambition, worship of commercial success and profit fixation – leads her to team up with a few-like minded students of both sexes who hope their marginal position and vivid imaginations will help them through. In the hothouse atmosphere of endless corporate hospitality (hardly a day goes by without a “free” lunch) and obsessive computer-gazing by tycoons-to-be scanning the money markets, Stella and her friends write provocative articles for the student newspaper and set up FAA (Föreningen för Anonyma Aktiemiss-brukare), or Share Addicts Anonymous, a spoof society which rapidly becomes a rallying point for a surprising number of disenchanted or disorientated individuals. Subsequently it takes only a few minor, possibly unconnected, incidences of vandalism and graffiti before the Principal starts to fear that the structure of his institution is seriously threatened. His bombastic edicts, however, merely inflame the situation, as the restive faction’s protest acquires a momentum of its own and turns into a full-scale student occupation, with all sorts of unlikely participants claiming (sheeplike, as Stella puts it) affiliation to the FAA. Stella herself, uncomfortable with her instant celebrity status and miserable with boyfriend trouble, wanders off round Stockholm, gets attacked at an underground station, is “rescued” by a group of rough sleepers and ends up in hospital. Eventually, back in her microscopic student room, she listens to an absurd series of phone messages from all and sundry, including friends and supporters, the hostile School administration, the media, Lukas Moodysson wanting to make a film, and even a disgraced government minister. She is bemused that her little joke has blown up to such gigantic proportions and wonders, as she exits the back way to avoid a waiting police car, why life has to be so complicated. Johanna Nilsson employs a fresh and youthful style in this unusual novel with its subversive little footnotes, appendices and other playful devices. Her critique of the status quo is considered and serious, but delivered with a light touch. Stella’s picaresque adventures among the dropouts and in the hands of the health service, while socially illuminating, are a slight distraction from what seems to be the main project here: an irreverent dissection of modern business culture. Johanna Nilsson writes for both adults and young people and admits that this, her third adult novel, is autobiographical to some degree. There are now in fact plans for a film of the book, directed by Ulf Malmros.

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