In her forties, childless, and living alone, Karolina Andersson feels adrift after the breakup of a long relationship. An art history professor, she finds fulfillment in her work, and when she starts advising a new postgraduate student, she is struck by his confidence. He claims to have discovered new materials from a female artist working around 1900 that could change the history of Swedish visual arts. Karolina soon finds herself embroiled in a complex game with both emotional and professional consequences.
Eventide is a perceptive novel of ideas about love, art, and solitude in our time, and the distorted standards to which women are held in their relationships and careers.
|Publisher:||Other Press, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Marlaine Delargy has translated novels by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Kristina Ohlsson, Henning Mankell, and Helene Tursten, as well as A Fortune Foretold by Agneta Pleijel and Therese Bohman's Drowned and The Other Woman. She serves on the editorial board of the Swedish Book Review. She lives in England.
Read an Excerpt
The subway car was packed and she had to stand from Slussen to Ostermalmstorg, crammed between people who all seemed to be sweating. The whole car stank. The trains were still running according to the summer schedule, which meant half as many departures as usual, in spite of the fact that most vacationers were back in the city by now. It was the end of August, the heat still heavy and sticky in Stockholm. It had been an unusually warm summer.
The few people who alighted at the University station formed an orderly line on the long escalator heading up toward the daylight; most of them were suntanned teenagers, possibly there to find their way around before the start of the semester in a few days' time.
They get younger every year, she thought — as she did every August/September. At first glance she wouldn't even have said that some of them were old enough for high school. But now they would be studying at the University of Stockholm, possibly in her own department. She glanced along the path leading toward the blue buildings; it was hard to tell. In their summer clothes, all students looked the same.
The department was everything the subway wasn't: cool and quiet. A printer was chugging away farther down the corridor, and the faint smell of paper and stuffy rooms hovered in the air. She was very happy here in spite of the total lack of glamour, in spite of the fact that the corridors with their flat-woven plastic rugs made the place look like just about any public facility — a community center in a small town, an elementary school, a clinic. The exterior of the ivy-covered brick building was beautiful; it was one of the few impressive structures on the campus. And she loved the nameplate on her door, "Karolina Andersson, Professor of Art," even though she didn't really like her own name. It was a boring name, a typical 1970s name without the slightest hint of mystery, easily forgotten, but at least the title lifted it somewhat. One day she would probably get used to "Professor of Art," but she wasn't there yet.
The air quality in her room was poor, and she randomly turned the air-conditioning dial, or maybe it was the heating; she had never understood how it worked. Then she opened the window instead. She had a view of the Natural History Museum, and she never tired of looking at it. It was a long time since she had been in there — at least ten years, possibly fifteen. Or even twenty. The speed with which time passed often frightened her. The years since she left school and moved away from home felt like a moment compared with her childhood and teens, which seemed to have gone on for an eternity.
When she was working on the weekend she would often gaze out at the procession of families heading from the subway station to the entrance of the museum, full of enthusiasm at the prospect of seeing films about the universe or the Antarctic, skeletons of whales, models of dinosaurs, stuffed animals. Actually, it was probably more like twenty-five years since she had been in there. She really ought to go. Tomorrow, perhaps. The rooms were bound to be pleasantly cool.
She spent a few hours going through her mail and checking her messages, which mostly consisted of information about various activities, guest lectures, invitations to apply for research funding. Luncheon vouchers for the Faculty Club, where she never ate. The agenda for the first board meeting of the new semester. And a message from one of her PhD students, sloppily written and sent late the previous night.
She stretched and stood up to go and get a coffee. An indolent atmosphere pervaded the entire building, a late summer drowsiness, which within days would be supplanted by activity and stress. She loved being here when the department was deserted. She had spent most of the Easter break at her desk, absorbed in her work. It was a good memory.
Peter Tallfalk was in the staff room waiting for the machine to finish producing a cup of coffee. Peter was also a professor, and Tallfalk was a name he had adopted when he got married a few years ago. Karolina thought it was an amusing name, with its pretensions to distinguished elegance even though it made him sound like a character from a children's book. Mr. Tallfalk.
But Peter was nice; of all her colleagues, he was the one she liked best. He was in his sixties and his particular focus was iconology in the successors of Panofsky, which seemed strangely old-fashioned among all the more contemporary research projects currently ongoing within the department. Peter had a rare passion for graphics, primarily from the Renaissance. His appearance was rather mousy, but in a nice way; more rodent than falcon.
He seemed pleased to see her.
"How was your summer?" he asked as Karolina pressed a button on the machine.
"Okay." She hesitated briefly. "I've been busy with the move most of the time."
He nodded sympathetically.
"Of course. All sorted?"
