Don’t they have coils in Sweden?

February 16, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Familjegraven by Katarina Mazetti 2005. French title: Le caveau de famille. Not available in English.

Mazetti_Caveau_FamilleFamily Grave is the sequel of Benny and Shrimp, a book I read almost two years ago. I wouldn’t have bought the sequel as these are usually disappointing unless the initial literary project was to write something in several volumes. Otherwise, once the pleasure of discovering a new set of characters and a new environment is gone, the sequel lacks the freshness of first impressions. In this case, my in-law lent me the book and I read it in two settings. It’s short, entertaining and does not really engage a lot of brain cells. Just look at the categories I chose; this is not a criticism, just a statement.

Mazetti’s characters are Benny, a farmer who struggles to keep his farm afloat by himself and Dérirée, who is a librarian and a city girl. They meet in the cemetery since Benny’s mother’s grave is beside Dérirée’s husband’s grave. They have nothing in common but still fall in love. In the sequel, we follow their improbable love story as they become parents. In this kind of book, with that kind of blurb, it can be anything from extremely corny to extremely funny and witty. Only the skills of the writer can make a difference. Perhaps it is, in a way, more difficult to write excellent fluffy books following well-battered paths than it is to write a book about yourself and your relationship with your mother.

But back to Benny and Désirée. Things weren’t easy between them in the first volume, they don’t improve in the second. It’s still written in the same light and funny tone as Benny and Shrimp and the details are rather realistic. Katarina Mazetti describes with a rather good accuracy the life of parents who both work and have several children under four years old. You live on a binary mode: Parent-Employee-Parent-Employee…Sometimes the man or the woman in you pops up provided that you haven’t fallen asleep before it can even happen. So it’s full of details that non-parents may have a hard time believing but that are still true. The huge piles of laundry, the illness that always occur at the worst moment, the desperate need to find someone to watch them when they’re ill and you need to work, the holidays that aren’t unwinding, the relief when it’s time for their nap or the constant run against to clock to get everything done and respect their need for meals and naps at fixed hours. Don’t get me wrong. There are wonderful moments with small children when you help them acquire new skills and cuddle them. These moments get enough advertising; it’s nice to have someone showing the other side of parenthood.

Mazetti_tomba_famigliaThe only detail I had difficulties to swallow is that Désirée keeps on getting pregnant by accident. Don’t they have coils in Sweden? This is the 21st century and I have a hard time imagining it can happen to such an educated woman as Désirée.

The most interesting aspect of the book is about Benny and his farm. Katarina Mazetti’s husband is a farmer, so she knows how it works. Benny works all the time, doesn’t earn enough to support a family, struggles with EU paperwork and Désirée isn’t very optimistic about the future of agriculture in Sweden. Money is tight and farms disappear. Benny is the last one milking cows in his neighbourhood. His character, although a bit of a caricature, still rings true. I’m not saying that all farmers act like Benny but more that they encounter the same kind of troubles in their work.

This novel doesn’t pretend to be a masterpiece; it isn’t but it’s a good light read if you need one. It came as a nice distraction to Marcel’s claustrophic behaviour to Albertine.

A word about the covers. The French one is rather corny and the red heart is a link to the cover of the first volume. I think that the Italian one is awful and the book doesn’t deserve such a pink syrupy cover. Again, it’s a book marketed for women and we can’t escape pink. And those ridiculous butterflies! It has nothing to do with the book…

  1. February 16, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    Were the characters religious? (the multiple pregnancy thing) or was this some sort of extension to the farming/agriculture/birthing side of the novel?


    • February 16, 2013 at 8:19 pm

      Nothing like that at all: it was sheer bad luck due to lack of protection in heated moments. Since they were already struggling with two children and didn’t want more than two, I just don’t understand why they didn’t rely on reliable contraceptive methods. (ones you can’t forget, vomit, tear or whatever…)


  2. February 16, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    Your commentary has me pondering. Do really people who are really opposites and truly have little in common really attract and successfully form relationships? It is a cliche that they do but I do not really know any couples that this was true of. I do not think that it could ever have worked for me.


    • February 16, 2013 at 9:33 pm

      I think that people with opposite personalities can get along very well and balance each other.
      In the end, what’s important is to share the same values. Otherwise, as soon as kids arrive, you fight.


      • February 16, 2013 at 9:36 pm

        I agree with you about the values. It just seems that people who share similar values have a significant amount of other attributes in common.


        • February 16, 2013 at 9:43 pm

          You can have the same values and not the same hobbies. You can also share the same values and not have the same kind of personality, like being shy vs outspoken for example. Don’t you know couples like this?
          Perhaps these couples last because they don’t smother each other or are less fusional. Each person keeps their hobbies and stay themselves as a stand-alone and not only as a half-of-a-couple.


          • February 16, 2013 at 9:51 pm

            I think we are talking about different things. I was really referring to some fiction and television/movies that portray ridiculous mismatches where people had absolutely nothing in common from hobbies, values, personalities , etc.

            I totally agree that people with very different traits, especially in regard to personality make great matches. Some similar interests do help a lot, however.


