Hard to swallow

Issue 1/1995 | Archives online, Authors

An unusually powerful but economically achieved – one might almost say 
minimalist – stylisation of the tension 
between inner and outer is typical of 
the short stories of Kjell Lindblad (born 
1951).

Catastrophe is close
 – or has already taken place. The 
disasters take many forms, but they 
always have a dramatic effect, stopping 
the individual dead in his or her ordinary life. ‘Det finns inga hundar längre’
 (‘There are no more dogs’), a short story 
from his first collection, Före sömnen
 (‘Before sleep’), describes some post-
catastrophic state in which keeping 
dogs is forbidden. The reader is left to
 decide the logic and nature of the 
situation.

He will probably think of nuclear
 disaster; and that is indeed what has 
interested Lindblad. He edited a collec
tion of articles on the consequences of
 the Chernobyl disaster and on Finnish 
attitudes to nuclear power immediately 
after the event in 1986, contributing a
 fictive epilogue about a catastrophe in a
 Finnish nuclear power station. In a
 single day, Finland ceases to be a 
flourishing industrial country and turns 
into a panic-filled inferno.

The fragile borderline between the 
everyday and catastrophe is Lindblad’s
 literary leitmotif. He likes to describe 
that borderline through children, who
 are themselves fragile and at risk. It is 
an old trick, but Lindblad avoids
 moralistic and pathetic overtones by
 drastically regulating distance in his 
stories. He sites the narrative perspective in the consciousness of the child
 and allows the story to develop independently, without comment, through 
internal monologue. The events thus 
described at a distance become
 strangely cool.

This distancing technique is used to
 masterly effect in the short story ‘Ge
 dagen tillbaka’ (‘Give back the day’), in
 which a little brother’s tragic drowning 
is lived through as if in shock. This 
short story finds its echo in a story from
 Lindblad’s Resa runt solen
 (‘Journey round the sun’, 1994). The 
story’s title is simply ‘No’; it uses a
 similar narrative technique, which
s trengthens the motif, a variant of catastrophe, the sudden death of a
 brother.

The setting of Lindblad’s stories may 
be the conformity of a rented apartment
 or the sunny idyll of a summer holiday.
 Stories about adults are often set in 
closed rooms, where Lindblad’s narratives verge on claustrophobia; and if his 
child characters are sometimes uncertain of their identities, his adults always
 are. In Aftonbarn (‘Evening children’,
1991), so far Lindblad’s only novel, the 
bleak atmosphere of a rented apartment 
combines with the general coldness of 
an atmosphere that results from the 
substrate of reactions and fantasies of
 neglected children.

But summer paradises, too, have
 their dangers. In ‘The earth is a snow
ball’, it is not only the
 surrounding seawater that threatens to 
choke, to force itself into small childish 
lungs: the meat of the holiday restaurant is also hard to swallow. It is like an
 omen: the innocent summer camp
 environment of the beginning of the
s tory forces the sensitive reader to
 anticipate the more brutal events that 
are to come.

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