"I wouldn't say that exactly, but I've unpacked everything. And redecorated, so at least there's a kind of superficial order."
She pulled a face while he continued to exude sympathy.
She had moved from a large three-room apartment in Vasastan to a small two-room place in Södermalm. At the same time she had gone from eleven years of living with a partner to life as a singleton, and she knew it was going to take a while to get used to that. She had, however, quickly grown accustomed to the pitying looks that said: "Women in their forties don't dump their partner. You've really made a mess of things now."
"We're late bloomers, you and I," Peter said. "Like all the best people."
She smiled, touched at his kindness.
"You must come over for a drink one evening," he went on. "It's still possible to sit out, and we're planning on doing just that right through the fall. We've installed infrared heating. Well, I say we — I got someone in to do it. I don't have a handy bone in my body."
Karolina thought the apartment still had a slightly strange odor, as if she hadn't yet made her mark. Anacrid smell lingered in the rooms; she thought it might be the cheap detergent used by the cleaning company.
Otherwise she was happy here, in a passive kind of way. It was a beautiful apartment, even though it was pretty shabby, and in an area she wouldn't have chosen if she had actually had a choice. Unfortunately the purchase had had to be expedited quickly, and in June, when there wasn't a great deal on the market. She had wanted to move fast. The block was at the end of Folkungagatan, just where it begins to slope down toward the Stadsgård intersection and the Finland ferries, a Södermalm appendix, slightly rundown, with one of the inner city's few remaining petrol stations diagonally opposite. The living room was noisy, with its old windows overlooking the street; they rattled when there was a lot of traffic, and when trucks from the ferries chose to make their way into the city via Folkungagatan.
"Great potential," the property details had said; she knew perfectly well that this could mean almost the same as "in need of significant renovation" in broker-speak. The building had passed into the hands of a tenants' association just a few years earlier. The previous owner was an elderly lady who had since passed away, and she had decided not to go in for the hysterical refurbishment which most people of Karolina's generation had opted for. This apartment bore clear signs of its past; the paint was scuffed on cupboards and door frames, the creaking parquet flooring needed repolishing, and the bathroom floor was covered by a grubby plastic mat that looked as if it had been put down in the eighties, and was long overdue for replacement.
But Karolina liked her new home. It had soon begun to feel like an oasis, a space of her own, maybe somewhere she could make a fresh start, even if that was still some way beyond the horizon. For the moment it was a good location for a period of aimless confusion.
She had repainted the walls during a hot week in July. Every room had been decorated with nondescript, pale wallpaper with a discreet pattern; it didn't particularly bother her, but there were stains here and there which that made it look grubby, and it was probably one of the reasons for the comparatively cheap selling price. She did a fairly slapdash job, sanding down and filling holes in a halfhearted way, wearing only a T-shirt and panties because it was almost thirty degrees Celsius outside, and it was impossible to create a draft indoors. The air in the city was undisturbed for weeks during the summer, hot days and tropical nights. She slapped two coats of Stockholm white on top of her poor preparatory work, then left the windows wide-open all evening while she sat in the little island of furniture in the middle of the living room, drinking chilled white wine and watching the moths attack the expensive candles she had bought in the hope that they would neutralize the smell of paint, which gave her a nagging headache.
"Get yourself a cat," one of her colleagues had said when she moved in, but she refused, even though she actually liked cats. She didn't want to be a single woman with a cat, it was too tragically predictable. "I'd prefer a lover," she had replied, and they had both laughed, even though she was perfectly serious.
Hi, Karolina, first of all I'd like to apologize for not keeping in touch. I realize you might have been wondering what I was up to. The thing is, I've found some really interesting material during my stay in Berlin. Ebba Ellis, the subject of my dissertation, turns out to be a far more fascinating person than I could have imagined. I'd really like to discuss the matter with you in more detail now I'm back in Stockholm. I'm so pleased that you're my supervisor! Best, Anton."
It was a cheerful e-mail, but at the same time Karolina couldn't help feeling annoyed. Anton Strömberg had been accepted as a research student a year ago, but she still hadn't met him; all contact had been via e-mail. At first she had thought this was convenient, but then it had begun to seem rather strange, and she had repeatedly asked him to call in at the department. However, he had spent most of his time in Berlin, as he pointed out in every insubstantial message he sent her, as if it were something remarkable. In fact, virtually every Swedish student aiming for a PhD in humanities seemed to spend a considerable amount of time in Berlin.
