A literary memoir by the Swedish author, a man who lives on an island and collects flies, reflecting on the significance of his obsession.
Both an entomologist and a literary critic, Sjöberg blurs the border between these two vocations while exploring plenty of other territory as well. “Here and there, my story is about something else,” he admits. “Exactly what, I don’t know.” Readers will share his uncertainty, as he proceeds like one of his beloved hoverflies, flitting from his experiences on an island east of Stockholm to his meditations on time, concentration, and the language of geography to his literary appreciations of D.H. Lawrence, Milan Kundera, and Bruce Chatwin to his investigations into the life of an obscure naturalist–turned–art collector. The author recognizes that devoting his life to flies might not have the romantic resonance with readers that butterflies would, but he finds himself within a realm where “everything flies, absolutely everything,” a world that can be read as “a thousand commentaries. An entire apparatus of footnotes.” Most of the book takes place within the mind of the author—the connections he makes and the implications he finds—though sometimes he ventures out to provide naturalistic detail of his life on the island or historical inquiry into the lives of entomologists with whom he seems to be having more of a conversation than with any of his living contemporaries. In a rare encounter with another human, who asks what he is doing and why, he reflects, “It is at such moments that the entomologist becomes a story-teller. He is prepared to do almost anything to get someone to listen and perhaps understand. He is prepared to use any ruse or artifice to avoid being the only one who sees.”
In sharing the experience of solitude and reflection, Sjöberg invites readers to see through his eyes, in language that is often poetic, sometimes inscrutable.