Tag Archives: Stockholm

Red Room and Creepy Rooms

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True to an old habit I had started reading two books in parallel because they are related. Gentlemen by Klas Östergren (the author), tells the story of Klas Östergren (the character), a young writer with a complicated life who is working on a pastiche of Strindberg’s The Red Room.

This makes me regret no going to the Strindberg Museum while I was in Stockholm last May. It was just a block away from my hotel but since I was generally not in the vicinity of my hotel during museum opening hours, I missed it. Oh well, too bad.

To come back to Gentlemen, it is a long convoluted novel with many details linking to each other in unexpected ways… It you get to the end of the book and reread the beginning, some details may suddenly jump at you (oh my, did the author really mention this character so early on in the novel? Didn’t notice at the time…). At over 500 pages of small print, there is a lot of info scattered along the way.

I didn’t get very far ahead into The Red Room­. The rest of my life is pretty busy and there isn’t as much time available for reading. I’ve been busy planning for retirement though, trying to make time for more reading, among other things.

What I can see in common between both books at this point is the depiction of a life of young men who do not have regular work, who fancy themselves to be artists and devote their energy to both their art and their social life. I may yet be wrong about The Red Room­.

The first chapter of Gentlemen takes us close to the chronological end of the events of the book:

Presumably it’s a quiet spring raid that can be heard drizzling over Stockholm at the moment, in the Year of the Child, the election year of 1979. I see none of it, nor do I have any intention of taking a look. The curtains and drapes are closed tight in front of the windows facing Hornsgatan, and this apartment seems lugubrious, to say the least. It’s been days since I’ve seen any daylight, while outside all of Stockholm is probably walking around in the very last springtime delirium of the seventies, but I don’t give a damn.

Klas had met the Morgan brothers, owners of the apartment described above after his own place was burglarized. Henry Morgan, the oldest of the two brothers, extends his hospitality and Klas moves in with them. The book devotes quite a large middle section describing the lives of the brothers as well as the daily life Klas shares with them. In the end, both brothers disappear and Klas wakes up in the hospital from what could have been a bad fall or a beating. When he returns to the apartment, he shuts himself in, burns the manuscript of the pastiche of The Red Room.  When he returns to the apartment, he shuts himself in, burns the manuscript of the pastiche of The Red Room and proceeds to write the story of the brothers.

At the end, Henry’s long time lover shows up, and running through the apartment she had never previously visited, she opens all curtains to let in the light, but to illuminate what?

 

References:

Östergren, Klas. Gentlemen. MacAdam Cage, 2007.

Strindberg, August. The Red Room. Norvik Press, 2009. Originally published in 1879.

 

People who have done good job reviewing Gentlemen that I won’t compete with:

http://jim-murdoch.blogspot.ca/2009/06/gentlemen.html

http://bookblog.scandinavianbooks.com/gentlemen-by-klas-ostergren/

 

Being made into a film?

http://www.b-reel.com/featurefilms/films/gentlemen-gangsters/

 

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Retrouver un sens à la vie : Un hiver à Stockholm d’Agneta Pleijel

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Une femme quitte un homme et documente son cheminement durant les 100 jours suivants sa décision… Des réflexions percutantes sur les relations homme/femme, l’influence des relations des parents sur le développement de la capacité d’aimer de leurs enfants, la difficulté de rester soi-même face aux attentes des autres, le besoin de trouver un sens à la vie en dépit des difficultés et de la solitude profonde qui l’habite. Agneta Pleijel crée une série de vignettes dans un effet chatoyant qui s’est infiltré dans mon imaginaire et mes réflexions toute la semaine.

Ainsi que l’indique le titre du livre, les 100 jours se passent en hiver durant la période où les jours sont le plus courts en Suède. Comme plusieurs autres auteurs suédois, elle n’est pas tendre dans sa description de la ville de Stockholm. C’est un grand contraste avec les souvenirs ensoleillés que j’en ai. Elle dit :

Stockholm en novembre est indescriptible, un voilier de mort qui entre dans l’hiver.

