Torgny Lindgrens novel Sweetness (Hummelhonung) is a great work of literature. While occasionally revolting it’s also poetic and beautiful, firmly establishing Lindgren as one of the most important Swedish writers today.
The story about a woman who spends a winter with two bitter old men, trying to understand the hatred they feel for each other, is to me a tragic and entertaining depiction of the baseness of human conflict. Strongly recommended!
In Torgny Lindgrens Sweetness (Hummelhonung) from 1995 a woman travels around Sweden, lecturing about saints and other “holy” people. After one of these lectures she is offered lodgings by the old man Hadar. It’s supposed to be just for one night, but the next day the road is blocked by snow and she is forced to stay. For weeks and months on end she remains with Hadar, even after the almost metaphysical plow has cleared the roads. Hadar lives alone, but not far from his abode stands the house of his brother Olof. They are both terminally ill, in a sense incapable of life: Hadar suffers from cancer and Olof from obesity and a weak heart, but they both refuse to die, feeding their echoing hours with hatred for each other: each determined that he will not be the first to die.
Why this hatred? Step by step the woman unravels the secret, though the picture is never fully revealed. A disagreement about their mothers moral qualities drove them apart, initially, enough so that Olof had his son Lars dig a ditch between the houses. When this Lars is born – by Olofs albino wife Minna, though it’s uncertain which of the brothers is actually the father – they begin to fight for his affections, and the struggle comes to a head when Lars accidently hangs himself in a rig that he has built to help him with the digging. The brothers rush to save him, but end up wrestling each other to decide who will be allowed to help the boy, who loves him the most. When Hadar finally overpowers Olof Lars is already dead. Minna kills herself and the brothers never speak to each other again, using the woman as a messenger throughout the novel. Only in death are they finally united and their pointless, stupid conflict dissipates.
The Swedish writer Torgny Lindgren is a remarkable voice in literature. His voice is distinct and his style is detailed without using a lot of words. To be perfectly honest: it’s far above me, the symbolism and parabels passes me by, as does most likely any hidden message, I simply read the story, but that’s enough. It’s a very good novel, although I prefer Dorés Bibel (Dorés Bible) from 2005. What makes Lindgrens books so enjoyable is the language, slim and precise, beautifully poetic even in the most revolting depictions of the human body and it’s many excretions and failures. And there are a lot of quite disgusting scenes.
I read Sweetness as a depiction of how base and rigid human conflicts are. No matter what the woman does she can’t convince the two brothers to even consider reconciliation. They prefer eeking out a miserable life in solitude to the compromises required for peace. It’s a story about the evil that is produced in such a conflict, the viciousness that erupts when people who were ones close allowes differences to drive them apart and define their lives.
Lindgren also clearly shows how much can be said with few words and with a small number of actors on the stage. It’s definitely something to consider, especially for me who likes to write long stories. Many writers of fantasy fiction would benefit from reading Lindgren and, if not emulate his style, at least start cutting down their own texts. I will definitely try to learn from this. I strongly recommend others to do the same.