Portraits in miniature

Issue 3/2006 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Susanne Ringell is an actress who never learned to enjoy the limelight. After ten years on stage she left it in order to concentrate on writing. She made her debut in 1993 with short stories, but by then she had already aroused attention with plays for stage and radio. She has also continued to write drama. It is hard to say what role her years in the theatre have played, but it does at least look as though the profession has left its mark in two important ways.

One is a close connection with the spoken word, which expresses itself as a sure sense for dialogue, but also as a strong interest in linguistic idioms. Worn-out phrases permeate the often slightly absurd scenes that are served up, and in Ringell’s work they seem to be just as much a source of inspiration as a means of expression.

The other is a strong emphasis on the body and bodily sensation – or on the concrete in general. The portrayal of the body’s function as memory and ‘the brain’s outermost membrane’ is a particular feature of Åtta kroppar (‘Eight bodies’, Söderströms, 1998), but in other books, too, the emphasis is there on some level, as motif or metaphor. The body’s language and bodily sensation are also an important element in the play between rational and irrational which gives Ringell’s prose much of its characteristic colour.

Next to drama, it is short fiction that has become Ringell’s speciality. Her only novel, Katt begraven (‘Cat buried’, 2003) is characteristically made up of short prose pieces. She first tries out the form in Vara sten (‘Being a stone’, 1996), where a stone in a field is allowed to comment on the way of the world – a field that then gradually becomes the square in a shopping centre. The encounter between town and country is a recurring theme in Ringell’s work.

With Av blygsel blev Adele fet (‘It was embarrassment that made Adele fat’, 2000) Ringell found a congenial motif for her personal kind of short fiction, The book is a collection of entertaining and many-layered mini-stories, portraits which in their pointedness are at once recognisable and highly original. En god havanna (‘A good Havana’, 2006) is formally and thematically linked to Adele, but is a more ramified whole which among other things makes more room for Ringell’s playfulness. In addition to the personal portraits – this time of the alter ego’s strange relatives – we find reflections of various kinds, portrayals of situation and environment, as well as more meditative prose poems.

The starting point is frequently people’s peculiarities, attitudes and fixed ideas, which the author likes to wind up in the direction of the burlesque. Here people are equal to the so-called little folk, ‘wild and threatened with extinction’, ‘workers and peasants’, who ‘don’t form part of any community other than their own’.

Ringell portrays the personalities and destinies of these individuals with what could be called sympathetic irony. There is both melancholy and gravity between the lines that brings to mind the Swedish author August Strindberg’s way of looking at wretched humanity ‘it’s a pity about human beings’ but certainly without any superior attitude. It’s all more about a kind of admiration for these perverse but lovable idiots who stubbornly go on having ideas of their own.

Tags: