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Bonniers, 2002. ISBN: 9100580449
Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 2003:1
Admirers of Elisabeth Rynell’s Hohaj (reviewed in SBR 1998:1), the novel that really made her name, have had to wait five years for this new work, but will not be disappointed.
Marta, the central figure, is a middle-aged woman who has withdrawn almost completely into herself. What begins the painful process of re-establishing herself in the outside world is the arrival of a brief note from Kosti, her former partner who left her twenty-five years ago, informing her that he is at Mervas. Retrospectively we learn that Marta came from a troubled home, and that she felt unloved until as an archaeology student she met Kosti who, with his good nature and easy manner, brought her to life, as she expressed it. She wanted a baby but Kosti wanted to wait. An argument arose just before their departure on a year-long field trip, resulting in Marta issuing an ultimatum and Kosti leaving her. Enraged, Marta had a one-night stand with an inexperienced young student, and became pregnant. She gave birth to Sebastian, a seriously handicapped son. His removal to a special ward for treatment drove her temporarily insane. When recovered, she tended Sebastian lovingly, but then, on his fourteenth birthday, a sudden burst of madness caused her to beat him to death. She spent time in a mental hospital and then returned home to an isolated existence.
Mervas is a former mining town in Norrland – Rynell territory. Marta sells up and goes in search not so much of Kosti but of herself. Through miles of empty wilderness she finally comes to a homestead where Arnold and Lilldocka, two self-contained pensioners, show her love and kindness. They also show her the way to Mervas, where she finds Kosti. Their reunion is not easy - they have both aged and have both borne strong feelings of guilt for most of their lives. Ultimately love proves strong enough, however, and Marta returns to life.
The landscape, so beautifully described, is in many respects symbolic, and Marta is on a pilgrimage, searching for salvation, or at least atonement. She feels not just guilt but shame and: “En skuld kan gäldas men skam består” i.e. a debt (or guilt) can be repaid but shame remains. Reasons for her guilt are obvious enough, but her shame is connected with her relationship with her father, a brutal man whose aim in life “was to fill the world with his offspring”. He beat his wife unmercifully and raped her when the doctors warned her against having more children; and in effect he killed her, for she died in childbirth. Marta’s shame is that she was singled out as “daddy’s girl”, which cut her off from the rest of the family, and she made no attempt to protect her mother against the assaults. Although not including incest this time, E. Rynell’s graphic descriptions of wife-battering are as harrowing here as in Hohaj.
Just as impelling are her beautifully lyrical descriptions of nature, sometimes the frightening, majestic sweep of a huge, desolate landscape, and sometimes a kind of primavera as Marta’s reawakening emotions are reflected in nature.
Readers will readily understand why the novel was shortlisted for the prestigious August Prize.
Also by Elisabeth Rynell
- Om skrivandets sinne (The Sensibility of Writing). Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 2015:2.
- Hitta hem (Finding the Way Home). Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 2010:1.
- Hohaj. Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 1998:1.
Other reviews by Irene Scobbie
- Elisabeth Åsbrink, Orden som formade Sverige (The Words that Formed Sweden). Reviewed in SBR 2019:12.
- Carola Hansson, Masja (Masha). Reviewed in SBR 2016:1.
- Elisabeth Rynell, Om skrivandets sinne (The Sensibility of Writing). Reviewed in SBR 2015:2.
- Peter Sandström, Till dig som saknas (To You Who are Missed). Reviewed in SBR 2013:S.
- Maria Lang, Farligt att förtära (Harmful if Eaten). Reviewed in SBR 2013:2.
- Maria Lang, Inte flera mord! (No More Murders!). Reviewed in SBR 2013:2.
- Maria Lang, Mördaren ljuger inte ensam (The Murderer Doesn't Lie Alone). Reviewed in SBR 2013:2.
- Ann-Marie Åsheden, Förbannelsen. Hans Holmérs öde (The Curse. Hans Holmér’s Fate). Reviewed in SBR 2013:1.
- Torsten Pettersson, Göm mig i ditt hjärta (Conceal Me in Your Heart). Reviewed in SBR 2011:1.
