Saturday, March 31, 2007

A story that hit home

Have you ever read a novel or story whose details rang so true that you thought, "That's me!" or "I was there!"?

I've flipped through the opening pages of Liza Marklund's Paradise. I knew Marklund had worked for newspapers, but my god, did she work for mine?

She has my paper's management philosophy and general atmosphere of the last fifteen years down:

"The editor-in-chief, Torstensson, wanted to introduce a new managerial level ... All the signs of impending disaster were in place: the poor state of the finances; the falling circulation; the grim faces of the members of the board; the newsroom that swayed in a storm, poorly guided and with a run-down radar. ... Torstensson wanted to make a mark, and God knows he hadn't had any editorial achievements."

She captures the humiliation of veteran journalists forced to edit, oh, just to pick a hypothetical example, material almost as demeaning as high school poetry and theater reviews:

"The news editor held out a stack of scores from the lower sporting divisions.

"The question hit Annika like a punch in the gut. What the hell! They were going to have her do the kind of stuff she'd done at the local paper, Katrineholms-Kurien, as a fourteen-year-old ... Fill out your own tables, dickhead!"

And this:

"[I]t was Annika's job to organize and structure the articles. This meant rewriting every one so that they would harmonize with each other and fit the context. Yet her name wouldn't appear anywhere in the paper ... She was a sub-editor, one among the many anonymous, invisible journalists."

OK, Marklund is a little weak on sub-editors (copy editors in the U.S.) In fact, we get less credit than our fictional counterparts in Paradise.

All right, readers, what stories have hit home for you?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This one ;-) One of the several reasons why I like these books so much. All the stuff about coping with young kids and a job, as well as male attitudes to young females in the workplace (I remember my struggles as a young PhD student and postdoc), are very vivid. This author has clearly been there and can convey it so well. It is why I can forgive her the sometimes rather weak plots -- to me, they are less important than the "recognition factor".

You put it very well in your post.

March 31, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Helene Tursten is another author whose protagonist has a full-time job raising a family in addition to a full-time paying job. (Someone left a copy of The Glass Devil on my desk at work last night, so I may be renewing my acquaintance with Detective Inspector Irene Huss soon.)

Liza Marklund's vignettes of Annika Bengtzon and her male colleagues are more effective than the narrator's speechifying on the subject. The opening chapters contain a little screed about all the managers at the newspaper being white, heterosexual males with good incomes. Besides the unlikelihood that someone like Annika would use as genteel and sociological word as heterosexual when on a rant, the remark about income seems rather silly. I mean, wouldn’t a manager have a good income by virtue of his job?

The weakness of this passage could be the translator’s fault rather than the author’s, but it will be interesting to see if Marklund can make her points through action and interaction rather than speeches – whether she can show rather than, as here, slipping into telling.

March 31, 2007  

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