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Like the 1940 novel Stolen Spring, which first appeared in English translation in 1986, this earlier work by Danish writer Scherfig (1905-1979) is a wry blend of suspense and satire--rather bald and simplistic in its message (the stultifying rigidity of bourgeois society), yet briskly entertaining in a coolly ironic fashion. Two of the classmate-characters from Stolen Spring are now, decades later, adults of 46. . .and both have suddenly disappeared from their very different Copenhagen homes. Teodor Amsted--head clerk at the War Ministry, blandly devoted husband and father--vanishes mysteriously after receiving an enigmatic letter. Meanwhile, near-penniless Mikael Mogensen--a grimy yet ascetic hermit-intellectual--also drops from sight, after splurging (with cash of unknown origin) on a sort of farewell party. Is there a connection? It doesn't seem so--especially when Amsted's suicide note is found, along with remains of his watch and unrecognizably shattered mortal remains. (He apparently killed himself by filling pockets, hat, and mouth with dynamite.) But we soon learn, in the novel's teasing second section, that Amsted is alive, hiding out in a Danish farming village under a pseudonym. Why? Because, thanks to a lottery win and Mogensen's suicide, Amsted has seen a chance to begin a brand-new, less rigid life, ""to trying being free."" Sadly, however, his background and schooling haven't prepared him for freedom; he has no cultural sensibilities, no capacity for ""independent or rebellious acts,"" no real survival skills. He's soon found out and apprehended. And, in a brief closing section, Amsted--serving a short prison term for fraud--regains the security, order, and well-fed regularity he craves: ""He has attained the highest ideal of bourgeois society."" So he determines to arrange a lifetime sentence--planning a murder (which he's unable to commit), then confessing to one he didn't commit. Somewhat similar in theme and structure to Simenon's sociological character-studies--but jauntier in tone and more diverting (in Hugus' crisp translation), even if more thinly polemical.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1988
Publisher: Fjord Press