Why address a topic directly when you can dance a merry and fruitful waltz around its boundaries instead? Having spent many years as an editor of a literary journal, I have been witness to a fair procession of reviewers getting down to the wonderful business of never quite getting down to business. Critical fumbling, it could be called -except that this fumbling isn’t as bad as it sounds; not always, anyway. Sometimes a strange diversion can enrich a review; very often a seemingly irrelevant comment or anecdote can make the whole thing worthwhile. As the Finnish actor Tippi Udje once said: ‘Mr Ambiguity wears some funny shirts, but he makes a good cup of tea’.
There are other times, yet, when one is driven near to violence by a reviewer’s refusal to look his/her subject in the eye; to make good on their promise to ‘explore’ the relevant issues in any sense at all. This is not quite the case with Heidi Kohlenberg’s two page reaction to Edmund Ek’s name change (published this morning in Majfisk, a Swedish fishing magazine, available in all good Scandinavian newsagents) – but it may as well be.
To be honest, it’s not as if she doesn’t warn us. ‘I am struggling to conceive an arrangement of words that would properly sum up my feelings on this subject,’ she writes in the opening sentence. Only struggling? ‘In fact,’ she writes two sentences later, ‘I have totally failed to conceive such an arrangement’. Aha. But this is not quite the end of the matter. In the final paragraph she reassesses her failure and tries, at the last moment, to salvage all with the assistance of a single word. ‘I wonder,’ she wonders, ‘whether or not all this can be summed up after all, within the following statement: Ha!’
That, then, is her response. ‘Ha!’ The rest of the review deals simply (and rather wonderfully, as it happens) with the idea of responding to unexpected news, with other people’s responses to unexpected news, with possible responses to these responses to unexpected news, with responses to ideas of responding to responses of unexpected news and with various other things of little or no relevance to the matter in hand. I have to say it – it’s a good article. But (‘Ha!’ aside) it isn’t really the response most of us were looking for.
All of which leads to the question – is ‘Ha!’ enough? I wonder…