Darling River by Stridsberg
I have just spent the day with Stridsberg’s newest addition to Swedish contemporary literature, Darling River.
Make no mistake, this is no fuddy duddy, school girl crush, chic-lit reading, as the Danish cover might have you believe (and this is not a critique of the cover at all, I love it for the very reason it plays with childishness and pink, blurry tones). This is hard core abandonment, wrapped in sexual frustration, topped with a language that crashes into the reader’s imagination, leaving it sore and a little less happy. Yet again (as with Drömfakulteten) Stridsberg’s language and composition is thorough and crisp. The novels’ subtitle is ‘Variations of Dolores’, and is both an homage to Nabokov’s Lolita (Stridsberg’s point of inspiration) and a variety of females in different acts of life – mother, child, animal, used, abused, terminated, dead. She has divided the novel into five main sections: Destiny, Time, The Mirror, The Sickness, The Loneliness, and within these, different variations of Dolores try to survive and search for some remote sign of intimacy.
Dolores (or Lo) and her father spend their nights driving around in his Jaguar, him looking for prostitutes, her going off with full grown men down by Darling River, both of them trying to fill the void Dolores’ mother left when she packed her white suitcases and left a stranger, a house where she can find nothing, and her child. He feeds Lo sweets, cigarettes and alcohol and waits in the distance for her to complete her ‘business’ with men she calls brothers, whom she feels empathy towards because they try to buy absolution with undersized dresses and tears. She lives of the affection they give her in return for her body, and when her body changes, their visits lessen until one day there is no one left but her father. This child, that never was a child and never could grow out of being a child, is left sick, overeating on sweets, and lacking the one thing she has craved more than anything.
The novel is brutal to say the least, and it is not just from the obvious fact that we are dealing with a child who is being abused, who lives a distorted child’s life, and has lost all contact with reality, but also because reality itself seems to be a misplaced term. The language performs in a way to conjure up an image of distortion. My schematized reading has been put to a test as these characters fade in and out of each other. I have to be honest, some of the times it doesn’t seem to matter if I am reading about one Dolores or another, it is the language, the pictures it invokes, that touches me. Nature and woman is bleeding, everything is pus and sickly, and it translates onto the pages and punches you in the face.
It is worth your while.