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Lars Gustafsson

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Title: Bernard Foys tredje rockad
English title: Bernard Foy’s Third Castling
Author: Lars Gustafsson
Year: 1986

Bernard Foys tredje rockad (or Bernard Foy’s Third Castling, which is the name of the novel translated into English) is the second book I read by Lars Gustafsson (the first being Tennisspelarna) and something quite special. As we all know, the word “special” doesn’t necessarily denote something positive, but this novel is at least quite unique in that I’ve read nothing like it before. The idea is difficult to describe without spoiling the novel, but I’m going to do so anyway because I don’t think it’s worth the effort to read it anyway. If you disagree, please stop reading now and jump to the paragraph after the next one.

This is a novel within a novel within a novel within a novel (I think I got the counting right). The first part quite entertainingly tells the story of the rabbi Bernard Foy, who seemingly by accident becomes entangled in a smuggling plot, which in turn proves to be something much bigger. The second part tells the story of the author of the first novel, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and is having more and more serious problems with his memory. The third part is yet another story about the young outsider Bernard Foy, who is also writing a novel about… and so on. Of course, Lars Gustafsson himself is writing the novel himself, which gives it the final and fourth layer.

I will start with a few things I really like. As in Tennisspelarna, I like Gustafsson’s language and metaphors; his style feels innovative and makes a good attempt at making even the dullest content interesting. Here is a nice example from page 47, when Bernard Foy finds a mysterious note in an even more mysterious calendar:

Bernard Foy kunde inte neka sig nöjet att smacka med tungan, ungefär som botanikern, när han äntligen hittar en riktigt intressant giftsvamp på någon gammal fuktig trädstam på en varm udde i Lago di Como, eller samlaren, när han i djupet av en antikbod hittar en pärm med Ehrensvärds ungdomsteckningar. Endast hans religion avhöll honom från att säga “Det var som tusan”.

Thus, finishing the first part, I felt elated. Could this really be 450 pages of such niceties? Alas, no. The novel completely degenerates into something I probably wouldn’t recommend you to read even if you were paid to do it. The second part is very long, confused and contains way too many and way too long descriptions of things of no importance whatsoever. What was before an entertaining style becomes a nuisance, utterly removing the small remnant of joy one might have otherwise derived from the story itself. I was very close to stopping reading after about 300 pages. Gustafsson also starts juggling with sentences which seem to contain something, but at closer scrutiny are simply nonsensical. Here is an example from page 260:

Bernard var uppriktigt förvånad att han kunde välja ett så banalt vapen. Men kanske är det inte i grund och botten just banaliteten som gör våra fiender till fiender?

The third part is a lot better, but only partly manages to patch up what damage the second part did. On the whole, then, this book is very hard to rate. I would give it around four snails for the first part, two dead snails for the second and perhaps three for the last. Considering that the second part is easily the longest, an average would be something around one or two snails. Thus, one and a half snails to Bernard Foys tredje rockad will have to suffice. I’m gravely disappointed (I loved the Tennisplayers!), but I hope I can regain courage and read something more by the author later.

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Title: Tennisspelarna
English title: Tennisspelarna
Author: Lars Gustafsson
Year: 1977

As I have lamented from time to time, I read far too few books in Swedish. Since I will spend the summer in Sweden with access to both my own books and a lot of friends’ books, I think it’s a good idea to take the opportunity to read some Swedish. Lars Gustafsson’s Tennisspelarna (The Tennis Players) is a neat book depicting the author’s life in Austin, Texas more than twenty years ago. It focuses on tennis (to which he was addicted at the time), literature (he was teaching Scandinavian literature) and lots of other things that doesn’t easily fit into categories.

There are two reasons why this book is worth reading. First, Gustafsson is a master of balancing the various ingredients that make up the book. He spends exactly the right amount of time on any given part, nothing feels excessive, nothing feels to short. In other words, the book is precisely as long as it should be, which is very rare. Secondly, Gustafsson’s language is a pleasure to read, creating a cozy, homely feeling that is difficult to achieve. Even though there is no story to speak of, rather a series of related events, he still manages to keep my attention all the way.

Tennisspelarna is easy to read, it make me happy and the language is enjoyable. This is enough to merit four snails and guarantee that I’ll try to read more by the author later, perhaps even before summer is over. Why not more than four, then? This kind of literature doesn’t contain enough brilliance for that. Indeed, it’s pleasant to read, but it’s no masterpiece.

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