Sunday, 1 September 2013

Simon and the Oaks by Marianne Fredricksson - Book Review

Having already watched and posted my thoughts on 'Simon and the Oaks' here, I've been itching to read and review the novel. Originally in Swedish (an English translation is available - I found mine on Waterstones' Marketplace, a treasure trove for anyone looking for rare or out-of-print books), the translation at times lends to a slightly disjointed syntax, with occasionally odd word placements. Nevertheless, I wasn't disappointed.

Simon and the Oaks
Note: I would recommend that you watch the film before reading the book. I felt the novel to be a bit keen in revealing key twists early on. Had I known about these crucial turning points when watching the film, I know I would have felt slightly let down.

The novel is much more a saga than the film, chronicling Simon's life from early boyhood into young adulthood and far beyond where the film takes us. Whereas the film ends in Simon's onset into adulthood, the novel takes us into the unexplored regions of his later life including time served in the army and his later archaeological career.

What struck me most about the novel is the time it devotes to all characters involved, as opposed to the film which places Simon as very much the focus of its story. Whereas we see much from his perspective, the novel commits a mini psychological study to each character, providing a deeper insight into the motivations driving their behaviour. Nobody is without their personal demons, and whereas the film prefers to depict the characterisations rather simply - i.e. Simon's father as a pragmatic and domineering man, the novel is more forgiving. This is especially the case with regards to Simon's mother. The film's characterisation has her imbued with sadness, whereas the novel complements this by emphasising her strength and endurance.

This is a psychologically driven novel, which the film only hinted at by way of the timelessness evoked by music and nature. There is a Jungian undercurrent to Simon's characterisation, which Fredricksson reflects in Simon's dreams. The point is put across all the more explicitly in the following quote -

"Children are of the earth, she thought, with the ancient history of the earth in their cells and the entire wisdom of nature in the circulation of their blood."

With some further reading into Jung, there are various parallels between the psychologist's early life and Simon's. Both struggle with the enormity of obeying God's will and the burden of being so in tune with one's unconscious. This is particularly evident in a shared disillusion both Jung and Simon express with priests. (See Jung's 'Memories, Dreams, Reflections' for further reading). There are even hints of Milgram, in the novel's expression that there may be, "... a sergeant in all of us..." Whether this is a deliberate literary device by Fredriksson or not, it adds to the historical entrenchment and universality of the novel's themes of war and the human condition. 


  1. I love book reviews, they always have me wanting to get cosy in bed and read some of my own. Nice post x

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