Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Bitter Bitch by Maria Sveland

This novel by the Swedish author, Maria Sveland, is to be published in English on 25 February 2010, but came out in Sweden in its original title, Bitterfittan, already in 2007.

According to The Bookseller, Constable and Robinson bought the rights to the book during the London Bookfair in April with 'a substantial five-figure sum'. It has sold over 200,000 copies in Sweden. The German translation sold 20,000 copies in its first three weeks after publication earlier this year.

The book tells a story of a frustrated journalist mother of one, Sara, who's overwhelmed by motherhood and finds herself growing more and more bitter.

The Swedish daily, Dagens Nyheter, called the book, 'A political novel about cohabitation and equality' and its English-language publishers, 'A wonderfully honest and open account of a woman querying the values of motherhood and family life.'

While reading it, I had to pinch and remind myself that this was 2009 and that women burning their bras had occurred a decade or three earlier. And that Sweden had been at the forefront of the feminist movement.

But I guess that's her point. Life between the sexes by now should be equal. Men should equally have to, not just take responsibility, but also feel the weight of responsibility we women do for our children. But, all the same, in a country where 20% of men actually take paternity leave and where women have the most equal opportunities at the workplace in the world, what you might say has she to complain about? That life is not perfect? Wow, that's a really revolutionary observation.

I felt sorry for the men in the book. I felt Sveland didn't go any deeper into any of the relationships she internally investigates, including her parents' unhappy marriage or the connection between couples she observes in Teneriffe, where she's gone alone for a week long holiday 'to sleep'. Everything that is wrong in the world is men's fault. And women are perfect in every way.

And she misses her young son, a fact she resents. In fact she resents motherhood.

But the biggest problem with Bitterfittan is a total lack of a plot. What we get instead is a memoir of how this thirty-year-old had got to where she is, a Bitter Bitch. There's always a problem with a narrator going back in her life, especially if we know her present situation, as this takes away any form of suspense. Instead the reader is asked to sit in on her internal journey from an angry young mother to...well I won't spoil the little in a way of a twist that the book provides.

The title of the of the novel in Swedish is much more offensive than its English translation. Sufficient to say that instead of 'Bitch', it includes a word beginning with 'C'. Could it be that this has something to do with the novel's popularity in Sweden and Germany?


Kitty Moore said...

Great review - is the C word acceptable in Sweden and Germany?!

Helena Halme said...

Kitty, although the Swedes use many swear words in normal, every day language, the c word is still the c word.