Bruit on the Baltic
Johansson in Sweden, Delerm Dines On in France, and Noll Gets Warped in Germany
A “determinedly girls-eye view of events” has captivated Sweden this month, as the third and final volume in 70-year-old Swedish writer Elsie Johansson’s trilogy hits the stands with what’s been praised as “an unusual kind of bildungsroman.” The new one, Nancy, is the latest installment in the emotionally charged story of young Nancy Petersson’s childhood in rural Uppland, following the tumultuous events in the wake of her father’s death. Exchanging pastoral village life for “a dingy little backstreet flat” in Uppsala during wartime rationing, Nancy and her mother delve into the town’s proletarian dross. Drudgery at a job sorting mail in the post office is only exacerbated when mom up and moves in with a “friendly butcher” she’s met at work. The earlier volumes in the trilogy — all of which are standalone works — were the highly acclaimed 1996 title Glassbirds (which opens with the discovery of a strange suitcase under an attic staircase) and 1999’s Wild Flower (about Nancy’s later teenage years, which involve heartthrob Lars). Some 60,000 copies of the new one have been sold since its January publication; together the trilogy is up to some 350,000 copies to date. Rights to all three books in the series have been sold to Gyldendal in Denmark, and we’re told a deal is pending in Germany. See agent Linda Michaels.
Meanwhile in Sweden, Joakim Pirinen has checked in with an “absolutely mad, dada-ish, and very talented” prose debut called The Swedish Monkey, which takes off to hilarious points unknown (“A challenge for a translator!” was all our source could report at press time), and clearly incorporates the zany gestalt of the young writer’s well-known comics. Pirinen has also been known for his radio drama writing. A first printing of 7,500 copies is going fast, with no foreign deals reported as yet; see Ordfront for rights. And finally in Sweden, a note of congratulations to Gao Xingjian, whose books continue to rise up the list.
A brief word in from Holland, which sees bestselling author Ronald Giphart return to the list with the 1992 novel I Love You Too (we’re told the book is hot again due to a related film release). The politically active, thirtysomething author is said to be “a great hero for young writers in Holland,” and more gala parties appear to be in the offing: his 1996 novel Phileine Zegt Sorry is reportedly under contract with the Oscar-winning production team of Antonia’s Line, which was directed by Dutch filmmaker Marleen Gorris.
On the subject of films, all of France has been howling over Pierre Pelot’s The Wolves’ Pact, which is based on a mega-blockbuster movie, apparently one of the biggest productions in the history of French cinema. Briefly, at the end of the 18th century, the Chevalier de Fronsac and his American-Indian blood brother Mani are sent to the province of Gévaudan to inquire about an “unknown creature.” It turns out not to be a wolf per se, but something “far beyond reason.” The upshot is “a detective novel, a love story, a fantasy, with the tremendous rhythm of an action movie, all rolled into one!” No foreign sales have been reported as yet; see the French Publishers’ Agency for rights. Also on the list in France, Philippe Delerm dines on in the tradition of his 1999 collection We Could Almost Eat Outside, and has just published Siesta Assassination, a series of 40 short evocative texts (“as delicious as ever,” says his publisher) that meditate on life’s small dramas, “those brief moments when your perfect happiness is suddenly invaded.” The 1999 work was published in 30 languages (including a Picador edition in English) and Gallimard expects the same or better of this book. The new one has already sold 170,000 copies in France; see the FPA.
In Italy, Susanna Tamaro has rocketed to the top of the list with Answer Me, in which an elderly Italian woman writes a letter of confession and advice to her granddaughter, who is estranged and living in America. Tamaro gained wide exposure in 1996 with her debut novel Follow Your Heart, which sold millions of copies in Italy alone. A second novel, Anima Mundi, which investigated communist prisons for Italians in Yugoslavia after World War II, sold 400,000 copies in 1997 (and was savaged by Italian critics as “a storehouse of clichés”; the author retorted that her anti-communism was at issue, and not her prose). In any case, despite taking a few knocks, Tamaro has remained staunchly in favor of keeping her particular brand of sentimentality in the arts: she once lamented that too many artists today have “a limited horizon that goes from the umbilicus to the feet, and this is very sad.”
Meanwhile, the diabolical Ingrid Noll is back in action in Germany, where Blissful Widow has landed at #8, giving readers another go at Noll’s knack for “the Eurocrime novel that focuses on the internal lives of its characters rather than fast-paced action.” Noll’s earlier mysteries have been praised for the deftness with which her collection of seemingly unsympathetic characters lures readers into the author’s unabashedly “warped sense of reality.” In Hell Hath No Fury, for example, Noll details the angst-ridden fallout when “a strait-laced spinster on the wrong side of middle age tumbles head over heels in love with a family man.” The grim but riveting work highlights, as one reviewer put it, “the futility and total desolation of a relationship where each is using the other for their own ends.” Read at your own risk. Noll was born in Shanghai in 1935; her novel The Evening Breeze is Cold had a first run of 100,000 copies. HarperCollins UK published Noll’s first three titles, but not the subsequent two books, so be advised that the search is on for a new English publisher, according to Hedwig Janes at Diogenes, which controls rights.
Lastly, Catherine Clement’s novel Theo’s Odyssey has wandered all the way to Brazil, and hits the charts there at #8 (having stopped off along the way to be published in the US in 1999 by Arcade — it was originally in French). The work, some may recall, chronicles a 14-year-old boy who is diagnosed with a mysterious and terminal tropical illness, and embarks upon a world tour of religious sites with his wise Aunt Martha, who impresses upon him the metaphysical subtleties of the world’s spiritual traditions. Comparisons to certain other bestselling juggernauts were coming fast and furious upon the book’s publication, though one reviewer opined: “Teenagers don’t act like that. This book almost doesn’t deserve to be compared to Sophie’s World.” Others, however, dubbed it a “perky pilgrim’s progress.”