- Torsten Pettersson, Ge mig dina ögon (Give Me Your Eyes). Reviewed in SBR 2011:1.
- Elisabeth Rynell, Hitta hem (Finding the Way Home). Reviewed in SBR 2010:1.
- Åke Edwardson, Den sista vintern (The Final Winter). Reviewed in SBR 2009:1.
- P.C. Jersild, Medicinska memoarer (Medical Memories). Reviewed in SBR 2007:2.
- Åsa Larsson, Svart stig (The Black Path). Reviewed in SBR 2007:1.
- Sara Stridsberg, Drömfakulteten (The Dream Faculty). Reviewed in SBR 2006:2.
- Per Svensson, Han som aldrig fick bli kung. Berättelsen om Carl XVI Gustafs pappa (He Who Could Never Be King. The Story of Carl XVI's Father). Reviewed in SBR 2006:2.
- Carola Hansson, Mästarens Dröm (The Master's Dream). Reviewed in SBR 2006:1.
- Åke Edwardson, Rum nummer 10 (Room No. 10). Reviewed in SBR 2006:1.
- Kjell Eriksson, Nattens grymma stjärnor (Night's Cruel Stars). Reviewed in SBR 2005:1.
- Maria Gustafsson, Den vidunderliga utsikten (The Amazing View). Reviewed in SBR 2004:2.
- Åsa Larsson, Det blod som spillts (The Blood That Was Shed). Reviewed in SBR 2004:2.
- Åsa Larsson, Solstorm (Sunstorm). Reviewed in SBR 2003:2.
- Elin Wägner, Stockholm Stories. Reviewed in SBR 2003:2.
- Åke Edwardson, Segel av sten (Sails of Stone). Reviewed in SBR 2003:1.
- Eva Mattson, Tala efter pipet (Speak after the Tone). Reviewed in SBR 2002:2.
- Jan Guillou, Arvet efter Arn (Arns Heritage). Reviewed in SBR 2002:1.
- Maja Lundgren, Pompeji (Pompeii). Reviewed in SBR 2001:2.
- Carola Hansson, Den älskvärde (A Complaisant Man). Reviewed in SBR 2001:1.
- Jan Guillou, Riket vid vägens slut (The Kingdom at the End of the Road). Reviewed in SBR 2000:2.
- Stewe Claeson, Stämma i havet (Voice in the Sea). Reviewed in SBR 2000:1.
- George C Schoolfield, A History of Finland's Literature. Reviewed in SBR 1999:2.
- Anders Sundelin, Fallet Wennerström (The Wennerström Case). Reviewed in SBR 1999:2.
- Kerstin Ekman, Häxringarna (Witches' Rings). Reviewed in SBR 1999:2.
- Inger Frimansson, Mannen med oxhjärtet (The Man with the Enlarged Heart). Reviewed in SBR 1999:2.
- Jan Guillou, Tempelriddaren (The Knight Templar). Reviewed in SBR 1999:2.
- Elisabet Larsson, Intrång (Intrusion). Reviewed in SBR 1999:1.
- Jan Guillou, Vägen till Jerusalem (The Path to Jerusalem). Reviewed in SBR 1999:1.
- Malin Lindroth, Vaka natt (Nightwatch). Reviewed in SBR 1999:1.
- Åke Edwardson, Rop från långt avstånd (Far Distant Cries). Reviewed in SBR 1998:2.
- Elisabeth Rynell, Hohaj. Reviewed in SBR 1998:1.
- Kjell Johansson, Huset vid Flon (The House beside Flon). Reviewed in SBR 1998:1.
- Åke Edwardson, Dans med en ängel (Dancing with an Angel). Reviewed in SBR 1997:2.
- Carl-Henning Wijkmark, Du som ej finns (You Who Do Not Exist). Reviewed in SBR 1997:2.
- Stefan Andhé, En vind genom gräset (A Breeze through the Grass). Reviewed in SBR 1997:2.
- Magnus Florin, Marianne Steinsaphir and Margareta Sörenson, Literature in Sweden. Reviewed in SBR 1997:2.
