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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical

The Price of Water in Finistère

Bodil Malmsten

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To purchase The Price of Water in Finistère

Title: The Price of Water in Finistère
Author: Bodil Malmsten
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 212 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: The Price of Water in Finistère - US
The Price of Water in Finistère - UK
The Price of Water in Finistère - Canada
  • Swedish title: Priset på vatten i Finistère
  • Translated by Frank Perry

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable, but too limited

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 19/3/2005 Paul Binding
The Guardian . 4/3/2006 .
Independent on Sunday . 19/2/2006 Tom Boncza-Tomaszewski
Sunday Independent . 18/12/2005 Andre Brink
Sunday Telegraph . 12/3/2006 Mian Ridge

  Review Consensus:

  Very favourable

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) work that slyly slips between categories of fiction and non-fiction. In idiosyncratic short paragraphs and sentences the author creates for us a luminous, boundary-free world of changing perceptions and (mostly) ascending moods. And she is extremely funny. She constantly bumps and trips over in her new-found home, yet this only sharpens her capacity for delight. Paradoxically, what this story of solitude arrives at is an increased sense of unity -- for writer and readers alike -- with humankind everywhere." - Paul Binding, The Guardian

  • "Malmsten's sense of her own ridiculousness saves this from twee self-indulgence, as does her fierce engagement with the political realities of the world." - The Guardian

  • "In other hands this book might have been a dreadful mistake, but Malmsten is the kind of eccentric you can warm to. She's crazy in a very unselfish way -- for someone writing about self-exile and a solitary life there's remarkably little in it about her. This is a book full of outrage and exasperation at the world's dysfunctionality and the inability of those who govern it to do even a remotely good job." - Tom Boncza-Tomaszewski, Independent on Sunday

  • "The Price of Water in Finistere, is unlike anything she has written before, although -- depending on where one views it from -- it may be read as a novel, a collection of short stories, or indeed a volume of poetry. This quiet, wise and exquisitely funny book is an account of her first year as a newcomer to Brittany" - Andre Brink, Sunday Independent

  • "Malmsten's lyrical prose is a perfect vehicle for her quick, original mind. In a torrent of expostulations and short, sharp sentences, she considers the beauty of her roses, the actions of George Bush and the question of whether she, the daughter of a famous socialist, should be spending her days in the garden." - Mian Ridge, Sunday Telegraph

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 2000, when she was in her mid-fifties, Swedish author Bodil Malmsten packed her things up, sold her flat and moved to France, to the Finistère region, where France juts as far as it can into the Atlantic. The Price of Water in Finistère is her account of adapting to her new-found home, focussing on her two greatest preoccupations: gardening and trying to write this book.
       It's her neighbour, Madame C who pushes her to write the book, an early encounter setting the tone for that aspect of their relationship:

     I say to Madame C: it's so wonderful here that one should write a book about it.
     "One should write a book about it," I say.
     "So do it !" says Madame C.
     Woe is me.
       Woe indeed. But Madame C only gets really insistent towards the end of the narrative again, and so it's not entirely a book about writing a book The narrator has enough else to busy herself with, from fixing up her new house so she can finally have visitors and share her idyll with those she abandoned to tending her garden.
       In short chapters Malmsten (or her fictional alter ego) recount a variety of small adventures. Almost everything is everyday, the complications the minor annoyances one likely finds anywhere (though further complicated by some difficulties she has in communicating, as she hasn't completely mastered the French language). Much effort (and quite a bit of money) is expended on gardening -- which aslo makes for a frequent reminder of (and contrast to) Sweden.
       An idiosyncratic and contrarian style and approach (in her writing as in most everything else) make for quite a bit of fun: this isn't your usual stranger-in-a-strange-land story (as the title alone surely suggests).
       There's also a bit of political and social concern. She's fed up with the Swedish system, for one, but she understands that her ability to uproot and transplant herself this easily is also thanks to the society and system (both Swedish and EU) she lives in. Malmsten also notes that despite her mangling of the language she's treated more or less like she belongs -- and she understands it probably wouldn't be that way if she were from a different country, or had a different colour skin. The only bureaucratic hurdle she can't clear is purchasing a mobile phone .....
       Madame C is one of the few figures who are a part of her daily routine. She's a useful character, as she allows Malmsten to engage in dialogue where otherwise she could offer only more monologue, bringing in more extreme differences than would be plausible if it were presented as all in her head. And like a good (or bad) conscience, Madame C pushes her hard to start and finish her book (though she doesn't like the title, finding it: "Unromantic and without poetry").
       There's quite a bit of fine observation in the book, and quite a few good lines:
     A writer shouldn't be so careless with words, but I'm only a writer when I write.
     I am filled to the brim with happiness, but what good is that ?
     What I want is to write happiness, not to go around being happy.
     The mostly obedient body is uninteresting. So-so. But how practical, such an obvious and useful boundary. This is where it stops, where the skin ends. Beyond that, otherness begins. Outside in that otherness, it's good having your body around you to show that it's a stranger there and as such should be respected.
       There are also some fairly funny episodes, and some thoughtful ones. But by the end Malmsten can't help but make it about writing this book, giving the narrative a circularity that doesn't seem entirely justified. Still, it's a breezy, appealing account, and a worthwhile quick read.

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Reviews: Bodil Malmsten: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swedish author Bodil Malmsten lived 1944 to 2016.

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