Monday&Mothertongue

NB; I wrote a long post about these three books but when I pressed “publish” is just disappeared. I made a sour face, got on with life for a bit and then sat down to try to recreate it. Hence the somewhat short post and dispirited tone.

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Over the years I have kept a reading journal and the sum of books read has stayed much the same over time until I made the decision to stop carrying around big books as they were literally breaking my back. So for the last two year I have read more books but the number of pages has probably stayed roughly the same.

In terms of language though there was a big shift when I created my Instagram account devoted to books; as I use English in my posts and I want to partake in a bigger discussion about those I chose to read it felt more natural. However it came to a point where I started to long for the elevated prose in my first language, Swedish, and also all of a sudden there where so many good books on the literary scene up here.

I was talking about this with someone I know just the other day, when did so many books on the best-seller list and that are being talked about become so interesting?

I’ve already written about Århundradets kärlekskrig by Ebba Witt-Brattström and will probably bring it up again. Today I noticed that one of my fave podcast, Februari-podden, had released a new episode( they are very sporadic but always worth listening to) and it was also on the subject of contemporary relations and what can happen when the woman is the breadwinner, and how it is impossible to be both the one that takes care of house and home whilst being the one that is responsible for paying the bills, at least in the long-term. A discussion by two Swedish male comedians might not sound like the place for great insight but they are men who leave no stone unturned in their talk and are not afraid of uncomfortable topics.

The book by Liv Ullman was a wonderful read. Where I was tickled in the beginning by the fact that she wrote about her famous parents, her mother is actor Linn Ullman and her father was director Ingmar Bergman, it soon became much more. It’s about a child trying to find her place in the world when both her parents are larger than life, and when she does finally find her own footing it starts slipping away again with her fathers aging. Well-written in an airy way as part of the book is transcripts of the recorded conversations they had towards the end of his life, in the hope of a joint project.

Both Witt-Brattström and Ullman call their books “novels” although it is safe to assume that much is based on a true story. The expression roman à clef could probably be used but rarely is anymore. And labeling it as a memoir is tricky as libel-suits can follow and as I recall at least two scandals from the last few years about books label as memoirs that had the percentage of truth questioned (James Frey and that book called “Running with scissors”) I imagine people are shy of that too. And as Bergman has passed away and cannot comment it wouldn’t be fair I guess. But fiction can be a place to explore ideas and say things that are true though not necessarily facts if that makes any sense (not a new insight that last bit admittedly).

The third book in this stack is De polyglotta älskarna by Lina Wolff that got the August-prize last year, and even though I’m only halfway through I understand why. Such characters and great writing. It’s mad up of three short stories that together form an arc on the theme of love and relationships. I’m very much enjoying it.

-Suss

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Falling out of love

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I’ve read a lot of books recently, but two of them struck me as having a common theme; the unseen work done by the  partner of a genius.

I had seen Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff all over The Gram and as opinion was divided I decided to read it to make up my own mind. When I posted about it on IG a fair few did say they felt “meh” about it actually but I guess strong opinions are more often shared then being lukewarm about a book.

In any case it is a story told in two parts; first from the perspective of Lotto, the rich man turned playwright phenomena and then from the view of his wife Mathilde; the foundation of his success. Without giving too much away I will say that he believes himself charmed and very able to stand on his own two legs to make it in the world. He does not recognize his privileged starting position or the work put in by the women around him which paves the way for his success. Mathilde obviously has her own story and it is one of hard work I tell you, some of which she is happy to do.

In the end I did like it, but with reservations, and enjoyed the book, it was a compelling read. Some of the sentences are heavily ornate in an effort to impress it seems, it’s very American in many ways (that’s a description not a judgement by the way but it does create distance) and as much as I appreciated the idea of it I wasn’t totally convinced. Worth reading but I’m not sure why people are raving about it.

I did however think about it a lot in the book I read after; Århundradets kärlekskrig by Ebba Witt-Brattström. The titel roughly translates to The love war of the century and it’s the story of a divorce, in the form of a novel in verse. It’s a “He said” “She said” type of thing.  I shook my head as the same formulations as in Fates and Furies that turned up. This novel came about after a very public divorce between two of Sweden’s leading intellectuals. Theirs was a charmed marriage. The image was very much one of the Antonia Frasier and Harold Painter-esque variety(which is kind of  #relationshipgoals) but if this novel is any indication it was far from it. Once again we have a woman that decided to be “the good wife” and support her husband so he can be a genius without worldly worries. And for that she gets slapped in the face. The things we do for love always come back to haunt us, and we pay for them dearly. In some relations to compromise is to be weak, and being understanding is a one way street.

This book is raw, and the fact that it’s in in verse (albeit not rhymed) just underlines the brutality. It’s interspersed with many a literary reference, old and new. A feminist statement and a very good one. It is an hommage à Märta Tikkanen and August Strindberg. I did read Tikkanen earlier this year in anticipation of reading this book and I will read Strindberg any day now. Any day.

However what I started to think about was this; do we revert to these stereotypes because such  is mankind, or do break-ups often follow this pattern because that’s what we are told and shown that a divorce looks like? I saw a play the other year in which the women of the relationship tried to also be an “art monster”(phrase borrowed from Jenny Offills’  The department of speculation) and not managing. Fraser and Pinter seemed to have had a relationships of equals but then money, and already established careers, make everything easier. As we, hopefully, move towards a more gender-equal society what will be the nature of falling out of love? Will we revert to the same behaviour or has feminism shown us another way? Love hurts, and a lack love, or love turned into hate, hurts even more. As much as we ridicule Gwyneth Paltrow for the whole unconscious un-coupling thing, it does seem better then throwing dirt at each other and each other’s friends in public. That said Chris Martin might be penning a “tell-all” as I write this.

Moral of this post? I need to reread Pride and Prejudice to regain my faith in love that’s what.

Vaguely related;

Must you go? by Antonia Fraser

-Suss