Sunday, 10 February 2013

Siri by Lena Einhorn

I'm more than a little obsessed with August Strindberg so when my sister brought me this Swedish book about his first and most famous wife, Siri von Essen, I was delighted.

Lena Einhorn is a well respected non-fiction writer in Sweden, but this book about the famous Swedish playwright's wife, is her first novel. In the acknowledgements, Einhorn reveals that the book started out as a non-fiction title. In my opinion, that's how it should have stayed.

Because, although I highly enjoyed reading a different - and engagingly written - account of the highly passionate and tumultuous (and much documented) marriage between August and Siri, the book at times didn't seem a novel at all. On many occasions Einhorn returns to a non-ficton style.

Firstly, she often finishes a chapter with telling us what is to come, "Två gånger skulle Betty von Essen komma att avgöra sin dotters öde, båda gångerna i helt motsatt riktning mot vad hon avsett. Detta var den första." Page 110. In English, "Betty von Essen would decide her daughter's fate twice, both times in a totally opposite direction of what she'd planned to. This was the first occasion"

Einhorn has similarly a habit of beginning of chapter with a brief one-sentence summary of what is to come - a practise quite at home in no-ficton or academic papers, but very frustrating in a novel.

Thirdly, there are several places where Einhorn takes issue with Siri's actions in a direct comment on how her life was lead. Again, this shows that she is more used to writing a non-fiction book.

All these small irritants could easily have been removed by good editing.

Having said all of the above, I loved reading about Siri, and her amazing life. At a time (end of 19th century) when most women were happy just to have married well, Siri's ambitions to become not only a famous actress, but an independent woman, have to be admired. Her relationship with Strindberg was at times obviously unbearable, heart-breaking and even dangerous, but all throughout Siri seemed to have kept her head - while making sure her children were OK.

A great deal of research had obviously gone into writing this novel, if only Einhorn had kept it as a non-fiction book, I would have been raving about it.

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