Par contre, cela reflète aussi l’état d’esprit du personnage principal, qui se trouve à un point tournant de sa vie. Après avoir longtemps enduré une relation avec un homme qui ne l’apprécie pas et l’a trahi, elle le laisse et tente de trouver un sens à sa vie. Cette quête de sens passe par un « lâcher prise » radical.

Une chose importante, écrivait Cioran. Apprendre à être un perdant. Dès lors qu’on se sait perdant, la vie devient plus facile. On n’est plus obligé de donner le change.

Une rencontre au hasard d’un voyage d’affaire lui permet de renouer avec la découverte de l’autre :

Puis ils furent devant la porte qu’elle devait franchir sans retour, lui les mains dans les poches de sa veste en jean, elle sa carte d’embarquement à l a main. Ils ne se touchèrent pas. Ils ne s’embrassèrent pas. Il la dévisagea, son regard était nu. Ils se séparèrent, chacun partit de son côté.

Mais cette nouvelle relation n’est pas sans difficultés. La transition de la « vérité » au « malaise » est traduite par une description de la qualité du regard, qui passe de « nu » à « froid » :

Pendant ces trente secondes, elle eut le temps de baisser la tête, de la relever brusquement, de remarquer le reflet tremblant de la lampe dans la porte vitrée du balcon et de regarder l’homme dans le fauteuil jaune droit dans les yeux. Ses yeux étaient froids.

La quête de sens en est aussi une d’authenticité dans les relations.

Elle était jalouse de l’image des femmes qu’ont les hommes. Certains hommes. Elle voulait être autre chose qu’un simulacre.

Elle veut être appréciée pour elle-même et non seulement pour l’image que les hommes se font d’elle. La difficulté d’entrer en relation avec les autres que décrit le récit se reflète dans un langage dépouillé et des phrases courtes qui freinent le mouvement. Finalement, elle atteint un état de paix intérieur tout en étant consciente que ça ne durera pas toujours.  Le récit se termine avec une longue parenthèse qui décrit une dernière rencontre avec l’homme étranger.

A long, painful summer in Stockholm (in a short, interesting novel by Hjalmar Söderberg)

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Doctor Glas, a short novel by Hjalmar Söderberg, tells the story of three months in the life of a young Stockholm doctor. Interestingly enough, there is a Canadian connection here, as the introduction was written by Margaret Atwood.

Dr. Glas feels down because he has never had a woman in his life (he repeated laments that life has passed him by), and life suddenly gets more complicated when he decides to take steps to make one woman’s life happier. The women in question, Mrs. Gregorius, comes to him complaining about the unwanted sexual activities her husband imposes on her. Dr. Glas councels Mr. Gregorius, a old pastor which Margaret Atwood compares to a troll, to slow down on sex on account of some heart problems. This provides some temporary relief to poor Mrs. Gregorius. She happens to have a lover on the side but that is not that important in the end. What does happen in the end is that Dr. Glas murders the poor pastor in order to free Mrs. Gregorius. He never does really find out her fate following her husband’s demise.

The form that this novel takes is that of an intimate journal, one that the doctor is constantly afraid should be found since it contains incriminating evidence of his involvement in the pastor’s death.

In the Introduction, Margaret Atwood states that “The uproar around Doctor Glas stemmed from the perception that it was advocating abortion and euthanasia, and was perhaps even rationalizing murder.”

In the beginning of the book, Dr. Glas write the following in his journal:

Now I sit at my open window, writing – for whom? Not for any friend or mistress. Scarcely for myself, even. I do not read today what I wrote yesterday; nor shall I read this tomorrow. I write simply so my hand can move, my thoughts move of their own accord. I write to kill a sleepless hour. Why can’t I sleep? After all, I’ve committed no crime.

Certainly, this anticipates will comes later in the novel. A sense of alienation and a deep-seated loneliness, but also the committing of a crime. The sense of depression that settles on Dr. Glas in the end, brought on by comparison to the effect of autumn on nature, may lead to yet more irreversible decisions.

Reference:

Söderberg, Hjalmar, Doctor Glas, Anchor Books, New York, 1991. (originally published in Swedish in 1905)