It is a magnificent work that Agnes Lidbeck has achieved with Nikky’s Book. The size is certainly impressive, but the accomplishment even more so. With this novel something completely new appears in her authorship, a distinct difference from the condensed, almost schematic efficiency of her previous novels. Lidbeck’s style is fully recognisable, often terse sentences with assertive observations, but the fact that the plot extends across so many pages makes it sinuous and dynamic; the slightly barren streak that could be found in Supporting Act and The Rift does not exist here. Nikky’s Book has softer edges /… / Through all the years and all the entanglements, the narrator gently guides the reader with comments about the zeitgeist, with reminders that we are dealing with fiction – a fabricated story. And yet everything feels so sincere, so vivid and intimate. Kummelvik becomes such a lucid place, so cinematic, and the characters companions, such familiar company that it almost hurts to leave them – those who are still alive – in the end.
Nikky’s Book is not only impressive as some kind of sporting achievement. It also has that certain pull that can glue the reader to the pages night after night – a kind of epic spell.
Agnes Lidbeck’s new novel is a triumph. Substantial in size as well as population-wise, it is an ensemble novel if there is such a term. Three families, almost each of them followed very closely, in the revealing, disclosing way that is typical of Lidbeck /… / Kummelvik on Österlen plays its own part, not only as a setting for most of the events taking place, but also as an illustration of Sweden’s evolvement during the last century. From a barren and rugged fishing village to the decline of the fishing industry, to the financial crisis, to the dotcom bust, to the rise of xenophobia, to gentrification and the glorification of anything that can be hailed as “genuine” (sheepskin, ceramics, honey, homemade surfboards) /… / She does not shy away from anything, all the shameful and embarrassing aspects of human life are exposed in microscopic detail. Agnes Lidbeck certainly has an uncanny knack for illuminating the things you can hardly manage to acknowledge – passive aggression, sublime displays of power, mute but overexplicit rebukes. Things you could never pin on anyone, things you can always gloss over as misunderstandings or misjudgements, perhaps even as “jokes”, but that are more violent than a stabbing. Agnes Lidbeck makes you feel exposed as the goon you really are. This, in combination with the premise that a life is simply the sum of its components, have previously made me a little apprehensive about Lidbeck’s stories. I read Nikky’s Book, despite the semi-elegantly inserted contemporary remarks, as if she has found a mojo, or a spiritual dimension. Or if it has found her.
What I like about the story which unfolds over four decades is that life gains perspective. Steamy passion turns into daily grind, old quarrels lose their sting and secrets take on unmanageable proportions in the dark. Youthful zest that hopefully turn into middle-age insight. Teenage love that continues to ache and never fully heal. The different stages of friendship, from intense to detached but always ready to be rekindled. Death that offers a new glimpse on everything. The character gallery is large and as the protagonists drift in and out of focus, new dimensions are revealed, even when they are only present as a background blur. What makes Nikky’s Book such a vivid story is also due to the setting: Kummelvik. The fishing village that becomes gentrified. Agnes Lidbeck brilliant captures a mood and the intimacy that occurs in a small place where everyone, whether they like it or not, become a part of each other’s lives.