Book Launch: Love/War by Ebba Witt-Brattström

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.

Three wonderful women to present: moderator, author, translator.

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.

She said:
Everything I lived for
believed in
wanted
loved
lies burning around me.
Piles of smoking ash
wherever I look.

He said:
Sorry
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.

Veronicelloidea

The snakes are writhing, they thrill

to the sound of you calling out ‘darling’

and ‘baby’, words you no longer mean.

They sluice the bogwater flooding

the ditch between us. They glide

on silted escape routes. By mid-morning

they made their way across

the path and slimed our wall: a slash

of colour on our grey, a purple bruise

of Botoxed lip. Our bodies oozing

slush, I step into the naked squelch

of their needs. Salt the wounds.

The quiet assassination.

The bystanders of our rot.

Veronicelloidea is a superfamily of air-breathing land slugs. Salt kills slugs by dehydrating them rapidly.

I am linking this up to my favourite poetry site dVerse Poets Pub, which is back with renewed va-va-voom after the summer break. Can you believe it’s the 200th edition of their Open Link Night?

Last Judgement

She sits in judgement like mayonnaise setting.

 

‘Mog!’ she utters with eyes of reckoning

slant with questions

dull with doubt

 

We held together

clung close and tearful

but the worlds we built

were arid

mouthfuls of discontent

 

Hereafter let dreamscapes guide you to perfection.

Let panoramas pulsate with fury

at the perils of being

One.

 

After all, the world ends not with a bang but a whimper… and so do many relationships.

I’m linking this to that wonderfully supportive group dVerse Poets Pub, which has become a much-loved second home for me on the web. The prompt was to write a poem in precisely 55 words. I only had to add the first line and this poem became just the right thing.