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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


In Praise of Truth

Torgny Lindgren

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To purchase In Praise of Truth

Title: In Praise of Truth
Author: Torgny Lindgren
Genre: Novel
Written: 1991 (Eng. 1994)
Length: 212 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: In Praise of Truth - US
In Praise of Truth - UK
In Praise of Truth - Canada
Paula, ou, L'éloge de la vérité - France
Per amore della verità - Italia
En elogio de la verdad - España
  • The personal account of Theodore Marklund, picture-framer
  • Swedish title: Till sanningens lov
  • Translated by Tom Geddes

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Our Assessment:

A- : stumbles a bit in tying together its conclusion, but gloriously good bits and spurts along the way

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 17/4/1995 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Loaded with scattershot allusions to Heidegger, Dali, Madonna, Baudelaire, Bach, Schopenhauer and Barbara Cartland, this post-Pop fable spoofs the mass media's fabrication of reality as it ponders the abyss between modern art and life." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       In Praise of Truth is narrated by Theodore Marklund, a picture framer who discovers a painting at a country auction that he is sure is by renowned Swedish painter Nils de Dardel. He scrapes together every last crown and öre his family has been saving for generations (and borrows a bit too) and while he gets into a bidding war with another man (whom he believes he tipped too much of his hand to) he gets the goods, a Madonna picture that turns out to be even more than he had hoped for, a triptych that everyone now knows as Madonna with the Dagger.
       For Marklund it's not about the money; it's about the object. He's completely taken by it -- and sure that: "It's the most remarkable Swedish work of art of our times." He's also proud of it, and while not eager to cash in he does display it and enjoy the attention -- which he certainly believes the work deserves. Of course, he also attracts the attention of less desirable elements, including the tax authorities and others who seem willing to do almost anything to get their hands on the painting.
       Eventually matters are complicated when a second Madonna with the Dagger comes into circulation -- a duplicate that differs from the other by less than a brushstroke (a single dot, in fact). But does it matter which is the 'real' one and which the 'copy' ? Or, indeed, if both are inventions, rather than 'original' Dardels ?
       As a forger explains to Marklund:

Authenticity is a quality of the work of art, it has nothing to do with who created it.
       Marklund finds authenticity in the painting(s), and his conviction suffices to set a whole frenzy of interest into motion. His absolute certainty also leaves him indifferent to almost everything else: this true art -- even if it is fakery -- is greater than anything he knows, and he doesn't much care as his life largely collapses around him (not that there was too much to it anyway).
       The one other thing Marklund always cares about is Ingela, the daughter of a neighbor. Though more than a decade older than her they were always the most intimate of friends, even when the girl was an infant and he was already twelve. The preternaturally skilled girl with the beautiful voice was clearly destined for greatness from an early age, and her mother essentially sold her to an impresario when she was a child; he, in turn, turned her into 'Paula' -- first a girl-singing sensation; then, after a pause of a few years, reconquering the stage as a mature adult pop singer. 'Paula', too is a forgery, an entirely artificial construct; for Marklund, however, she remains the neighbor girl, and their relationship continues to be as close as in earliest childhood, even when they don't see one another for years.
       The only reason Marklund can imagine parting with his beloved painting is to buy 'Paula''s freedom (which ultimately amounts to retrieving Ingela and burying her 'Paula'-persona) -- but things aren't that simple. Both the painting (and all those interested in it) and Paula's manager pose difficulties. Despite seeming insurmountable hurdles, however, both Ingela and Marklund are remarkably easy-going, able to go with the flow and certain that things will somehow work out in the end.
       Eventually Marklund comes to realize:
     "Questions of authentic and fake will follow us unto death," he said.
     "If we don't somehow manage to escape," I said. "And put both authenticity and falsehood behind us."
       It's difficult to do in a world that venerates a certain type of authenticity -- one as likely to be artificially generated (by the media, or by forgers (be they forgers of paintings, or of people, like 'Paula''s manager) as in any way 'genuine'. As one forger tells Marklund:
I simply create freedom. Freedom from certainties and markets and authorities. What are called forgeries are the only true expressions of our age.
       Not surprisingly, even Marklund and Ingela's final solution involves a radical recreation of self in an attempt to shed their previous authenticity .....
       There's good philosophical fun in all of this, but the charm of In Praise of Truth is in its not-quite-reliable (or always immediately forthcoming) narrator and his mix of an easy-going approach to whatever life throws his way and his complete devotion to Ingela and the painting(s). Much of the exposition -- from Marklund's family history to the secondary characters to 'Paula''s unreal professional life -- is beautifully done, with constant surprises (and a great deal of humor). Along the way there's also death and dismemberment, and terrible things are done to bunnies (the poor bunnies !), but it's all held together by the narrative voice of the Schopenhauer-devotée Marklund, whose faith can't be shaken.
       Marklund also subtly repeatedly reminds the readers that his account can only be trusted so far, that it too, in its attempt to recreate, is a forgery of sorts, rather than the real thing. So, for example, as he beautifully puts it at one point:
     Our conversation was of course much longer and fuller than it appears to be as I do my best now to recall it and write it down. It's possible that the same applies to all the conversations I've tried to reconstruct. I summarise them, and they become stylised, rather like landscapes by Rousseau, or even Feininger.
       Marklund's great-grandfather reportedly said: "Everything that surrounds us is false, but we ourselves are genuine", and Marklund seems to have understood this perfectly, making his way through life accordingly. With Marklund and Ingela, its two characters who are able to remain true to themselves (if not entirely whole) despite what the world tries to do with them, In Praise of Truth is a consistently winning and often very funny novel of truth and fabrication.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 January 2012

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In Praise of Truth: Reviews: Torgny Lindgren: Other books of interest under review:
  • Peter Carey's novel of fakes and forgery, Theft
  • See Index of Scandinavian literature

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About the Author:

       Swedish author Torgny Lindgren was born in 1938.

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© 2012 the complete review

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