A Tiler's Afternoon

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9780002713160: A Tiler's Afternoon

In his newest novel, A Tiler's Afternoon, Lars Gustafsson invites us to share a day's work with Torsten Bergman, an aging, semi-retired tile-layer. On this particular day, Torsten arrives at an empty suburban villa, partially renovated and left unfinished. A master craftsman, he knows what to do and goes about his business, all the while reminiscing over his past, considering what may be left of his future, daydreaming about the mysterious Sophie K., the absent occupant of the villa's upstairs flat. No one checks on the work. With the close of the day comes Torsten's growing unease over hours spent on perhaps futile labor. "But at that moment there was a loud knocking at the door - no, more of a pounding than a knocking. It sounded as if by some strange coincidence the whole world had come to life again and was trying to get in." Like Samuel Beckett, Lars Gustafsson turns the plainest of circumstances into poignant universals. There are yet roads to travel after we say we cannot go on.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

Swedish writer Gustafsson (Bernard Foy's Third Castling, 1988, etc.) here displays his Beckettian wares in a slender tale about a day in the life of a hard-working melancholic tiler. Torsteen Bergman, at 65, lives in Upsala, Sweden. He is called to a suburban villa for some work, and he works furiously--but by the end of the story, he is suppressing ``the realization that he had worked meaninglessly all day long at the wrong address.'' In between, Gustafsson milks many of the metaphoric possibilities of such a fable, occasionally with dark wit and an original philosophical bent. Bergman's mood changes from episode to episode: sometimes ``The world was all around him, and nothing in that world was really his''; at other times, he ``had the feeling of being a fairly contented fly moving up a wall.'' He works, reminisces, and daydreams, wondering about Sophie K., the tenant of an upstairs flat in the building in which he works, or conversing with fellow worker Stiggsy, or chasing after lost soul Seija (``She too was someone who had learned the rules''). Such moments make up for the lack of real plot. Here, for example, Bergman listens to the wireless: ``The wireless was a sort of counter-balance to the spiritual stuff that Mother went in for, the Evangelical Society and revivalist meetings and auctioning parcels for the chapel.'' The novel is sprinkled with enough such tidbits to make it an effectively bittersweet elegy. If it's not the dazzling chess game that Gustafsson has sometimes pulled off in the past, it's at least an appetizer with some real philosophical meat between the covers. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

In this amusing and mysterious existential novel, a tile layer named Torsten Bergman labors without supervision to finish renovating a house in Sweden that has been left undone by previous tilers. Like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill, Torsten must undo the work that has already been done and begin again. As he works, Torsten wonders whether the task is worth the effort. He also imagines that voices are calling him from upstairs, but he never sees anybody. Soon, the tiler is questioning the meaning of his entire life. Eventually the voices he hears appear to assume a godlike quality, and he curses them: "What sort of people could it be who'd just sit on their backsides and not answer when they're spoken to?" The novel is full of ironies, such as when Torsten shells out money for supplies while hoping in vain for reimbursement. This story by Swedish author Gustafsson ( The Death of a Bee keeper ) reads like a modern parable peppered with some xenophobia on the part of Torsten in response to a changing culture; he refers, for example, to "bustling, noisy and quite unintelligible little foreigners." The book's major flaw is an overdramatization of allusions to the tiler's mortality.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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