Blackwater excerpts

Recently read Blackwater (1993, transl. 1995) by Kertsin Ekman, which is more novel than it is crime fiction. Set in a remote area of Sweden and Norway, mainly at  Midsummer’s Eve in 1974 and for a year or so following  that time, and then 18 years later, the novel blends pov and times together, with characters interacting over time in changing configurations. I was utterly confused for about 50 pages.  But the writing is compelling and wondrously strange, and the book is complex: long-held secrets and beliefs turn out to be illusions; many events converge as one and a single event disperses itself into many (as in life); the landscape and flora and fauna, and all the six senses, are key elements; the story weaves into itself philosophical views of politics (particularly pertaining to clear-cutting), sex, educational theory, communal living, etc. There is a police officer on the case, at least at first, but in the end it’s the doctor who is really the investigator. . Moody, atmospheric, tense, and at times very dark and primitive, like the smell of woodland soil, a dank well, a thick and ancient eel.

Here are a few bits I thought particularly worth savouring:

“Only a couple of hours before she had been sitting at the table by the window in their room, writing in her notebook, expounding on living in the world. Now her words seemed embarrassing. But she found that dangerous ideas could come of thinking like that. In all likelihood she would never have noticed if it hadn’t been written down.

“However, she had never told Dan she had been conceived in Blackwater. That had been just as arbitrary as the fifty-two degrees below zero that winter of war. But why do we keep looking for meaning and connections? It’s the way our minds work, seeking pattern and order. Yet we scatter our lives, hopelessly and absently.”

“It occurred to him thatr he had been too trusting. The atmosphere had been friendly up at Starhill. Petrus Eliasson looked like a billy goat and offered him cheese. Marianne Ohnberg had smelled of milk.

“So that’s the kind of judgments I make, he thought. Like a five-year-old, or a pet dog.”

“‘I’m a useless person,’ Annie used to say. Her words were as clear in his head as if he had just heard her voice.. In this warm air, heavy with scents, in the rustle of the aspens. Those sober words: ‘I’m a useless person.’

“‘I can’t see any particular point in my life. I read a lot and I like being alone. I like being with you, too. And I like the birds and the sound of the rain.’

“The rustle of the aspens, he thought. And the dry clicks in the autumn when their leaves fell to the frosty ground. She used to stand there on the steps and listen to them.”

“[Annie] was in stillness.

“He thought about there being places — or moments — that are as good as still. Where the ticking is as good as imperceptible. He liked standing by the open window at night, feeling the air against his face. Quite a few of the things he remembered Annie had done seemed to be confronting stillness. She had known about it.

“She stood on the steps listening to the rain in the aspens.”

“All concepts of a god has begun as belief in ghosts, she had said. A power-drunk gangster keeps his tribe in terror and awe. When he dies, they are so terrified and dominated by his will, they hallucinate his voice and his steps and his mad laughter at night. And they claim they can still hear them, or that was her understanding of it, though they’ve covered it all with sugar icing.”

[Some Girardian ideas there … the feared and powerful leader whose death brings about fear of communal violence now that he isn’t there to check it, along with a scary sense of vanquished power, so the community resorts to glorifying and making sacred the leader in death, so that he can continue to hold them together, though they create a story about it that wraps it in mystery and veils it from the community.]

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