Never In Sweden – Our first case study: The time has come to introduce my readers (actually, there are none) to my first “Never In Sweden” case study. On August 22, the Swedish book reviewer Jonas Thente reviewed Thomas Pynchon’s newest novel Inherent Vice and continued commenting in his blog. Thente’s opening lines in the blog had not directly to do with this novel but rather with the hypothesis that “Never in Sweden” could one find a Swedish author who could bring off what this American author had succeeded in doing.
Thente’s words in my translation (see www.dn.se for the original): “There are disadvantages associated with reading novels like Thomas Pynchon’s most recent, Inherent Vice. In any case if one lives and works in Sweden. Why is it that no Swedish author can manage to combine societal analysis with such sharp and consistent burlesque? The Swedish “cottage” (a reference to a Swedish concept – folkhemmet) feels all too confining to me after (reading) a novel such as Pynchon’s – or those by so many other international authors.”
You, the American or Brit who reads this might well conclude that such an incident is, as the Brits say, “a one off” event, of little interest and implying nothing. Not so within an “Only In Sweden” context since the Swedish literary establishment with self-designated leader former Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy (Nobel Prize in Literature) Horace Engdahl will very likely – if privately – remove the name Thente from his list of acceptable reviewers. Given Engdahl’s contempt for American authors, for Thente to have the temerity to suggest that an American author deserves the attention of the Swedish reader, who unlike the American, has no interest in fiction written under the influence of mass culture, is a cardinal sin.
By an odd twist of fate, Thente has during the same week landed in the middle of the kind of literary (?) debate that is an “Only in Sweden” phenomenon. To that I will return if as few as one single angry Swede visits my blog. In that case, you will learn more about Horace E., även på svenska.