FT review of Fishing in Utopia

Another gratifying review, from the Financial Times, where Hugh Carnegy, the executive editor, likes Fishing in Utopia,a lot, though he thinks, god knows why, that I am “a melancholy soul”.

It is the window on Sweden that gives this book its real interest, lifted by the characters Brown encounters, who provide a texture that a more academic approach could not. The picture Brown paints will discomfit those who still point to Sweden as the model for a modern, left-of-centre society. He portrays a more or less dysfunctional, rigidly conformist culture lacking the warmth of social interaction. It is one, tellingly, in which a deep divide always existed between blue and white-collar worlds. He writes of his life as a member of the working class: “It was the life of a battery salmon: packed into a crowd in the middle of a boundless stretch of water by a cage of netting that you could not see at all.”

Returning in this decade, Brown finds a country grappling with the same issues as any other western democracy: economic change, rising crime and immigration. Sweden, now physically linked to the rest of the world by the bridge to Denmark, can no longer preserve its lofty sense of otherness.

But this book is not a right-wing polemic against the “Swedish model”. Brown evinces real respect for a society only recently delivered from rural hardship, whose people collectively determined that social control is the way to achieve social solidarity.

This is an affectionate and insightful portrait, offering a much deeper understanding of the country than the usual, often politically motivated, tendency to stereotype.

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3 Responses to FT review of Fishing in Utopia

  1. Gunnar says:

    However, Svenska Dagbladet seems to take a dim view today: http://www.svd.se/kulturnoje/nyheter/artikel_1455393.svd

  2. Roger says:

    As an ex-pat in Sweden I read your book with some interest. I very much enjoyed it, particularly the early chapters which described life in Sweden in the 1970s. Its interesting to compare today’s diversity with the past.

    I like your attention to the small details, which make the story. For example, the class-based ICA-Coop rivalry was something of which I was quite unaware.

    I’m very impressed that your Swedish is up to journalistic standard. I teach in Swedish but would feel wholly unable to express myself properly in any long text.

  3. acb says:

    Well., I don’t know that it’s up to jouirnalistic standards _now._ But I think it was twenty years ago, when I lived there.

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