Now Kurt's taken me to Sweden might as well hang around on my Around the World in Eighty Books challenge and see what's selling.
I suppose it's difficult to predict whether a best-seller in another country will do likewise elsewhere, all a bit of gamble, but Benny & Shrimp by Katarina Mazetti the second fiction title for Short Books, has a great deal going for it after taking Sweden by storm. The themes of grief and loss, love and incompatibility, translate well into any language and I'm sneaking it into Around the World in Eighty Books because everyone knows you travel to Australia via Sweden.
Whilst visiting her husband's minimalist grave, librarian Shrimp notices the grave alongside,
' Next to Orjan's stone there's a really tasteless gravestone, an absolute monstrosity. White marble with swirly gold lettering; angels, roses, birds, words on garlands of ribbon, even a salutary little skull and scythe..'
and visiting that very grave with equal regularity and gravitas is bachelor farmer Benny who is mourning the loss of his parents.
Shrimp is not really approaching all this in the way she feels she should
'I always sit her for at least an hour. Presumably in the hope of getting down to the right sort of grieving if I stick at it long enough. I'd feel better if I could feel worse...the truth is, half the time all I feel is furious with him. Bloody deserter, why couldn't you watch where you were going? And my feelings the rest of the time are, I suppose, pretty much like those of a child who had a budgie for twelve years and then it died, There I've said it.'
Meanwhile Benny sits and contemplates Shrimp
' and that gravestone she sits staring at! What sort of a stone do you call that? It looks like something a surveyor put down as a boundary marker! '
An unlikely friendship develops between the two and chapters alternately recount the same events from each other's point of view. The book is well written in translation, ultimately gently humourous and all without taking itself too seriously but also explores the impossibilities of 'getting a relationship to work between two mature single people, driven by enormous longing and loudly ticking biological clocks.'
If opposites attract then here's the evidence that the attraction is not without its difficulties
' How will she learn to accept that he falls asleep at the opera and has a house full of his mother's embroidered wall-hangings, and how could he ever feel at home in her minimalist apartment, bare as a dentist's waiting room? '
I'm impressed with Short Books first foray into fiction, Benny & Shrimp and Betsy Tobin's Ice Land suggest a promising and varied selection of novels nicely produced, soft touch that I am for a book that looks and feels good before I've opened it. But then we all know it then requires the right words on the page in the right order and if they can keep up this standard these will be books worth looking out for. Benny & Shrimp is indeed quirky, unusual and very readable and you have to marvel at Katarina Mazetti, a multi-talented author who having been a teacher is also a commentator, musician, poet and radio programme producer in her native Sweden.
450,000 Swedes thought this book was worth reading and we'll make that plus one Brit too.