First published in Sweden in 1993, translated in 2002 to great acclaim in France, where it received the Prix Littéraire de la Bordelaise de Lunetterie, and now finally available in English in a radiant and limpid translation by the author himself, this novel immediately establishes its creator as one of the luminaries of contemporary gay literature.
A short novel with only six main characters, its richness teases the reader’s mind long after closing its covers. The book is definitely a keeper.
It is a detective story. What led to the death of the protagonist’s brother, Paul, a little over two years before the teenage narrator was even born? Why was Paul standing on the railroad track that fatal day, and why didn’t he hear the train?
Seeking answers leads Jonas Lundberg to search Paul’s belongings, now stored in the attic, to ask questions of his parents and of Daniel, a family friend whom the father, for some reason, disapproves of, and to hunt for the missing diaries his brother kept.
Discovering that his brother had a whole secret relationship that Daniel was privy to, Jonas visits the newspaper morgue, there to discover that his brother himself had unknowingly — and perhaps tragically for him — been misled by his misreading of a situation, a strange kind of red herring. “It’s just like Sherlock Holmes,” one of the characters says.
Yet the novel is more than a detective story. It is a psychological study of the grief and the void that come into existence when a family loses a member, of the sense of guilt that the survivors feel when the death was perhaps a suicide. It is more than anything a coming of age story.
As Jonas pursues the truth about his gay brother, he is laying in store information that will undoubtedly prove crucial to uncovering truths about himself. In the course of his investigation he encounters an unknown language (Czech, he eventually discovers). Just as he must learn to decipher words in it, so must he learn to decipher himself and the world he lives in.
As the plot progresses to a final revelation and a resolution of tensions, it moves in a direction the reader probably does not anticipate. As in life, a central enigma remains. Yet it is difficult to imagine a more satisfying ending. For the protagonist gains a sense of epiphany, a moment of tenderness that may ultimately serve as the beginning of a tenuous bridge between the teenager and the father he has never felt close to.
The title of the novel actually has a double meaning, as the reader will discover, but having partly laid to rest the ghost of the dead brother, this brother can meet life free of his shadowy presence: “A soft breeze was stirring the white curtain in front of the open balcony-door. The light and shadow were reflected in the glass on my brother’s picture, bringing him to life. He was looking at me, and he was smiling.”
Due out this fall, Lindquist’s third novel, On Collecting Stamps (2003), will be his second in English. Thinking how his first novel took eighteen years and the second some eight to find English editions makes one wonder how many other European gems await translation. (I find it disturbing, for example, to realize that only two of the Dutch writer Gerard Reve’s novels are in English, neither of them his psychological thriller The Fourth Man or his sexual comedy Dear Boys, despite their successful adaptation to the screen.) It leaves one all the more grateful to have this present volume appear seemingly out of nowhere with the promise of more works to come.