What a great way to start the New Year with another book by Per Olov Enquist. This one is autobiographical, although there has been some commentary on the web about where is the line between novel and biography… The author writes in the third person, but uses this to share very private thoughts and impressions. As a biography, it is short on precision of chronology and rather relies on perceptions of events and of the links between them to give an overview of his life. The author concentrates on elements of his life history that influenced his writing and his career: his childhood in the north of Sweden, his studies, his athletic career, health issues, failed marriages, professional successes and failures. There is relatively little information beyond the childhood years about his family life; his children make only brief appearances. At the same time there are incredibly detailed descriptions of certain things, in particular the practices of creation of Broadway hits and of the social environment in which this takes place.
The narration ends around 1990 when his manages to stop drinking and writes a new novel after years of low production linked to depression and alcoholism. The title refers to the fact that he has been given a second chance to continue living and writing and doing all the things he enjoys; a redemption of sorts.
Little is said of the following years besides the fact that he had not had a drop in 18 years (2008 at the time of publication of the Swedish-language edition). Given his productivity since then (The Visit of the Royal Physician, Book of Blanche and Mary, Lewi’s Journey, as far as novels are concerned, and certainly of lot more in other types of literary production), we may be permitted to expect a “biography volume 2” that really tells the rest of the story. Based on some quick searches on the web, I have found that his divorced his second wife (the one who supported him through the difficult mid-life years) in 1994.
A new book by P.O. Enquist is coming out in Sweden in March 2013, titled Liknelseboken, which according to Google translates as “Parable book”. I could not find any information about eventual translation in English or French. I’ve e-mail his usual French publisher to ask if there was any news on whether they would publish.
Enquist, Per Olov, Une autre vie. Actes Sud, 2010. (Swedish original published in 2008)