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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Tjänarinnan

by
Lars Gustafsson


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author



Title: Tjänarinnan
Author: Lars Gustafsson
Genre: Novel
Written: 1996
Length: 200 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: Geheimnisse zwischen Liebenden - Deutschland
  • En kärleksroman (a love story)
  • Tjänarinnan has not been translated into English yet
  • The title -- Tjänarinnan -- translates as something like The Maid (or The Maidservant, or The Housekeeper)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting meandering meditations, fairly well presented

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 27/12/1997 .
Tages-Anzeiger A- 26/8/1997 Pia Reinacher
Der Tagesspiegel C 22/1/1998 T.A. Vierich
World Lit. Today . Winter/1997 W. Glyn Jones


  From the Reviews:
  • "Wie sich in dieser Banalität Ansätze der Reflexion und Momente der Erkenntnis breitmachen, die den texanischen Geschäftsmann seinem Spiegelbild entfremden, darin ist nicht nur die Begabung eines großen Erzählers, sondern auch die Haltung eines bisweilen erfreulich altmodischen Moralisten zu entdecken." - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Lars Gustafsson will uns nicht nur ein individuelles Schicksal oder ein geschlechtsspezifisches Verhalten, sondern, allgemeiner, die Fragmentierung des modernen Menschen der 90er Jahre vorführen und zeigen, warum er notwendigerweise an der Liebe scheitert. Seine Sinneswahrnehmungen sind zersplittert, seine Fähigkeit, sich über längere Zeit auf eine einzige Sache zu konzentrieren, verloren." - Pia Reinacher, Tages-Anzeiger

  • "Aber was früher so wundervoll funktioniert hat, diese Mischung aus blitzender Intellektualität und erzählerischer Gewieftheit, die nicht vor Hilfeleistungen aus anrüchigen Genres wie der Science-Fiction oder dem Agententhriller zurückschreckte, und aus Gustafssonromanen so herrlich leichte Varianten der Postmoderne zauberte - diesmal kommt die Mixtur seltsam flügellahm daher." - Thomas Askan Vierich, Der Tagesspiegel

  • "A slender action indeed, but one in a manner typical of Gustafsson, giving rise to reflections on a host of subjects, not the least of which are death and decay. To say that this is yet another novel about alienation and about a man in search of identity would be true but would also banalize the book." - W. Glyn Jones, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Everybody likes a good kärleksroman (a love story), but it's not what one expects from Lars Gustafsson. In fact, Gustafsson is not a man from whom one expects surprises -- even when, as here, he calls his book a love story and goes so far as to begin it by announcing that finally, after years, something completely surprising has happened. The prolific author -- he has written near twenty novels, a dozen volumes of poetry, and a variety of non-fiction -- is, with a few exceptions, surprisingly predictable. And, despite the subtitle and its beginning, this novel fits the traditional Gustafsson-mould: little real action (though numerous quirky events), considerable philosophical meditation, jet-setting, and a character that wonders what it is all about and for. It may be a kärleksroman, but a Harlequin-romance it certainly ain't.
       Dick Olson is an expat-Swede, living in Austin, Texas. He was a successful adman, but he left his original business after his partner stole his wife, and now he is more of a public-relations man, an image consultant. He has no family ties -- he hasn't been in touch with his son in years and he is still fairly bitter at his wife (and his former partner). His love-interests seem conveniences rather than women he truly feels for. In the course of the book his mother dies back in Sweden -- but he was not very close to her either.
       Olson works for a variety of clients, but little of what he does is face-to-face. E-mail seems his central lifeline to the working world. One steady human contact is his Columbian maid, Eleonora, though she barely has a distinct identity -- she is an illegal alien, and her name is actually Lucrezia (her sister's name is Eleonora, but both use it).
       Though he seems to take things at a leisurely pace Dick's life is fairly eventful. He is invited to appear on Nightline, he has some interesting assignments (including a bizarre one for the Republic of Transdniestria (the little sliver of the Soviet-afterstate of Moldavia on the other side of the Dniestr river)). His life is, however, thrown into some turmoil when he gets the news of his mother's death. He has to go to Sweden to bury her, while also juggling his other obligations, including the Transdniestrians, who themselves are hard to get a fix on.
       Dick seeks consolation, of sorts, in the arms of Eleonora, finding there the sort of intimacy that seems to be missing from his life. Eleonora stays on his mind as he goes to Europe and he imagines returning to her, making more out of the one moment of weakness. Dick is, however, clearly not a man made for these human ties. Writing a letter to her he writes in Swedish -- clearly only writing for himself. (He tore apart an earlier one he had written in Spanish.) While in Europe he finds out that during his absence the immigration authorities have cracked down on illegal immigrants, and Eleonora seems to have been picked up by them.
       Gustafsson's main target is our fragmented, impersonal society, in which contact is superficial and intimacy happenstance (Dick gets picked up by a young woman (a supermarket designer) in Berlin and drives off with her pretty much at the spur of the moment). Communication seems incredibly difficult, love an impossibility. But Gustafsson ends the novel on a hopeful note, suggesting that Dick may have learnt something on his brief wanderings, that he may be ready for something more.
       The novel is told in short chapters, and offers a large number of varied episodes. Dick seems to drift along, but actually quite a lot happens to him. There are several storylines, including Dick's coming to terms with his mother's death, which brings back long displaced memories of his childhood. There are also the mysterious Transdniestrians, clients quite different from any Dick has ever had. Looking for popular international support for their cause Dick advises them not to paint themselves as victims (too much competition from other sad and sorry places around the world for that approach to work, he argues). He thinks they should go on the offensive, they should get the world to perceive them as a potential threat that can not be ignored, part of the "uncertain world of the future".
       Gustafsson offers his familiar and generally enjoyable takes on the world, from the simple domestic pleasures of life in Austin (unbelievable as the mere thought might sound) to astute (and sometimes blunt) social and political criticism. In one scene that will go over big in America Dick greets the sole other breakfast guest in his Berlin hotel, a black woman. Since she gives him a friendly nod in reply, rather than sullenly looking away, Dick (correctly) assumes she must be a "real African", rather than one from the United States.
       Dick's world is one of the elite -- the comfort of first class flights and hotels (even if, to Dick's disappointment, few still look like those that reader's of Thomas Mann expect). Gustafsson is clearly uneasy with aspects of this lifestyle, in particular the power that is wielded by it (and the priorities that they set). Cultured, socially aware and concerned, Dick and his ilk are nevertheless dehumanized, removed from real life -- be it the lives of the illegal immigrants in Texas or the forgotten independence-seekers in Transdniestria. Dick sees that the world is fundamentally changing, with politics dying out much as religion has died out, possibly (but not necessarily) to be replaced by economy and finance. From his rarefied vantage point Gustafsson sees things a bit too simply -- even religion is, surprisingly, still far from dead -- but he still makes some interesting points.
       An entertaining, varied read, Tjänarinnan strays a bit too far in too many directions. On the whole, however, Gustafsson has fashioned another thoughtful, interesting, and surprisingly generous read. Recommended.

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Links:

Tjänarinnan: Reviews: Lars Gustafsson: Other books by Lars Gustafsson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swedish author Lars Gustafsson was born in 1936. He divides his time between his native Vasteras and the University of Texas, Austin, where he is a professor.

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