Archive for the ‘Katarina Mazetti’ Category

It feels like ages since I’ve written a review (rather than just one week) so bear with me as I work the rust out of the system.  Give me a few days and I’m sure everything will be back in working order.


Benny & Shrimp by Katarina Mazetti is almost certainly a book I would not have picked up, would never have heard of, if I hadn’t one day wandered into a bookstore that I rarely visit and found it on the Staff Recommendations shelf.  I was in fact more intrigued by the novel’s country of origin (Sweden) than its description of a love story between two thirty-something opposites who meet in a graveyard.  Quirky, Scandinavian fiction?  Count me in.

Shrimp, properly known as Desirée (I would prefer to be called Shrimp, frankly), is a widowed librarian who in the months following her husband’s freak death finds herself crossing paths with the farmer Benny, whose parents occupy the cemetery plot next to Shrimp’s husband.  Both Benny and Shrimp are initially upset to have to share what should be private time at their loved ones graves but, as time goes on, they find themselves drawn together.  And when they finally take a running leap into that inevitable relationship, it’s electric and messy and clearly doomed but so, so fascinating to read about.

The novel is short – only 209 pages – and reads faster than most books that length because of the constant switching between perspectives after only three or four pages.  This is a narrative where it would be very easy to take sides and I thought that by switching so frequently, by presenting both character’s struggles in such a sympathetic, articulate manner, Mazetti made it much more difficult to pass simple judgments on either lead.  That didn’t prevent me from doing so (I come from a long line of dairy farmers, so my sympathies were always going to be with Benny and his commitments to his family farm) but it still felt balanced.

It is a novel about love.  Sort of.  Shrimp’s marriage to the cerebral Örjan was ordered and neat, designed to offer comfort and companionship but never any excitement and really not very much love, not even platonically.  Certainly not the kind of chemical reaction that she and Benny have right from the first moment.  It’s difficult to think of two people worse suited for a relationship: Benny longs for the traditional, for a good farm wife to cook and clean and raise children, a woman who can understand what it means to run a farm, what kind of sacrifices are necessary.  Shrimp is not that woman: Shrimp lives in town, can’t cook and has no interest in learning how, loves books and the theatre and the Opera and foreign films at the cinema.  Neither is terribly willing to adapt to the other’s way of life, to make the kind of sacrifices they know are necessary in order to make the relationship work.

Is that love?  What is love?  Is it a chemical reaction, desire, a ravenous need to jump into bed all the time, victim to a ticking biological clock?  Or is it the well-ordered, emotionless partnership that Shrimp had with her husband and that Benny finds with Anita?  From my way of thinking, it’s neither but then, even as a teenager, I never had one of those hormone-driven crushes or relationships that are thereafter labeled ‘first love’ and alluded to indulgently, nostalgically as time passes.  I think too much.  That’s always been my problem when it comes to matters of the heart (well, when it comes to everything, actually) and I have always managed to reason myself out of any illogical emotional attachment.  The relationship between Benny and Shrimp fascinates me because it’s the kind of thing I simply cannot imagine happening to me.  They cling to each other for so long, even as they’re stubbornly pushing away and fighting, in a way that makes absolutely no sense to me.  Wanting, I understand.  It’s the giving in; the indulging when you know it’s not going anywhere that gives me pause.  I just don’t see the point.  Better to have loved and lost, etc, aside, what is the point of expending all that energy on something that you’re already actively working against to ensure it doesn’t succeed? 

Alright, now that I’ve revealed far too many personal details, best to end (unlike the novel, which remains rather open-ended, in order to accommodate the sequel that does not appear to be available in English.)

Read Full Post »