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.
I had some good news today.
Sara Stridsberg is out with a new book called ‘Darling River’, published in Sweden in early 2010 and just translated to Danish pending appearance on August 20th. I, however, (sorry Danish publishers and bookstores) will shoot my future career in the foot and buy it in Swedish and on the internet! My fingers were tingling just by the thought of this book as I was reading an interview with the author in Weekendavisen’s book section. And at one point Stridsberg explains her writing process and I knew just what she meant, only with me it’s in regard to my reading process.
When I am writing on a novel I always have the feeling of being away in a dream for a couple of years and afterwards I almost can’t remember it.
The thing with dreams is (as Mr. DiCaprio says in the movie Inception, which I went to see the other day btw) you are just there in the middle of the dream, all of a sudden. And as with dreams, literature, for me, behaves in a similar fashion. I couldn’t tell you how it started, I can’t remember every detail, there is often just the feeling afterwards of having felt something, which in reality is really blurry, and I really have to concentrate if I want to recollect details. But the bigger picture is so much more colorful and vibrant.
I read Sara Stridsberg’s ‘Drömfakulteten’ about two years ago, which is a “literary fantasy based upon Valerie Solanas” – the girl who shot Warhol – and I was blown away by the style in particular, but also the very gripping story that interlaced the pages. There is the factual person Valerie Solanas, and then there is Stridsberg’s fictional Valerie Solanas. What’s so great is that factual Solanas may have been the stepping stone for the fictional one, but neither is in the others’ debt. Imagine a spoon and a bowl of water; you dunk the spoon in, making ripples in the water, and take a very little percentage of water out, drinking it and leaving the water disturbed, touched. With reading I feel like, on it’s own, the pages with signs on them are meaningless and still, but as soon as I read a page it is in my head, occupies my thoughts and forms my consciousness. Stridsberg has translated the SCUM-manifesto, written by Solanas, before writing ‘Drömfakulteten’, so it is a really interesting process to figure out how Stridsberg has read in between and on the lines to create her ”fictional” Solanas. The novel is raw and shifts between the past, present and thoughts of Solanas’, who carries herself with a sense of self-rightiousness of a radical political activist. At the same time it is also a very vulnerable and lonely novel. There is so much unresolved emotional baggage that dart out of the story and the pain is most explicit when Solanas is conversing with Silkboy, her companion and ally. It is a dark universe that sucks you in, and questions of sexuality, wronged and wrong are recurrent in the novel, forming a foundation for the pained individual.
If you read Danish and are interested in Stridsberg’s authorship, I would recommend this interview, which is to be found in Weekendavisen’s no. 32 – August 13 2010. And I would definitely recommend ‘Drömfakulteten’ (of course, if you like stream-of-consciousness styled literature, Valerie Solanas, sexual politics, the tormented individual, take your pick!)
I can’t wait to receive my copy of Darling River, but if anyone has read it out there, feel free to make your impression known here 🙂