Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Follow-up: Further thoughts on the City-Pentalogy

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As the second book has resurfaced, I can now speak a little more completely than last time:

My overall analysis remains the same, except that a few characters do now receive enough pages to come alive in a different manner than without book 2, e.g. Emilie who spent* book 1 as a small child (or was not yet born) and books 3–5 as a reliable rock for others (or was already dead), while mostly dwelling on memories for her own part—and often memories that referred to book 2, which made them less accessible to me. With book 2, more of her youth**, hopes and dreams, etc., are present, which makes a great difference. This includes two failed romances, which put her spinsterhood in a slightly different light. Some other characters go from being mere names to me to being something more tangible; most notably Olof, who was born towards the end of book 1 and was already dead*** by the beginning of book 3.

*With the reservation (here and elsewhere) that my reading of the other books are now a bit back and that my memory might be imperfect.

**This might partially be rooted in me: I have often found that younger characters lead more interesting lives, that personal development during “formative years” is more interesting, that first loves are more interesting than tenth loves, etc.

***Checking the beginning of book 3 again, he must have died during the time of the first chapter of book 3, which covers several years in “fast forward” mode, but his death is not mentioned until the second chapter, as being almost three years before the “present” (1905).

Looking at book 2 on its own, it is closer to the first in quality than the others, and exactly for the expected reasons: The action is not yet spread over that many characters (and it is the longest of the books) and the author does not yet appear as intent on just getting a page quota done. The potential reader can read the first two books for value; the remaining three, if he is curious about outcomes.

A personally pleasing point is that Olof, an aspiring artist, makes a similar observation to my recent text on the benefits of learning the craft: he has artistic aspirations, but sees himself hindered by his lack of craftsmanship. At the end of book 2, knowing that he is dying, he even burns all of his works still in his possession, at least partially out of fear of postumous disapproval.

In terms of the history of my reading attempts (cf. excursion in [1]), I conclude that my first attempt (decades ago) must have contained at least a portion of book 2, despite my disappointment with Henning’s death at the end of book 1: Lotten, Henning’s wife, dies at page 131 (in my edition) of book 2 through falling through a hole in the ice; and I recall being confused during my second reading attempt (2010) of book 1, because that was how I wanted to remember Henning dying. (It is quite possible that my first attempt ended at that very point, however, because of the repeated disappointment. I was very young.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 10, 2019 at 5:57 pm

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