- Ingmar Bergman, Enskilda samtal (Private Conversations). Reviewed in SBR 1997:1.
- Göran Tunström, Juloratoriet (The Christmas Oratory). Reviewed in SBR 1997:1.
- G Anderman and C Banér (eds), Proceedings of the Tenth Biennial Conference of the British Association of Scandinavian Studies. Reviewed in SBR 1997:1.
- Helena Forsås-Scott, Swedish Women's Writing 1850-1995. Reviewed in SBR 1997:1.
- Wilhelm Wachtmeister, Som jag såg det. Händelser och människor på världscenen (As I Saw It. People and Events on the World Stage). Reviewed in SBR 1996:2.
- Sten Andersson, Aktörerna (The Actors). Reviewed in SBR 1996:1.
- Hans Holmér, Blindträff (Blind Date or Blind Hit). Reviewed in SBR 1996:1.
- Leif Silbersky and Olov Svedelid, Den stora tystnaden (The Great Silence). Reviewed in SBR 1996:1.
- N Bodell, L Kasvi & B Lidén, Estonia. Berättelsen om en tragedi (The "Estonia". The Story of a Tragedy). Reviewed in SBR 1996:1.
- Frederika Bremer, Familjen H*** (The Colonel's Family). Reviewed in SBR 1996:1.
- Jean Bolinder, Fjärilseffekten (The Butterfly Effect). Reviewed in SBR 1996:1.
- Pernilla Glaser, Robson. Reviewed in SBR 1995:2.
Other reviews in SBR 2003:1
- Gerda Antti, Livet skriver kapitel (Life Writes its Chapters). Reviewed by Sarah Death.
- Majgull Axelsson, En stad av slott (A City of Castles). Reviewed by Linda Schenck.
- Ernst Brunner, Fukta din aska. C M Bellmans liv från början till slut (Moisten Your Mortal Ashes. C M Bellman's Life from Beginning to End). Reviewed by Birgitta Thompson.
- Stewe Claeson, Rönndruvan glöder (The Rowan's Cluster Glows). Reviewed by Charles Harrison-Wallace.
- Stig Claesson, Efter oss syndafloden (Après nous le déluge). Reviewed by Henning Koch.
- Åke Edwardson, Segel av sten (Sails of Stone). Reviewed by Irene Scobbie.
- Anna Ehn, Man ska vara tyst när man önskar (Make a Silent Wish). Reviewed by Sarah Death.
- Per Gunnar Evander, Plötsligt medan dimman lättar (Suddenly While the Mist is Lifting). Reviewed by Rick McGregor.
- Theodor Kallifatides, Den sjätte pasageraren (The Sixth Passenger). Reviewed by Peter Linton.
- Maaret Koskinen, I begynnelsen var ordet: Ingmar Bergman och hans tidiga författarskap (In the Beginning Was the Word: Ingmar Bergman and his early writings). Reviewed by Annika Lindskog.
- Björn Larsson, Den sanna berättelsen om Inga Andersson (The True Story of Inga Andersson). Reviewed by Tom Geddes.
- Ulla-Lena Lundberg, Marsipansoldaten (The Marzipan Soldier). Reviewed by Silvester Mazzarella.
- Henning Mankell, Innan frosten (Before the Frost). Reviewed by Laurie Thompson.
- Jan Myrdal, Gubbsjuka. Reviewed by Eivor Martinus.
- Cilla Neumann, Dem oss skyldiga äro (Those Who Trespass Against Us). Reviewed by Linda Schenck.
- Håkan Nesser, Kära Agnes! (Dear Agnes!). Reviewed by Stig Olsson.
- Johanna Nilsson, Rebell med frusna fötter (Rebel With Frozen Feet). Reviewed by Sarah Death.
- Niklas Rådström, Kvartett (Quartet). Reviewed by Anne Born.
- Friedrich Strindberg, Under jorden i Berlin (Underground in Berlin). Reviewed by Eivor Martinus.
- Jerker Virdborg, Svart krabba (Black Crab). Reviewed by Stig Olsson.
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