Thursday, 31 July 2008

On Finding Stig Dagerman

I was on a small expedition of one, exploring the darkest recesses of my local Oxfam shop when my eye was attracted by a book lying out in the open, on a shelf, completely unperturbed by my presence.

The markings of its cover were mute; simple, black rectangles at each corner against a buff background. It could have been an exercise book in its severity, except for the central design. This appeared as if someone had cut bits from a reproduction of a painting, photocopied them in black and white, and stuck them down.

Stig Dagerman. The name of the author meant nothing to me. The Games of Night. The title meant nothing.

I picked it up and flipped it on its back. There was a small quote printed by someone called Michael Meyer. I had never heard of him. However, in his quote he mentions Strindberg and Kafka. Now I have heard of them.

I flick through the book, from back to front, pausing to read a sentence here, a sentence there. Occasionally a whole paragraph.

I come to the introduction. It is written by Michael Meyer, so I am enlightened.

He, it appears, was a friend of Dagerman. He talks fondly of their relationship, that is, he, Dagerman and Dagerman's wife, Anita. He describes details of Dagerman's life in Sweden. Dagerman was Swedish.

He was born in 1923, the illegitimate son of a quarryman and a telephone operater at the home of his paternal grandparents. Two months later his mother left for her home in the north. He never saw her again. His father too left, but Dagerman was to see him again. So his grandparents raised him. At twelve years old, Dagerman left to stay in Stockholm with his father who had recently married. At sixteen his grandfather was murdered by a lunatic. Two weeks later his grandmother died of shock.

It was enough for me. I bought the book. 50p.

It is a book of short stories, not my usual fare, but the best investment I have ever made of a 50p piece. I believed I had discovered a hitherto unknown author of considerable talent. For Dagerman is a considerable talent.

I would launch him on the world.

I planned on inviting my friends around on some pretext with the book casually placed in the centre of the table. I would place myself quietly at one end of the room and observe.

I looked forward to watching them as they were inexorably drawn by that severe cover. I would inch nearer to eavesdrop.

"Stig who?"

"Never heard of him. It is a him, isn't it?"

"Yes, look, here in the introduction."

"My goodness, but he can write."

"Staggering."

"Concise."

"An author of considerable talent."

But then I wiki'd him. I wish I hadn't. The first line states:

'Stig Dagerman was one of the most prominent Swedish authors during the 1940s.'

And I had never heard of him. Still I had recognised his talent. So a career in publishing is still a possibility.

You can wiki Stig Dagerman here.

5 comments:

Stuart and Gabrielle said...

When I was schoolboy, I read Stig of the DumpClive King and Edward Ardizzone. That was a great read, is Stig of the Dagerman the sequel, perchance?

Stuart and Gabrielle said...

Hi David,

On BBC4 tonight, is a seven hour documentary on Danish avant-garde cinema, between 1954 and 1956, shot on Super 8 film in black and white; I thought you might be interested....

Lane said...

You're a talent spotter!:-)

I've never heard of him either. Now I have thanks to you:-)

DOT said...

S&G
I had never heard of Stig of the Dump till now. Initially I thought it must be a potty training manual but then I wiki'd it.

And thanks for the tip about the Danish filmfest. It was great - not so much black and white rather than 7 hours of a black screen with black sub-titles. Subtle, no?

Lane
Thanks, I am indeed the Simon Cowell of the literary world.

Girl On The Run said...

At my son's school there was a very crumpled teacher with sticky out hair who was nick-named Stig of the Dump! He lived three doors away from us and they scrumped apples from his garden and sold them at our front gate for a pound a bag. Enterprising you might think, but not very intelligent geographically.

Talking of Swedish Icons, I have just been to see Mama Mia ......