THE SERIOUS GAME
Although the story of misguided love, adultery and despair told in this turn-of-the-last-century Swedish novel is relatively simple, Söderberg's thorough exploration of his characters' lives makes it satisfyingly complex. Arvid falls in love with Lydia when they are both young; when ambition and straitened circumstances keep him from her, he still pines for her. After they both marry fairly lackluster mates, their love for each other remains constant. They have a prolonged affair, at the end of which lies despair for Arvid but contentment for Lydia. Söderberg manifests a keen painterly eye for settings: Arvid and Lydia's affair plays out against a backdrop of serene Stockholm parks, crowded newspaper offices full of workaholic journalists and the spare bedrooms where their trysts take place—and in each locale, the details offered are just enough to create a world of sensations. Feminist readers may take umbrage at the male domination of Arvid's milieu—women get little or no air time, although they would seem to determine the course of the novel. Söderberg creates psychological suspense worthy of Dostoyevski, as Arvid's internal moral conflicts achieve the gravity of physical pain. Tidbits of their affair are dropped along the way, as well, that make the book quaintly puzzle-like, as when Lydia instructs Arvid to put a postage stamp right side up if he loves her, upside down if he does not. Although the novel may be slow going in spots, its emotional intensity makes this translation a welcome occurrence. (Apr.)
Forecast:A blurb from Margaret Atwood, a champion of Söderberg's work, may get browsers to stop and take a look. Even more effective would be a few well-placed reviews, which this novel amply deserves.
Release date: 07/01/2001