6. The one I always give as a gift.
As long as it was in print I have Anna-Karin Palm’s Faunen
(The Faun), to everyone. It was Palm’s debiút novel and was published in 1991. (I know it’s translated to a couple of other languages but not, I’m afraid, to English).
Some books, when you read them, feel like they have been written just for you. Faunen
was one of them for me. It’s not a long novel, but it contains three stories, each told in very different styles, but with overlapping themes. One story is set in late Victorian London and concerns Amelia, spinster and reasonable popular author of romance stories. One day she finds a faun in her home, a faun who says he is very cross with her. It turns out Fritz, which the faun is called, has issues with the novel she is writing; a tragic romance about the Medieval maiden Eleanor. Things, Fritz says, didn’t happen the way Amelia tell sit. So the second story is Fritz story about Eleanor and her encounter with a faun and a unicorn. The third story is a contemporary diary, written by a young Swedish woman who, for a time, lives in London. She becomes fascinated with this painting at The National Gallery; A Satyr mourning over a Nymph
by Piero di Cosimo, painted around 1495.
Depending on her mood she sees the woman as sleeping, or dead, and the faun as grieving, or perhaps being the cause of the woman’s death. The diary mostly concerns the narrator’s life in Stockholm; memories of her childhood with a slightly younger sister, and her relationship with her best friend. The narrator feels very guilty, returning again and again to how she has betrayed her friend, but not saying what she has done. She also obsesses over a man who turns up in her life at irregular intervals and completely turns it upside down.
An overall theme with the book is women taking control over their own narrative. Having Fritz in her life broadens Amelia's social and sexual horizons, but the faun also controls her, and the story she is writing. In the end, Amelia writes another ending to Eleanor’s tragedy, giving Eleanor a happy ending. In doing so she breaks Fritz influence both over her’s, and Eleanor’s story. And the diary writer comes to term with the fact that her inability to realise her friend was in an abusive relationship isn’t really a betrayal. She also breaks free from the man who may, or may not, turn up when he says he will. The book ends with the diary-writer’s sister accidentally bumping into the best friend, talking about how happy they are she will be coming home from London soon. It’s clear the best friend has ended her abusive relationship and also got rid of the drug addiction the boyfriend had introduced her to.
When I first read this book I had a boyfriend who was extremely jealous and psychologically abusive. He also threatened to kill himself if I broke up with him. I felt very helpless, especially as he was very charming towards everyone else in my life. This book wasn’t the sole reason (a major help was my mother who sat down with me to tell me she saw how bad it was, and helped me get some perspective) I finally managed to end things with him, but it certainly had an impact