Monday, 2 January 2017

Back to the ballast place

For a really sobering start to 2017 try August Strindberg’s novel On the Seaboard.

Axel Borg is appointed superintendent of fisheries for a small island in the Stockholm Archipelago. Faced with the islanders’ wooden ignorance and implacable hostility he tries to live up to his concept of the non-attached intellectual. Even the attractions of a woman of his own class cannot prise him from his ideals which eventually send him over the edge. In a forlorn attempt to resolve his conflicts he visits his refuge, an uninhabited island.

It was the last skerry outside the channel and consisted of a couple of acres of red gneiss without any vegetation other than a few lichens on places where the drifting ice had not scraped the rocks perfectly clean. Only sea gulls and mews had their resting place here, and now as the commissioner moored his boat and stepped up on the highest point of the skerry they gave forth cries of alarm.

Here he wrapped himself in his blanket, and placed himself in a well-polished crevice, which made him a comfortable arm chair. Here, without witness, without auditors, he gave himself up to thoughts and let them loose, confessed himself, scrutinized himself inwardly and heard his own voice from within.

Only two months of rubbing against other beings, and he had through the law of accommodation lost the better part of himself, had become used to acquiescing to avoid disputes, drilled himself to yield to avoid a break, and developed into a characterless, malleable, sociable fellow; with his head full of bagatelles and being urged to speak in an abbreviated, simplified vocabulary, he felt that his scale of language had lost its semi-tones, and that his thoughts had been switching in on old worn rails, which led back to the ballast place.

August Strindberg – On the Seaboard (1913)


James Higham said...

Enough reading, lad, get writing!

Michael said...

I'm on a novel based in the same area. 'Buried' by Jussi Adler-Olsen and it's absolutely absorbing!

Just chatting with our local Librarian an hour ago, we both agreed that stories from Scandinavia are really on the up, probably best popularised by the Dragon Tattoo books!

Demetrius said...

Nothing like a bit of optimism to start the year.

A K Haart said...

James - I'd like to but I don't have the time.

Scrobs - I bet he isn't as bleak as Strindberg.

Demetrius - and this is nothing like a bit of optimism.