What makes a novel pulpy

Kerstin Ekman, the great old lady of Swedish literature, has big plans for her new novel. “Grand finale in the swindler industry”, as the title translates literally, is not about politics, but rather the literature's own industry.

This time the Swedish writer Kerstin Ekman had big plans. "Grand finale in the swindler industry", as the title translates literally, is for once not aimed at politics, but at Ekman's industry, that of literature. It remains to be seen whether «Schwindlerinnen» is a key novel, anyway people from the Stockholm scene wouldn't tell us much. But it is certainly a novel about the eccentricities of the literary business in general, in which the outside - regardless of whether it is male or female - plays a role that should not be underestimated and in which sometimes little is said but a lot is talked about, especially about money.

The focus is on two young women, the year 1953. One is the pretty Lillemor, a literature student at the venerable University of Uppsala, the other the shy Barbro, known as Babba, who is a librarian there. The latter likes to write quickly, but needs solitude for it. So the two make a pact: Babba writes, Lillemor represents. The fees are divided between sisters and the partnership is very successful. But decades later - this is where the book begins - Babba writes a novel about Lillemor and their common secret and sends it to a publisher.

Auto-fiction and autobiographical novels are “all the rage” in Scandinavia (and not only there), as it is called at the end. Now the almost 80-year-old Kerstin Ekman has also made her ironic contribution to it. Because not only does the author Lillemor (who isn't, she's just pretending) suddenly see herself as a character in a novel, but Kerstin Ekman herself (who is now actually an author) has become a character in this novel «Schwindlerinnen» Done: Lillemor is her alter ego. Lillemor and Ekman are the same age, studied in Uppsala, worked as a teacher, started crime novels, and moved to northern Sweden.

But surely you are not so wrong if you suspect something of the author in Babba, namely the longing for anonymity. Every author has this tendency once. To take the game with identities to the extreme, there is also the following aspect: Babba may even be Ekman's actual alter ego, because she is the true author in the book, and her part is told in the first person. But probably you have to see the two as a single figure: They both embody the two sides of the overauthor Kerstin Ekman.

Now this super-author did not just want to write a novel about the “swindler industry”, but also to accommodate her poetics, so we read sentences like: “Stories are language, not reality” or “Literature lives from literature”. These are not very surprising findings. But what really makes this novel mushy is its talkativeness. Kerstin Ekman has always been keen on details, but that usually made sense, but here we get lost in endless details that no one is interested in. The memory machine purrs incessantly, the reader suffocates under a torrent of words. That is amazing, we were used to different things from Ekman, for example the gripping, convincing, not-only-thriller "Events on the Water" or the precisely set, touching novella "Dog Heart". If you don't know Kerstin Ekman, you should start with these two books.

Kerstin Ekman: swindlers. Novel. Translated from the Swedish by Hedwig M. Binder. Piper-Verlag, Munich 2012. 448 pp., Fr. 32.90.