Translated from the Swedish by Deborah Bragan-Turner, read by Kristin Milward
I didn’t expect this to be so darkly beautiful but The Gravity of Love by Sara Stridsberg gets 5 stars (6 if I could!) from me. It’s a truly remarkable book.
It is the story of Jackie whose father Jim spends time in Beckomberga, a psychiatric hospital in Stockholm. Much of the story is told in Jackie’s memories of her childhood visiting Beckomberga, her dad and the other people that she met there. There is also another storyline, that of Olof, a fictional “last patient of Beckomberga”. Olof makes very little appearance in Jackie’s own story nor does his storyline make up much of the book. His presence is ephemeral, ghostlike; brief but important in providing a wider historical perspective for Jackie and Jim’s story.
The stories are told in a fragmentary style which is powerfully dreamlike. Occasionally there are brief insights into the history of Beckomberga, which creates a solid surface underneath the characters who otherwise seem to float on (or fall through) air. There’s something absolutely magical and simultaneously disturbing about the whole thing.
Stridsberg paints this story in shadows which she slowly and evenly brings into the light. It’s a book not to be rushed; it sets its own pace and develops with an uncertainty that kept me feeling unsteady on my feet.
One of the best things about this book is that as a reader I didn’t have any sense of control and any expectations I brought to the novel were quickly undermined. It’s a little surreal, but also extremely honest. I think it really creates the off balance feelings that some patients of these institutions would have experienced.
Deborah Bragan-Turner’s translation is remarkable. She has captured Stridsberg powerful style, re-creating both the starkness and the dreamlike haziness beautifully for English language readers.
In the audiobook Kristin Milward’s performance is slow, smokey and intimate, which captures the writing style superbly. When I finished reading I immediately started it again from the beginning as I wasn’t ready to leave its world behind me.
I loved this book, it really spoke to me. In the era of deinstitutionalisation I worked with several people who had spent much of their lives in psychiatric institutions. This was a very respectful approach to the stories of those who lived through that era.
I enjoy books that give insight into personalities and relationships and this one hit every note for me. Absolute magic.
The Gravity of Love • by Sara Stridsberg (translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner) • read by Kristin Milward • 5 hours 25 minutes • published by MacLehose Press • November 03, 2016