Eyvind Johnson – Drömmar om rosor och eld

Title: Drömmar om rosor och eld
English title: Dreams of Roses and Fire
Author: Eyvind Johnson
Year: 1949

In Drömmor om rosor och eld (English title: Dreams of Roses and Fire), Nobel Prize winner Eyvind Johnson tells a tragic story of Urbain Grainier, a priest whose charismatic personality divides the city of Loudon in two halves, those who admire and love him, and those who envy and despise him. The latter group intends to bring about his downfall by accusing him of witchcraft and of being allied to Satan. The atmosphere is this novel’s strongest point. The paranoia and fear mixed with everyday problems and worries blends nicely into a credible picture of early 1600 France.

Another merit is the author’s technique of telling the story in many different ways using many separate narrators. This makes the picture more complete and the feeling of realism is further highlighted. Unfortunately, this dwelling on everyday matters tend to be long-winded at times, occasionally outright dull, spending much energy describing characters or events that hardly matter and that only have vague bearing on the story at large.

However, as is the case with most Nobel Prize winners, the language is good, even brilliant at times. Occasionally, I stop to admire a sentence, a nice linking of chapters or events. There was some controversy concerning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1974, when Harry Martinson shared the prize with Eyvind Johnson, because both of them where on the panel deciding who should receive the prize. Considering that Graham Greene was a favoured candidate, I can only say that I think it is pretty clear who is the best author (knowing that one novel is not enough to assess either Johnson’s or Martinson’s qualities, I write this to exalt Graham Greene).

On the whole, though, the good things about narration and language are not enough to make up for the shortcomings described above. Drömmar om rosor och eld is worthwhile because of the language and skilfull execution, but the dullness of some chapters reduces the lustre. I shall consider reading something else by Eyvind Johnson, preferably something shorter and more to the point.

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