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On Dockskåpet

[Just mov­ing some of my longer book reviews here from else­where. This one was ori­gin­ally pos­ted on 18 jun 2014.]

Now and again I read these Scand­inavian books that make want to be a trans­lator. It’s oppor­tun­istic, I know, to only want to trans­late those rare books that really get at you. Pro­fes­sional trans­lat­ors have to take most of the com­mis­sions they get, regard­less of whether a work is to their taste. Regard­less, some stor­ies I just want to share, and per­haps I’ll trans­late some of them some day any­way.

Tove Jans­son’s col­lec­tion Dock­skå­pet (The Doll’s House) has a num­ber of such gems. Most of them are char­ac­ter sketches, between ten and twenty pages. Domestic troubles, strange obses­sions. A novel or story col­lec­tion can itself be a kind of tex­tual doll’s house, with little rooms of drama and tiny fur­niture.

The two tales that struck me most have a bit of that Jans­son flair that is some­where between real­ism, magical real­ism, and sym­bol­ism. Des­pite being a fantasy series about trolls, Jans­son’s Moomin nov­els are firmly groun­ded in that same place, where the famil­iar and the mys­tical are always shoulder to shoulder.

The first tale I want to men­tion is the tit­u­lar story, which focuses on three men (Alex­an­der, Erik, and Boy) and the con­struc­tion of a huge doll’s house inside Erik and Alex­an­der’s kit­chen. The doll’s house is Alex­an­der’s pro­ject, and it occu­pies him com­pletely. Erik is less taken with the pro­ject, as it takes over large parts of their liv­ing space and time. Even­tu­ally, Boy, a friend of theirs, comes into play, and he helps Alex­an­der with the con­struc­tion.

It is never expli­citly stated, but there is some­thing of a homo­sexual love tri­angle in the air, and in the story’s cli­max Erik and Boy come head to head in what feels most like a rela­tion­ship con­flict, of course staged around the fin­ished doll’s house. At the same time, the doll’s house itself is a major player, with its power sys­tem, many rooms, and func­tion­ing light­house on top. A doll’s house in one of the rooms of a story that is itself one of the rooms inside a fic­tional doll’s house.

The other story that really spoke to me was “White Lady”, which is about three sis­ters almost in their six­ties who visit a res­taur­ant on a tiny island in the middle of the sea. Again, the piece is real­ist in the strict sense, but there is a strong air of the lim­inal sur­round­ing it all. The ladies remin­isce about old times, about aging, about movies they have seen, old loves. They dance with the small group of young people who are the only other guests in the unique res­taur­ant. The fog rolls in. They wait for the fer­ry­man to take them back.

Appar­ently there is an Eng­lish trans­la­tion of the col­lec­tion, so if you can’t read Swedish, it might be worth look­ing for, though I expect it may be hard to find. If so, per­haps it would be worth giv­ing one or two of these tales a shot myself. Some day.