Whilst we’re on the subject of Edmund Ek, I’d like to say a further word or two on a topic relating to his latest novel, Dust Jacket.
As previously noted, Ek tackles his own identity in this novel, poking fun at his somewhat over-fashionable reputation without bothering to lay the foundations for a fresher, more solid status. The joke extends, unsurprisingly, to the cover of the book itself, where Ek’s handsome face (part Elvis Presley, part Sean Connery, part birthday-card kitten) smiles knowingly at the reader; a clear allusion to Ek’s role as poster-boy for the 1990s Norwegian literary movement (he is sometimes credited with bringing a whole generation of female readers to Scandanavian literary fiction) – and to the increasing habit of booksellers for providing the public with large, arty photographs of our younger, prettier writers.
All of which leads me onto a rather obvious set of questions which have long bothered me. Do we need to know what writers look like? Do we actually want their faces on the front, back or inside cover of our dust jackets? And if we do, why? What does a writer’s face tell us about their work?
I will let you ponder these queries in your own time. Meanwhile, I ought to inform you that Heidi Kohlenberg has written her own review of Dust Jacket for the Swedish journal Majfisk. As usual, Kohlenberg treads a fine line between being teasingly spiteful and carefully critical, coming up with the usual array of finely considered points before swooping into a conclusion that undoubtedly damns her ex-husband with faint praise. ‘Ek is becoming a master of his genre,’ she writes, going on: ‘The problem is that it he doesn’t know what genre this is. I, however, do. It’s the genre of the Christmas bestseller; the book that sells truckloads during the festive season, due to its uncanny ability to appeal to buyers who simply can’t think of anything else to get for that cousin of theirs they haven’t seen in three years. Such books tend to be collections of miscellanous ideas – or better still, lists – loosely strung together, guaranteed to raise a cheap laugh and little more. They’re to be read after one’s Christmas dinner, when one can’t stomach serious themes, or stylistic trickery’.
Considering that Ek has always thought himself the spiritual descendent of Joyce, Beckett and Von Effenman, this probably won’t be the most pleasing assessment of his work he has read for a while.