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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

To Pieces

Henry Parland

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

To purchase To Pieces

Title: To Pieces
Author: Henry Parland
Genre: Novel
Written: (1932) (Eng. 2011)
Length: 115 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: To Pieces - US
To Pieces - UK
To Pieces - Canada
To Pieces - India
Déconstructions - France
Zerbrochen - Deutschland
  • (on the developing of Velox paper)
  • Swedish title: Sönder
  • Written 1929-30; first published posthumously 1932
  • Translated by Dinah Cannell
  • With an Afterword by Per Stam

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a nice spin on a familiar kind of novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 27/9/2007 Richard Kämmerlings
Svenska Dagbladet . 25/9/2005 Carl-Johan Malmberg
Die Welt A 26/1/2008 Claus-Ulrich Bielefeld

  From the Reviews:
  • "Je tiefer die Erinnerung gräbt, desto schillernder wird das Bild eines Verhältnisses, das man wohl zähneknirschend moderne Liebe nennen muss. (...) Es bleibt ein Buch aus hochempfindlichem Papier, in dem das Zittern seiner Zeit für immer festgehalten ist." - Richard Kämmerlings, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(D)et är boken en av den svenskspråkiga modernismens märkligaste skapelser. Den är hård och bångstyrig till sin yttre form men har en undertext av förtvivlan som snabbt griper tag i läsaren. (...) Spelplatsen är Helsingfors på 20-talet men kunde lika gärna vara Stockholm i dag. (...) Sönder är en bok man inte blir riktigt klok på -- men som man blir klok av. Den är rasande intelligent." - Carl-Johan Malmberg, Svenska Dagbladet

  • "Nichts ist provinziell an diesem kleinen Geniestück, das abseits der großen Metropolen und an der Peripherie des Weltgeschehens entstand und dennoch auf der Höhe der ästhetischen Debatten und Herausforderungen seiner Zeit agiert." - Claus-Ulrich Bielefeld, Die Welt

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:

       To Pieces is an account of a relationship that Parland is still struggling to come to terms with. Much of it is written in the first person, but in beginning the account, and then for much of the conclusion, Parland steps back, describing his actions as those of 'the writer'.
       To Pieces is very much an introspective novel, but also one that seeks out a variety of perspectives in the hope of uncovering more -- as signaled already in the opening line:

     Before he began writing this novel the writer took his mirror from the washstand, placed it in front of him and inspected his face.
       Instead of immediately beginning the work he wants to write he first writes a love letter -- to the dead Ami -- explaining: "Look, Ami, I'd like to write this book about you." He's an amateur photographer -- serious enough to develop his own pictures (though he only does it three or four times a year, when the urge strikes him) -- and one means of evoking Ami and finding inspiration for his work is to develop an image of her. In addressing her -- and treating her image -- as though she were still able to respond and contribute to his undertaking he brings great immediacy to it; what he can't do, of course, is bring her back to life.
       Henry remains uncertain about his feelings about Ami. This is not a grand romance of head-over-heels love, and it did not unfold in any particularly neat way. Instead, it describes a human relationship, of two people attracted to one another but not to the exclusion of everything else. Ami, an impetuous girl prone to dropping in unannounced at literally all hours of the night and who likes to get her own way (and often does), has other admirers as well; Henry feels some jealousy but remains reluctant to commit himself in any way fully to her. The tragedy of her death leaves Henry with unresolved feelings that he struggles to deal with here.
       To Pieces is an appealingly experimental work that holds up remarkably well; there's little here that truly feels dated, despite it having been written around 1930. The motto Parland prefaces his narrative with is: 'This book is perhaps a plagiarism of Marcel Proust', and it is, in part, a Proustian exercise in recalling the past. In his use of advances such as photography, or in addressing the deceased directly, trying to draw her into the book in that way, Parland offers some nice spins on the well-worn genre of reminiscing about lost love. Communications via telephone plays a significant part in the novel -- that's how Henry learns of Ami's passing, too -- and is another filter to experience that Parland uses effectively.
       A young man's novel, To Pieces isn't an overly-romanticized wallow, and Parland strikes a nice tone of self-awareness -- including, for example, observing:
People looked at me with guarded admiration, and I had nothing against that, for it helped me hide my hurt at Ami's death, and I am moreover a little susceptible to flattery and admiration.
       Formally both interesting and creative, and well-written, To Pieces is more than just another unusual-for-the-period piece; a tragedy that its author died at just twenty-two. There's a roughness to the text that can be ascribed in part to his youth, and in part to the fact that the novel is unfinished -- not incomplete (it is whole), but clearly not revised to any final state -- but that hardly detracts from the text.
       A nice little (re)discovery.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 December 2012

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To Pieces: Reviews: Henry Parland: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swedish-Finnish writer Henry Parland lived 1908 to 1930

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© 2012-21 the complete review

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