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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Den sanna berättelsen
om Inga Andersson

Björn Larsson

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

Title: Den sanna berättelsen om Inga Andersson
Author: Björn Larsson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002
Length: 330 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: La véritable histoire d'Inga Andersson - France
Was geschah mit Inga Andersson ? - Deutschland
  • Den sanna berättelsen om Inga Andersson has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B- : interesting concept, but falls frustratingly short

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Svenska Dagbladet . 26/8/2002 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Vad Björn Larsson med denna delvis melodramatiskt spänningsskapande, delvis sofistikerat metalitterära skröna lyckas gestalta är inte bara den kvalificerade fiktionens primat framför den tröga empiriska vetenskapen." - Svenska Dagbladet

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:

       Den sanna berättelsen om Inga Andersson is a thriller with literary aspirations -- but of a different sort than usually attempted in the genre. It begins with a short first-person explanation by the author, in which he notes he only met Inga Andersson twice, but felt compelled to write her story -- and notes that there's a thin line between fact and fiction here, but that he's chosen to present the book as a novel. This 'author' turns out to be Anders Ingesson (yes, note the similarity in names ...), who also figures in the novel (and reverts to the first person for some of the chapters in which he plays a role, whereas the bulk of the novel is written from an omniscient-narrator perspective): like Björn Larsson he is a writer who teaches at the University of Lund -- and several of his books closely resemble those published by Larsson. So Anders Ingesson is a so-thinly-veiled-he's-essentially-invisibly-disguised alter ego of Larsson; the name-change serves little more than to re-emphasise the fact v. fiction contrast that crops up throughout the book.
       Inga Andersson also teaches at the University of Lund, but her specialty is secret societies and organisations, from sects to (neo-)Nazis. She's a dedicated scholar, but keeps to herself and is not very active in the sociology department. Though she teaches in Sweden she lives in Denmark, and because of the threats she receives from some of the groups she investigates no one knows her address. Her private life is also limited. She's thirty-seven now, but hasn't been with a man in a decade or so. Clearly there was some devastating experience in her past, when she took over a year off from her studies, but what exactly happened is only revealed late in the novel. Meanwhile, her only friends are two old men, Morton and Henning, whom she regularly joins for drinks at the local tavern. Like many of the locals in that fishing region, they were active in helping Jewish refugees flee to Sweden during World War II, and echoes of that time and those activities continue to resound in the present-day story.
       Inga is invited to present a paper at a conference in France on 'literature and crime', and though she's worried that it's beyond her she decides to give it a try. This is also how she comes into contact with Anders Ingesson, the local university literary figure whom she asks for advice about that part of the equation, since she hasn't been much of (fiction-)reader in a long time.
       The idea she finally settles on is to present a paper on a secretive group and not reveal which parts of the essay are based on fact and which are invention, hoping that would lead to a discussion of the divide between fact and fiction, as well as our expectations and beliefs in the subject-matter.
       The subject she chooses is the American NSA (National Security Agency), as rumours of their Echelon-project -- technology that could give them access to all private electronic communication worldwide -- suggest a danger whose consequences are not yet well understood. In her paper she also describes an 'inner room' of rogue NSA workers who use the information they have access to for their own ends.
       Inga sends Anders Ingesson a copy of the paper, and he is curious enough that he actually travels to England to see for himself what the NSA facilities there look like -- and then heads to the conference in France, where Inga is surprised (and not particularly pleased) to run into him. But Inga has little time for Anders there, swept off her feet by another participant, a professor from MIT. He maintains that the American government isn't pleased with his activities either, and that he has had to go so far as to travel under a pseudonym and false cover (explaining why, for example, MIT has no record of him on their faculty ...) , and Inga is so won over by him that she ignores the obvious -- even when he suggests it would be better if she doesn't present her paper and instead allow him to try to publish it in a larger American magazine, where it would be more of a bombshell. At barely the last minute she finally puts two and two together and flees for her life; here (as elsewhere) some of the details are pretty silly: for a novel that has so much to do with covert activity and secrecy Larsson conveniently has some information be in close to plain sight (and ignores some of the information-obtaining capabilities the American government would have at its disposal).
       So Inga finds herself on the run; fortunately she has Morton and Henning to help her. Soon she's set up a website revealing her information -- where part of the fun remains that it's unclear what is fact and what is fiction. It comes as no surprise that some of what hit too close to home for the NSA is Inga's invention; but that becomes problematic when they want to know her source, fearing a leak.
       A cat and mouse game of sorts begins, and the bargaining positions shift back and forth as each side alters the balance with new information or action. Among the entertaining aspects is that it's unclear whether Inga is dealing with the NSA proper or the 'inner room' -- and what the consequences of this are.
       It's the bad guys that also hold the final, strongest card, which turns out to be from that part of Inga's past that she still hasn't overcome.
       There's a rich mix of ideas here, and even with the literary games (author Anders popping up and revealing that he can't stop himself from writing Inga's story, first as a novel then as fact ...) the thriller-outline isn't bad at all. But Larsson isn't a thriller-writer and he can't get a complete handle on the demands of the genre: too much of it is silly or unbelievable in a way that no real thriller-writer would allow. He also gets himself bogged down in Inga -- Anders, of course, falls in love with her, despite only seeing her a handful of times -- and veers dangerously close to the melodramatic here. Between her many notebooks filled with short stories (gleaned from newspapers) of the generally horrible things people do to one another to the NSA-man's attempt to convince her that they are using their power to do great good (i.e. to do the right thing) Larsson also tries to put a 'human face' on things too often, coming off only as trying to play the emotion-card far too strongly. And Inga-as-woman -- keeping distant from romantic entanglements for so long, but now (re-)discovering herself (including through the wonders of make-up and a new hair-do ...) -- falls particularly flat.
       Den sanna berättelsen om Inga Andersson is a frustratingly bad book. There are lots of good ideas here, and a pretty solid plot, and Larsson writes some of his scenes well enough, but too much reads like imitation-thriller material (by someone incapable of the real thing) -- and while the literary games behind the whole text are also well-conceived it can come across as annoying, as presented.
       There are many interesting facets to the novel, but Larsson constantly misses his mark with almost each of them.

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Den sanna berättelsen om Inga Andersson: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Scandinavian literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Swedish author Björn Larsson was born in 1953.

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