            • February 16, 2013 at 10:19 pm

              I know what you mean about these fictional works. To be honest, I don’t think Benny and Désirée would have their chance in real life. For me, it’s all part of the Hollywood romantic crap they want us to swallow: soul mates, love overcomes all kinds of differences, blah blah blah.
              I like the song Cendrillon by Téléphone. Rather cynical but more realistic than happily-ever-afters. It says:

              Cendrillon pour ses vingt ans
              Est la plus jolie des enfants
              Son bel amant, le prince charmant
              La prend sur son cheval blanc
              Elle oublie le temps
              Dans son palais d’argent
              Pour ne pas voir qu’un nouveau jour se lève
              Elle ferme les yeux et dans ses rêves
              Elle part, jolie petite histoire (2x)

              Cendrillon pour ses trente ans
              Est la plus triste des mamans
              Son bel amant a foutu l’camp
              Avec la belle au bois dormant
              Elle a vu cent chevaux blanc
              Loin d’elle emmener ses enfants
              Elle commence à boire
              A traîner dans les bars
              Emmitouflée dans son cafard
              Maintenant elle fait le trottoir
              Elle part, jolie petite histoire (2x)

              Dix ans de cette vie ont suffit
              A la changer en junkie
              Et dans un sommeil infini
              Cendrillon voit finir sa vie
              Les lumières dansent
              Dans son ambulance
              Mais elle tue sa dernière chance
              Tout ça n’a plus d’importance
              Elle part
              Fin de l’histoire

              If I translate, it is:

              “Cinderella, for her 20th birthday
              Is the most beautiful child
              Her handsome lover, the Prince Charming
              Takes her on his white horse
              She forgets time
              In her silver palace
              To forget that a new day comes
              She closes her eyes
              And leaves.
              Nice little story

              Cinderella, on her 30th birthday
              Is the saddest of all mothers
              Her handsome lover
              Has fucked off
              With the Sleeping Beauty
              She’s seen a hundred white horses
              Taking her children away from her
              And she starts drinking,
              Hanging out in bars.
              Bundled up in her blues
              Now she works the streets,
              She leaves,
              Nice little story

              Ten years of this life were enough
              To turn her into a junkie
              And in a forever sleep
              Cinderella sees her life end
              The lights dance
              In her ambulance
              But she kills her last chance
              All this is of no importance
              She leaves
              End of story.”


      • February 17, 2013 at 7:52 pm

        I agree: opposite personalities can (emphasis on CAN) do well, but it’s the shared values that are important


  3. February 16, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    I still haven’t read the first volume although I bought it when it came out and then I read your review which made it soud very entertaining. Unfortunately I watched the movie and thought it was horrible. Or rather the actors were.
    This sounds equally well done, entertaining and true to life. I’m not sure why she keeps on getting pregnant… Funny enough there is a Swedish woman working with me and she just got pregnant, accidentally, for the fourth time! Maybe it’s a Swedish thing. The authors is Swedish, right? The woman I mean isn’t religious or anything, it’s more an ecological thing. This sounds weird, I know but I can’t explain it any better.


    • February 16, 2013 at 10:25 pm

      I didn’t know there was a movie. I can see how it can go wrong. Most of the subtlety of the book relies on the writing and it can be easily squashed by a clumsy director or screen writer.

      Ah, I hadn’t thought about the ecological/I’m-all-for-natural-things way of thinking. The author is Swedish, despite her Italian surname. But still, to me it seems crazy to take such a risk for ecological reasons.

      PS: it’s nice to be online at the same time, for a change.


  4. February 17, 2013 at 7:08 am

    My MIL once gave me something by Paullina Simons, and I felt I had to read it. It was excruciating…
    These days she mostly gives me French perfume, which I am very happy to receive!


    • February 17, 2013 at 10:47 pm

      I’ve never heard of Paullina Simons but apparently, it’s not a bad thing.

      I liked Le caveau de famille but it’s not as good as the first volume. Katarina Mazetti can be compared to Toni Jordan.


  5. February 18, 2013 at 11:59 am

    I’ve heard of, but never read, Katarina Mazetti and it looks like I won’t read her any time soon (unless someone offers/lends it to me which I think is unlikely). But I liked your comment about book covers. I usually complain about English covers being a lot more syrupy (that’s a very good word you used!) than French covers for a same book, giving a completely distorted image of the book’s contents, but that Italian cover you show is probably even worse.


    • February 18, 2013 at 9:45 pm

      Thanks for commenting
      I agree with you, most of the time English covers aren’t as good as the French ones. It’s sober in French. When I read A Pair of Blue Eyes, I also commented the covers: the English ones brought an image of the main character that was betraying what Hardy had written.


  6. February 18, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    sounds stunning just shame it isn’t in english ,I often wish I could read on other languages but not got the knack but hope to try and learn at some point ,all the best stu


    • February 18, 2013 at 9:46 pm

      You can read the first volume, if you want. It’s available in English and it’s entitled Benny and Shrimp.


  7. February 18, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    A less serious book can be a pleasure to read if it’s well done. This sounds amusing enough and it’s a shame it’s not available in English. I enjoyed reading your translation of the poem in your comment above


    • February 18, 2013 at 9:52 pm

      Same as Stu, you can read the first volume (Benny and Shrimp)
      This poem is actually a song but it’s a sign that you consider it as poetry. Songwriters can be good poets. I like this band a lot.


  8. February 26, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    Nice review, Emma. This book and its prequel look like interesting, light reads. I liked very much what you said about the delightful and hard parenting moments and how the book depicts them realistically. Parenting is hardwork and the toughest job in the world as you have described. It is nice to know that the book depicts it well. Thanks for this nice review.


    • February 26, 2013 at 7:15 pm

      Thanks Vishy. The first volume is better than this one and it’s a nice light read. The characters are unusual.


  1. December 21, 2014 at 12:14 pm
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