When I was in my late teens I dressed in a dark long coat, wore a beret and, sometimes, mascara. If only occasionally, it did happen. Today I’m ashamed over the fact, but there we are. I was also a socialist of sorts and found Kafka’s books the most exiting literature ever printed. And I thought I knew best. Does this picture seem familiar to anyone? Many of us working in the Arts have gone through this phase, and some never get out of it. Luckily I did. Today I find bespoke tailoring, antiquarian books and a good dry martini more interesting and fulfilling. Pretentious? Probably. But that’s how I turned out.
Why am I rambling on about this then, dear reader? Well, it’s all down to the latest book I read. It’s by a young (he’s only twenty-one) Swedish writer-in-waiting called Jonas Strandberg. The book, Feberstaden (Fever City for those of you with minor linguistic skills), is written in Swedish and not yet published by a major publishers, but I sincerely hope someone will pick it up very soon. I just couldn’t put it down, and it immediately took me back to my own youth on the Swedish west coast. The characters struggle to get their heads around their lives and their interests straight, the uncertainty of adulthood and the future, the boiling passion for music, it’s all in there.
Simply put, the book is about a bunch of guys in their early twenties, if that, all playing in a band. They are just on the brink of making it big time when the lead singer and front man disappear without a trace. He can’t be found anywhere. The remaining guys scramble their forces trying to get back on track but realizes it’s not that easy. The question remains; how much are you prepared to give up for success, for possibly “making it” in the world of rock ’n’ roll? Is it worth sacrificing virtually everything?
I agree, reading it like that it doesn’t sound like much. A really bad detective story? A youngster trying to ride on the wave of success from Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy? If so he wouldn’t be the first. But no, that really isn’t the case. Strandberg’s storytelling is mesmerizing. The plot described above is the central body of the story, the overriding line, but not its real core. What it’s really about is the immense pressure these young musicians, and the patient girlfriends involved, are under. How they struggle to find their own ground, their own sound and their identity as a band. The testosterone pumping and the frustration with parents who doesn’t understand the passion are painfully close to the surface all the time. When reading Feberstaden it started to itch all over, it made me really stressed since I can easily remember the feelings described so vividly. It might have been many years ago for me, but Strandberg manages to rouse it all again. I can’t say I’m grateful to him for that, but it’s a good skill for a writer.
Being this young and being able to be such a brilliant storyteller is a treat and very promising. There are minor editing errors that need to be dealt with, but that is in no way a critique of Strandberg’s gift as a writer. I’m not sure he’s found “his real” voice yet – something tells me that the sometimes overly elaborate descriptions and convoluted sentences are a sign of wanting to say too much, not trusting his reader and his own gift. In short, that is what we’re all struggling with as artists in whichever discipline though, isn’t it?
I hope he will get due credit for his work and won’t give up writing. If he carries on this is for sure someone to look out for and a writer we will hear a lot about in the future.
… Aware in his whole body that what he listened to was so much more than just songs on a record. It was five young peoples message to the world told in a way you can only talk or scream when you’re twenty years old. When everything still matters and thing s still mean something and every fall seems bottomless, but the tops so very close to blue stars. It wasn’t just files, not just poetry about love and anxiety and not just music.
It never is just music.
– Jonas Strandberg, excerpt from Feberstaden