Barricaded into a large, gloomy flat in Stockholm, 1979, a battered and frightened young man - Klas A-stergren - writes the story of how he came to this sorry state. But is he a reliable narrator? In this expansive and exuberant novel, he tells the story of his friends (and flatmates), the two Morgan brothers: Henry - a charismatic charmer, a man who loves to play at life but is mysteriously bound to the beautiful Maud; and, Leo - a child genius who became a revolutionary poet, drinking and smoking his way to disillusionment. Despite their hedonistic lifestyle, they've stumbled on a dark secret that goes right to the heart of the country, a story that has sinister links with their own pasts. But now both of them have vanished, and Klas is frightened for his life.
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Klas A-stergren was born in Stockholm in 1955 and is the author of several novels including the landmark Gentlemen (1981) and its sequel, Gangsters (2005). A leading star of Swedish literature for nearly three decades, he has won the Piratenpriset and the Doblougska prize from the Swedish Academy. A founder of the rock band Fullersta Revolutionary Orchestra, A-stergren has also worked as a translator, playwright, and scriptwriter for television and screen, and he co-wrote Mikael Hafstrom's film Ondskan, which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. He now lives with his wife and three children in the seafront town of Kivik in southern Sweden.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
We ate the lobsters warm with a couple of pats of butter and toast. We ate in silent reverence, because warm lobster, perfectly prepared, is one of the best things this world has to offer. Afterwards we had coffee in the sitting room, each of us dozing in an armchair by the fire. The idea was that we would recharge and then go out on the town–we had been living a miserly and dreary existence for some time now–but the delicacies took their toll on our strength, and the Italian wine didn’t make us nearly as Italian as we had hoped.
Henry put on an old jazz record, but that didn’t make us any livelier either. I longed more than ever for an old rock album–it didn’t matter which one as long as it rocked and got me going again. But all my records had been stolen, and for Henry rock and pop had never existed. It might be something he would sit and sing along with in a pub, but that was all. I had now been living in his flat for a month, and I was starting to miss my music. Henry claimed that I was going through withdrawal. He was going to get me to listen to real music.
He suggested that we write a song together. It would be about two gentlemen, a showy and peppy little tune with a refrain that stayed with you, a perfect hit.
If the girls leave you flat
And the girls don’t have a five or a ten
Then forget about that
We’ll dream ourselves fat, we are gentlemen
That’s what Henry dictated in his best Karl Gerhard form, because he was no stranger to that type of handiwork. It’s what the average serious composer prefers to regard as a type of prostitution. But with his great art, which he regularly talked about, Henry was absolutely uncompromising. He wasn’t about to sell out.
But we didn’t get very far with “Gentlemen” that evening. Nor did we behave like gentlemen. A cool saxophone brought all our impulses down to the ground, and we sank even deeper into our armchairs, if that were possible. It was raining outside, and neither of us had any further desire to lay waste to the town.
“I don’t even feel like this is a celebration,” I yawned.
“Me too,” said Henry drowsily in English, using incorrect grammar. “I think we ate a little too fast. Lobster has to be eaten slowly. And we should have invited some women over, then we would have pulled ourselves together.”
“I’ve got nothing left in me,” I said.
“Me too,” Henry repeated, still just as incorrectly. “Sometimes life is just so incomparably tedious.”
It remained a mystery how two lively and talented boxers could fade so easily on an evening after a lobster dinner and a few bottles of dry Italian white wine. But at least it wasn’t work that had worn us out.
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