Torgny Lindgren’s Klingsor is a remarkable novel, written in the author’s typical language and very moving. Tragedy and comedy in one package it delivers a punch to my stomach that keeps aching for days.
The story about the artist Klingsor who cannot face his mediocrity and wastes his life trying to become a great artist is another highly recommendable novel by this Swedish writer.
The artist Klingsor has lived a lie. Convinced of his own brilliance, sometimes even stating that all contemporary art is dependant on his work (which almost no-one has seen), he has spent his entire life painting the same picture over and over again. Not even glimpses of insight has been able to bring him down to earth (and yes, I do recognize myself here). Some years after his death an unknown ”we” are researching for abook about him. Some-one else will write the book about his wife, Fanny. Torgny Lindgrens fantastic Klingsor is, at least in a sense, that book. It consists largely of questions posed to ”us”, and the answers that are delivered and then expanded upon.
The style is remarkable, the form is remarkable. Building on Lindgrens already established made-up community in northern Sweden, in a sense a ”fantasy”-version of 20th century northern Sweden, it creates an atmosphere of absolute plausabilty, almost of a documentary novel. As I write this I’m not sure how much is made-up and how much is fact. Lindgren reveals not only an uncanny capacity to trick me into believing him by adding tiny, seemingly irrelevant, details about his characters and the places where they happen to live and the incidents that befall them. No, he also exhibits that most difficult kind of imagination: How to build plausible characters. He does it by using details, but also by his unique, tight and remarkable language. Sometimes I think that’s the critical point: He writes so well, so un-imitable, so precise, that the words themselves become an authority – he could basically say anything and I would probably believe him.
The tale of Klingsor is entertaining: ”Was the exhibition in the old school in Avabäck a success? Yes. It was the greatest success of Klingsor’s life.” (My translation.) Short, precise, subtle, funny, and of course deeply tragic. Or the exhibition itself, where Klingsor’s old neighbours watch the paintings and comment on objects they recognize from the old Klingsor-house. No-one sees them as art, except the mysterious ”we”.
Tragedy is the sounding board of this book, indeed of every Lindgren-book I’ve read. Klingsor is a dreamer and he has managed to do that which all of us wish of: he has peaked. Unfortunately that peak is hardly above water. His art is so irrelevant that his class-mates at the art school mistake him for a janitor, and the rescue-workers at the site of a critical car-crash simply ignore him where he sits in the bus, manically painting. His mediocrity has rendered him ”invisible”.
Klingsor is a book about dreams, the lack of dreams, the short-comings that we all face when trying to fulfill our dreams, and the profound tragedy that lies in not being able to say: ”Enough! I tried, I failed, enough!” We are legion, we dreamers who keep on climbing a slope that only seems to get steeper. I find myself deeply touched by the novel, simply because it speaks so directly to me, touching an aching point: How long will I try? Do I have the courage to stop after thirty years of writing? On the other hand: Why should anyone stop? As long as he can accept that success will never come, why shouln’t Klingsor paint for his own sake? Why shouldn’t I write for my own sake? That’s the jagged edge of dreams, and it’s all too easy to cut yourself.
In the end Klingsor’s dream dies, and his life fades away as he sits with empty eyes at the back of the church. Faced with a superior talent his will is broken and he stops painting. Does he burn his paintings, like his neighbours claim? Or does he hide them in an abandoned well, as ”we” believe? (And is it the same well that figures in Lindgrens Sweetness (Hummelhonung)? No-one knows. And these loose-hanging threads are part of the undisputable greatness of Torgny Lindgrens writing.