The Waterloo library August reading group book was Jonas Jonasson’s The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden. Jonasson is an ex-journalist; with this bit of context the book makes a lot of sense. The story is fast paced, every exploit is entertaining, and the subject matter is often disturbing, but somehow – skillfully, we thought – light enough to be a topic for discussion rather than a period of mourning.
Jonasson’s journalistic past also makes us readers wonder how much of the book is derived from the author’s experiences ‘behind the scenes’. For journalists, the daily practice of social self-editing becomes written output. They must have to hide a lot of what they think.
We wondered as a group whether Jonasson had met men like the drunken engineer, given such force of identity that they never learn to think, their thoughts become static and they rely on clever people without the protection of identity status, whose lives they control. Has he met kings who want to be farmers? Has he met anyone who has had to be as ingenious/adaptable/gutsy as Nambuko? We spoke about how status and power in the book are shown to lead to all kinds of fundamentalism – the characters without stability or status are the ones who are most ready for life’s challenges.
We also talked about how Jonasson’s energetic style works when applied to his subject matter. Some of the most devastating events of the twentieth century are woven into his story – events in the book correlate with events in history and the book deals with apartheid South Africa, Mossad and the Cold War. This light treatment of heavy events is a problem – is Jonasson being too glib? Or is he drawing our attention to the fact that what we read in the news is a woefully condensed – and often entertaining – account of actions which impact on lives. Maybe Jonasson thinks that there are urgent lessons to be learned from the crazy world of journalism (“anyone who has involuntarily driven around with an atomic bomb in the back of his truck knows the feeling”) and deploys humour to that end. Or maybe this story is closer to fantasy or escapism. We can only speculate – and enjoy.
Samantha, Waterloo Library book group