Thoughts Benny & Shrimp by Katarina Mazetti/translated by Sarah Death, Penguin Books 2009 (originally pub’d in Swedish 1998), 209 pages
MOTIVATION for READING: I purchased this book. The Bookies – my In-Real-Life book club – chose this for February discussion.
Who stands up for the dead?
Looks after their rights,
listens to their problems,
and waters their potted plants?
You’ll have to be on your guard!
WHAT it’s ABOUT: Two lonely people meet and despite their contrasts in lifestyle, they begin a relationship. Benny, age 37, is a farmer working so hard to keep his family business afloat after his parents deaths and Shrimp (real name Desirée) is a recently widowed librarian with a more modern style; they first meet in a cemetery, on the bench near the graves they visit. It is obvious from the start – just by looking at grave marker styles that these two will clash. But fall in love they do and it’s a fun ride.
It’s a story of give and take.
WHAT’s GOOD: I enjoyed the change of pace and style and humor from the recent books I’ve read – very refreshing and charming. I finished the book (and wrote this review) on the most fitting of days – Valentine’s Day! It’s a love story.
WHAT’s NOT so GOOD: This certainly is not the kind of book that demands attempts at analysis (Virginia Woolf?) but it was comforting from the first few pages to realize that Mazetti will keep the tension going, the humor sparkling, the love building. Because this is a translated book (and will assume translated well*), I did have to confront a few cultural references – and actually I’m very glad to do so and enjoy such pushes to learn about other places. I looked up the recipes and a bunch of stuff for this review: What is ‘ling’? (some kind of cod dish that is traditional Holiday fare.) Could I find the Swedish Princess Cookbook?! nope – sad; who is Niki de Saint Phalle? (she’s actually French) Can I locate a painting by Carl Larsson?
This reminds me almost of Norman Rockwell but the Arts & Crafts movement Larsson is associated with would be more reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright, perhaps?
Shrimp’s idea of what the inside of Benny’s house SHOULD be like. p.81:
What about poetry by Gunnar Ekelöf? What blurbs I did find say he is Sweden’s first surrealist poet. The little bit from the book, p. 142:
“The natural world replete with love and death around me…”
When I was struck by the universal theme of Give & Take, I was enthusiastically grabbed by the idea and could see it in all the relationships in the book. I felt so proud of myself and was too quick to imagine myself dazzling my Bookie friends with my insight. HA! Even Mazetti states this in the words of the nutty coworker, page 102:
She had no friends. “I’ve never been interested in making any,” she said matter-of-factly. “It only leads to all that tiresome give and take. You never have any freedom.”
Oh, I am having too much fun** with this… I made a poem from the mood suggesting qualities from just one paragraph – does it work? or was it heavy-handed? [From page 100.]
Hat pulled down / hands thrust deep
Climbed cautiously, came trudgingly, jumped nervously;
Put down / stood there. Tense.
I found this image from googling "typical Swedish farmhouse"
And what happened to the cemetery beginning? do we go back to it!? Yes, but that would introduce a spoiler… But that warning at the beginning should have been a better warning to me.
[Honest Revelation... I wrote most of this post before I was done with the book and it didn't end like I expected it to. I was afraid I would have to totally rewrite this! but revisiting it 24 hours after the 'scene of the crime', I am glad to admit that it's OK, this post is fine. But boy-oh-boy, was I thrown for a loop! Now that I've had time to think it through, it's just fine...]
I really enjoyed writing this post. I am looking forward to discussing this with the gals. One more question or observation: Despite thinking at one point that once again, the heroine has the brilliant but a bit messed-up sidekick buddy (Märta was cool), I doubt anyone would attempt to make a movie of this only because ‘they’ would cast actors TOO PRETTY and it would just miss on that account alone. I just know they would mess it up. Could I be wrong? tell me if I’m right… Surely this international bestseller would fall flat on the big screen, do you agree?
RATING: 4 PIES; I enjoyed this one. Do they make lingonberry pie? Why, yes. Yes, they do:
* Except that Shrimp takes Benny’s truck back into town but they keep calling it a car thereafter. I’m from the midwest – you do NOT confuse a truck with a car. Ever.
** I should have known better.
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