Does every hypernaturalistic author have a dream-fantasy inside them that they're longing to let out? I found out earlier this year that that was the case with Flaubert. His reputation, of course, rests on the so-real-you-can-touch-it Madame Bovary
. L'Education Sentimentale
is similar in construction, and even Salammbô
, his historical blockbuster, is meticulously researched and as close to the facts as possible; I was interested to see that Marguerite Yourcenar cites it as one of the inspirations behind Memoires d'Hadrien
. But the book he most wanted to write, which he revised several times and only published shortly before his death, was La Tentation de Saint Antoine
, a hallucinatory prose-poem in which nearly all the action occurs inside Anthony's dreams.
Well, that was surprising enough, and now I find Gunilla Bergström has gone and done the same thing. All the previous titles in the Alfons Åberg
series ("Alfie Atkins" in English) are brilliant little slices of everyday life for Swedish children. What makes them great are her feeling for language and her ability to bring out the drama inherent in apparently trivial actions like going to bed or getting ready for school in the morning. But Alfons och Styrkesäcken
is a complete departure. Just as with Saint Antoine
, most of the book is an extended symbolist dream-sequence. Alfons imagines that he is the god of a whole civilisation of little elves. He's equipped with his styrkesäck
("sack of strength"), which contains a flower spray, a cinnamon roll and a rose. All of these objects turn out to have mystical properties. The flower-spray never runs dry, and allows him to put out a huge fire. The cinnamon roll is an inexhaustible source of food à la feeding of the five thousand, and the rose lets him transport his people into a state of religious bliss. When Alfons wakes, he tells his dream to Dad. "It was real
!" Alfons insists. "I was there
!" Dad's sceptical. But, on the floor, there's a rose petal no one can explain, and Dad suddenly has a vision of his beloved Fru Åberg.
Well. You probably have to be a long-term Alfons fan to understand how shocking that is. One of the basic conventions, scrupulously observed until this book, has been that Alfons's mother is never mentioned. You have no idea what's happened to her, and my own kids speculated about her any number of times. And now, suddenly dropped into the storyline in connection with a supernatural occurrence! I'm still getting over it.
Are there any more cases like this? I'm really curious to know if it's a general pattern or just a weird coincidence...