SIGISMUND by Lars Gustafsson


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The most potent charm of Swedish writer Gustafsson's work, as The Tennis Player showed, is its amiable riskiness--as the author's diary-like jottings sneak out into fanciful structures. This time the autobiographical narrator is living in West Berlin in 1973, where he admits to knowing a strange trick: ""When the world becomes too tiring, too taxing, or in quite general terms too diabolical, I quite simply leave it. I live without living. I am awake without being awake. I listen without hearing."" And so the narrator's thoughts often distance him from reality, forming a mosaic of various stylistic snippets: autobiographical journals and political jottings (""As a rule, what we are able to articulate they do not impose on us. What we are not able to articulate, they do impose""); an historical fantasia on King Sigismund of Poland; a sci-fi interlude. But best of all is a section that recounts the adventures of a young woman painter, G., who sells her soul to the Devil for money, fame, and the chance to be someone else for one day. (She is given a tour of Hell, which turns out to be a rather boring, placid Swiss-like realm where nothing ever changes--no inflation, no unrest, no children, exactly the Utopia all revolutionary movements strive for.) Rambling, scruffy allegories with some humdrum political (liberal) points here and there--but likable work from a genially unpredictable writer, someone who might be called Sweden's low-key answer to Kurt Vonnegut.

Pub Date: Jan. 31st, 1984
ISBN: 0811209245
Publisher: New Directions