The debut novel by the Swedish writer Lydia Sandgren, Collected Works, appeared on Russian bookstores. The work on the book took the author more than ten years. The title may confuse and confuse the reader, but from the very first lines it becomes clear that this is a psychological novel, and not a collection of works. In his work, Sandgren touches on the themes of love and infidelity, friendship and unity, death and eternity, loneliness and family, reality and fiction, sometimes blurring the lines between them.

At the end of October, the debut book of the Swedish writer and practicing psychologist Lydia Sandgren, Collected Works, published by the AST publishing house, was published in Russia. Work on the work took her more than ten years. In Sweden, the book, published in a circulation of 100,000 copies, became a bestseller, and the author herself was awarded the prestigious August Strindberg Prize in her homeland.

The Collected Works is not a selection of Sandgren’s writings, but a psychological novel. Chronologically, the life of the characters in the book is divided into several time periods and covers a period of 30 years. In the center of the plot is Martin Berg, the father of two children and the owner of a small publishing house. Experiencing an existential crisis, Berg lies in the living room and reflects on life. He stumbles upon the notes he left for himself in the past, and remembers his old dream – to become a writer.

At the same time, the man’s thoughts are occupied by his quickly grown-up children, who will soon leave their parental nest and begin an independent life. It seems that the fleeting years have left nothing to the hero, except for these papers. Perhaps Martin still has a chance to fix everything, but his thoughts are directed not to the future, but to the past. Giving an interview to a journalist, Berg recalls his youth – the time when he met his best friend Gustav Becker, an artist who opened the vast world of literature and art for him, and his only love, Cecilia, who later became his wife.

Thinking about his legacy, Berg realizes that myriads of written papers and notebooks with unfinished stories and novels, an unfinished master’s work, and most importantly, his memories of Cecilia make up his collected works.

Along with the reflections, an intriguing story unfolds. The fact is that once Cecilia mysteriously and without a trace disappeared. Martin, who could not come to terms with this, had to raise children alone and get on his feet, but the absence of his wife affected all family members. Cecilia accompanies Martin every day, thoughts about her do not leave him, even when he unsuccessfully tries to build relationships with other women. His daughter Raquel would be glad to be freed from the constant mention of her mother, but wherever she steps, the eyes of Cecilia look at her from everywhere – she was the muse of Gustav, who, being one of the most famous portrait painters of our time, captured her on his canvases . Gothenburg is preparing for a large-scale exhibition of his work, and therefore posters with the face of Cecilia are pasted all over the city.

At some point, a book falls into Raquel’s hands, which, she thinks, will help unravel the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. Further events turn the girl’s life upside down.

Being a practicing psychologist, Sandgren pays special attention to the inner world of his characters and does it masterfully, creating voluminous and deep psychological portraits. At the same time, the author brings the characters to life, immersing them in a fascinating debate about philosophy, anthropology, architecture, history and, of course, literature.

The images of the three main characters – Martin, Gustav and Cecilia – are built on opposition. For example, if Martin is friendly with everyone, then Gustav is selective in choosing friends. And so it is in almost everything. However, these differences do not alienate, but even more attract the heroes.

Fate brings the trio together. They complement each other, but each develops in its own direction, and one day something goes wrong. The little paradise they built around them is crumbling.

The author expands, but unobtrusively, describes the background of each character and reveals the characters through literary images and metaphors, as well as certain works and writers that they like. It is worth noting that, despite Sandgren’s somewhat idiosyncratic approach to storytelling, when reading it, there is no feeling that the Collected Works is a philosophical treatise or monograph. On the contrary, the writer has a rich but accessible language, which makes the book of almost 700 pages a fascinating read of excellent quality. Unless the abundance of some seemingly optional details is sometimes tiring, but in the end they all add up to a single puzzle.

Free composition, built on inversion and default, allows you to keep the intrigue throughout the novel. The author brings one character to the fore at the very beginning, not to mention the prehistory of the disappearance of the second, and then, returning to the past, brings the reader to key events.

The slow pace of the narrative, as well as constant retrospectives, sometimes confuse and confuse, but at the same time allow you to better understand the characters, analyze their certain actions and habits, and even the choice of life path, as well as assess the degree of influence of parents and the environment on their personalities. Full of contradictions, the characters appear as living people with their inherent strengths and weaknesses – genius borders on addiction, talent on doubt, and outstanding intellectual abilities with an inability to perceive reality. Some actions of heroes cause indignation, while others deserve sympathy and sympathy. One way or another, the author gives his characters the right to be themselves.

Sometimes, when reading, it is impossible to get rid of a lump in the throat, but The Collected Works is by no means a sentimental novel, designed to squeeze out a mean tear from the reader.

“Collected Works” by Sandgren, unlike the collection of works of her hero, is holistic and logically complete. The author raises the themes of love and infidelity, friendship and unity, death and eternity, loneliness and domesticity, reality and fiction, sometimes provocatively erasing the boundaries between them, and sometimes delineating a thick line.

By the end of the work, the reader finds answers to questions that he may have throughout all 700 pages, but at the same time, the author does not give a closed ending and leaves a wide field for reflection.


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J. A. Allen

Author, blogger, freelance writer. Hater of spiders. Drinker of wine. Mother of hellions.

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