Lars Gustafsson’s remarkable book shows the reclusive, deeply introspective, last few months of a former teacher turned beekeeper. Aged around 40, the main character’s thoughts are share through snippets of writing supposedly found after his death. A sad part of this is that the death may not have had to occur, had the man pursued treatment options. But he does not open the letter he receives from the hospital after undergoing diagnostic tests. It takes the right to choose one’s life to an extreme.
This book uses the device of the “found notebooks.” There are two ways in which the narrator’s presence is shared. One is the prelude, where he (sorry for the choice of pronoun here) presents the main character. The last sentence of the prelude says “The voice which you are going to hear is his, not mine, and therefore at this point I take my leave of you.” (p. 2) The next section is an “inventory of sources”, i.e. the list and description of the found notebooks.
The rest of the book consists of excerpts from these notebooks, where the silent presence of the narrator is felt through the choice of what is presented. There are no overt comments on the excerpts from the notebooks.
The notes are about his youth, friends and youthful adventures, his studies, his girls, his former wife, a lover, his bees, the nature that surrounds him, his illness and the pain.
Kind readers. Strange readers. We begin again. We never give up. It is early spring 1975, the story begins in the middle of the thaw. The location is North Västmanland. (p.1)
And then suddenly it peed right on my hand. I believe that is an experience not many people have had. The pee of a frog is ice-cold. (p. 7-8)
But is there a kind of lumbago that hurts so damned much that you taste blood? (p. 13)
Proletarians of pain, unite! (p. 16)
There are dull pains, stabbing pains, and burning pains. (p. 22)
What is the maximum distance from which you can love a human being? Answer: less than a millimeter. And without a name. (p. 31)
Paradise opens up interesting problems. What is an infinitely continuous state of happiness? (p. 104)
The unpleasant similarity between pain and lust. Both consume one’s total attention, one sees nothing else anymore. (p. 151)
Well, actually, I do like most of the book… I am looking forward to my husband reading it to see what he thinks of it. We rarely like the same books. He’s likely to say something like we can count on the Swedes to be depressing… phhhh… He’s reading Pippi Longstocking right now and he is not really impressed, but at least that is a cheerful book.
Gustafsson, Lars. The Death of a Beekeeper. New Directions Book. 1981 .