Sunday, 20 March 2011

Christer Kihlman reassessed

Hufvudstadsbladet’s Pia Ingström has been rereading the novels of Christer Kihlman (b. 1930), Finland’s doyen and former enfant terrible of “confessional literature” who was at his most productive in the 1960s and 70s, but whose literary activity subsequently became more sporadic.  Kihlman’s breakthrough novel Se upp, Salige! (1960) has  been reissued in a new edition by Söderströms, though readers of English will have to wait.  Four of his novels are, however, available in English versions, and one wonders whether the renewed interest in his work may also extend to the English-speaking world. Certainly, as Pia Ingström points out in her column, Kihlman’s work is not short on interesting, contemporary and universally human themes, whether it be marital conflict, family breakdown, homosexual prostitution, alcoholism or drug addiction – “Frågan är om inte Kihlman är bättre ju värre han är” (The question is whether Kihlman is not better the worse he is), she writes, and there may well be something in that, for he was probably at his best as a writer when exploring what Gunnar Ekelöf called the “bottom” (botten) of human nature and  experience. At all events, one looks forward to seeing the republication in Swedish of more of Kihlman’s controversial but surely not superannuated output, much of which has been out of print for a long time. After all, in the intervening years since the 1970s confessional literature has never entirely gone out of fashion in the global literary market, and may even be on the way back to prominence again.

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