Nordisk Books is a small independent publisher specialising in Nordic literature – trying to demonstrate that there is literary life beyond Scandi crime fiction (fun though that may be). When I heard about the launch of this book by Swedish professor of literature and feminist Ebba Witt-Brattström at Hatchards, in a translation by Kate Lambert, I just had to join in.
It is the story of the breakdown of a marriage, and it is stripped to the bare minimum: the dialogue between spouses, in short lines somewhere between prose and poetry. Prosaic verse maybe (prosaic subject, verse-like lines, the pithy a-ha moments of poetry). He said/she said alternate here, often talking past each other, not listening to each other or misunderstanding. It is based upon the author’s own acrimonious divorce, but also on her examination of feminist literature. There are so many elements there which are universal, and will sound very familiar to anyone who has ever been in a relationship with the opposite sex.
Everything I lived for
lies burning around me.
Piles of smoking ash
wherever I look.
but I don’t want therapy
only to live normally
the way I am
with my vanity
or whatever you want to call it.
If you don’t want to
be with me on the ride
any more what can I do?
I am not re-education material
not for my sake
or for anyone else’s.
This dance to the death between the couple, advancing and retreating, challenging and posing, blaming and defending, is like a complicated and furious paso doble. The dark humour of recognition is present – all the women in the audience laughed at certain phrases – but it is also quite visceral and damning, so much so that you need to stop and take a deep breath every now and then.
With this level of intensity, I was expecting Ebba to be loud and dour, but she was delightful: funny, thoughtful and feisty. And when I went to her with the book to be signed, she very sweetly wrote ‘with sisterly good luck’ when I explained the parallels to my own situation. The translator also said she found it hugely relatable but also quite painful to translate. Initially, Ebba said she had written it as a more conventional novel, but then she realised that the real ‘juicy bits’ were in the dialogue, so she left the bare bones or skeleton of the novel.
There were a few brave men who attended the event (and the publisher Duncan Lewis is a man too, so bravo to him for uncovering this book and getting it translated), but I wonder what men make of it when they read it. I hope younger men will be inspired by it to NOT become like their fathers, to learn a different way of relating to women. Anyway, it inspired me to come up with this poem:
Stone Age But Effective
The words chiselled, honed over time,
first the blunt Acheulian handaxe to thrust home the proof.
The flint-knapping tools bring to pin-point precision
an arrowhead bordered by microlith flakes
aimed precisely to inflict maximum organ damage
and blood loss. Yet he kills not just through calculation
but also with thoughtless, sloughing off scales,
absent-mindedly fondling her last open lesion
before driving home anew the blade.
9 thoughts on “Book Launch: Love/War by Ebba Witt-Brattström”
Your poem is chilling, Marina Sofia. A ghost from my past hissed as I read it…
Sorry… That was certainly the effect that Ebba’s book seemed to have on everyone present.
Oh, that poem is powerful, Marina Sofia! Really powerful. And I can see the connection between it and the novel (for which, thanks for sharing). It sounds like an uncompromising look at the end of a marriage and a couple’s failed attempts to do anything about it. Interesting change from Scandi crime….
Indeed, quite a change from Scandi crime! But interesting that it should come from one of the Nordic countries, where we believe that gender equality is far more advanced.
Wonderfully powerful words, Marina – and obviously not for the faint hearted of either gender…
That book shop looks lovely and the book sounds so powerful.
So does your response to it.
IS it all like this? I was thinking I’d like it, but if the entire book is written like this, it would drive me crazy
I had some reservations when I saw it initially, but actually it was really easy and fast to read. I can see why it works as a play and an opera.