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I varje ögonblick är vi fortfarande vid liv review

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Issue number: 2016:1

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I varje ögonblick är vi fortfarande vid liv

(At Every Moment We Are Still Alive)

by Tom Malmquist
reviewed by Janny Middelbeek-Oortgiesen

One of last autumn’s most talked-about Swedish books was Tom Malmquist’s I varje ögonblick är vi fortfarande vid liv. In this autobiographical novel, Malmquist describes what happens when his girlfriend Karin, thirty-three weeks pregnant, is diagnosed with acute leukaemia in March 2012 and dies a week later, after giving birth to a healthy daughter, Livia.

The first hundred pages of the novel give a very detailed description of Karin’s week in hospital. To get a grip on the situation, Tom takes notes of what happens, ‘for Karin, for later’. When Livia is delivered by Caesarean section, Karin’s condition deteriorates rapidly, and ultimately she dies. This roller-coaster of events is very well reflected by the frantic but meticulous style in this part of the book, with its very long sentences and detailed medical information. Throughout the book, there are no chapters and no quotation marks; a white line or a white page is the only sign that a new fragment or part has begun. The whole story is told in the first person, from Tom’s point of view.

The second part of the book is written in a style that is rather calmer than the first, but equally clear and closely observed. It begins by telling us how Karin and Tom got to know each other ten years earlier. Fragments of their life together – sometimes involving quarrels and money issues, the ordinary things that young people who are trying to build a life together go through – alternate with passages describing Tom’s struggles to be the best possible father for Livia and his problems with the authorities; since he and Karin were not married, he has to prove that he is Livia’s father before he can be given custody.

Four months after Karin’s death and Livia’s birth, Tom’s father dies. A well-known sports journalist, he had a complicated relationship with Tom. Now Tom has to come to terms with this relationship and what it means to him, being a father himself.

I varje ögonblick är vi fortfarande vid liv has been overwhelmingly well received in Sweden. And I can only agree with the Swedish critics; Malmquist’s account of how a person copes with very traumatic events is outstanding. The style and pace draw the reader into the story, a story that never at any point becomes self-pitying, because Malmquist writes without straining for effect. His approach is almost that of a journalist assembling the facts. A particular strength is his description of how someone in a crisis observes small and seemingly unimportant details and clings to them, to protect himself or herself against a greater evil.

The contrast between the first and second part of the book exemplifies the effectiveness of Malmquist’s writing. The second section starts with a scene in a pub, where Tom is with his friends. For the reader, the transition from acute tension to normality, even banality, could not be greater. This is how rapidly life can change, Malmquist seems to be saying. But he doesn’t spell it out: it’s a conclusion he leaves the reader to draw.

I varje ögonblick är vi fortfarande vid liv is a novel based on real-life experiences that doesn’t pull any punches. It left me breathless. As far as I am concerned, Malmquist has written Love Story 2.0.

Tom Malmquist. Photograph: Linnéa Jonasson Bernholm
About the book

I varje ögonblick är vi fortfarande vid liv

Natur & Kultur, 2015. 317 pages.