The carefree tone of this latest e-mail also bothered her. When she was working toward her doctorate she had been constantly full of doubt, both about her topic — would it be enough? Would it be possible to produce sufficient material, given the limitations she had set in order to avoid the opposite problem: a topic that simply spilled over and became impossible to control — and, above all, doubts about her own capability. Would she succeed in completing the task she had set herself, would she ever finish? With hindsight that period had felt like being trapped inside a bubble, constructed by her own brain and the sad little ideas it managed to come up with, ideas which she hoped she would be able to present in the guise of reliable research. She had constantly felt as if she were trying to con everyone, to bluff her way to a title, as if she would inevitably be exposed, sooner or later. She was woken night after night by bad dreams: she had overslept on the day of her defense, and everything went wrong when she tried to hurry to the university. She had to pack a bag to take with her and couldn't find the things she needed; she realized she had turned up at her own defense without her pants.
Yes, there was definitely an air of self-assurance about this e-mail that irritated her, particularly "I realize you might have been wondering what I was up to." At some point about a year ago she might have wondered in passing what he was actually up to, might have thought that he really ought to come and see her, but after that she had started to think of Anton Strömberg as lost, one of those PhD candidates who would never finish their dissertation, in spite of their talent and potential, because something else got in the way. Life, building a family, illness, the nightlife in Berlin. She simply hadn't bothered about the reason.
It was also annoying that she'd never heard of this Ebba Ellis, who was allegedly so fascinating.
Wikipedia supplied her with brief details. "Swedish artist, born 1864 in Kristianstad, died 1945 in Munich. Ellis studied art in Germany and Paris from 1882. She made her name primarily through her symbolist-influenced graphics."
There was a link to an issue of Ord & Bild which contained two illustrations produced by Ellis to accompany a poem by the Finland-Swedish poet Bertel Gripenberg in 1903, "Songs to Salome": lofty, dramatic, erotic. "Others love with the birds' playful twitter," she read, "the love of others is childlike and gentle and good, but Salome's love is poisonous and bitter, for Salome loves with steel and blood."
Ebba Ellis's illustrations depicted a Salome who really did look as if she loved with steel and blood; her expression was intense, and there was something cruel about her half-open mouth that reminded Karolina of a predatory animal. Her long, dark hair cascaded down over a body that was both supple and voluptuous, drawn with sensual lines. They were riveting, powerful pictures, clearly the work of someone who had been in very close contact with what was going on in Europe, particularly with regard to German Symbolism. There was something slightly bizarre about them, as in the work of Max Klinger or Otto Greiner, or even Arnold Böcklin.
It was strange that she hadn't seen them before. She had trawled Swedish art history for precisely this kind of image for her doctorate. On the other hand, history was full of dead ends, artists who had never fulfilled their true potential, especially women, for crass reasons such as children and family life. Or because the artist in question was outside the social and professional context of the day, wasn't part of a network, never had any pupils or followers. But the two illustrations in Ord & Bild suggested that Ebba Ellis should have had a context. She didn't seem to be a loner whose work had developed beyond the established history of art. She must have been well-traveled, aware, modern.
The sound of muted laughter could be heard from outside. A group of students were sitting on the lawn in the sunshine, eating salad. Karolina should have stopped for lunch long ago, but when she was working she could easily forget both time and space. Sometimes it was late afternoon before she realized she hadn't had anything to eat, or late at night when it occurred to her that she should have gone home hours ago. It used to drive Karl Johan crazy.
She walked over to the blue buildings, six colossal turquoise structures from the late sixties. When she started studying at the University of Stockholm, all her classes had been in there, and she had hated it. How could the location for something so beautiful have such an ugly form, she had wondered, and she still felt exactly the same.
She spent a long time considering the plastic-wrapped sandwiches in the cafeteria, which all looked equally unappetizing. Eventually she took her sandwich and a bottle of mineral water out into the sun and sat down in the shade of a maple tree in a dutiful attempt to make the most of what she suspected was one of the last really lovely summer days. There had been a faint chill in the air for several weeks, even though the days were still warm.
There was a special atmosphere around the campus at the beginning of the semester, a mixture of anxiety and exhilaration. She watched the students as they walked from the subway into the blue buildings. Perhaps this was the first time they had been at a university. Perhaps their lives would be changed by what they learned during the coming weeks, just as her life had been changed during those first months. It was the overwhelming realization of what a university actually was that had made her stay, the amount of knowledge that was gathered there, the fact that it was a place where learning was generated. She had felt homeless until then, like an empty vessel, and everything that was housed in those university buildings breathed life into her: the knowledge, the art, the culture, the tradition. The values she loved with a pathos and a conviction that she knew was old-fashioned, maybe even inappropriate. But if they could do for someone else what they had done for her, then she intended to hold on to them, in the best-case scenario to give them away like a key to someone who needed it, just as she had done, a key that would open up the world, make it seem clear and manageable when all its contexts and connections made sense.
Excerpted from "Eventide"
Copyright © 2016 Therese Bohman.
Excerpted by permission of Other Press LLC.
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