When you’ve got a Man Booker International winner (Marlon James) on your books, you could sit back and relax. Or you could find the next big thing before it happens.
That’s what Oneworld has done, buying the world English rights to Laura Lindstedt’s Oneiron, which won the Finlandia Prize last year. The first translations into a dozen languages will be out later this year.
And I’ve just finished reading it. And so should you.
Oneiron tells the story of seven women who meet in a strange white space after death. It grips you from the start – the women know that they are rapidly losing all bodily sensation. So when the seventh arrives (reborn?) through a numbing, disorienting fog, they make sure she enjoys feeling, while she can. That first section is written in the ‘you’ form, as if the reader was the seventh woman experiencing all this.
The women could not be more different: Performance artist Shlomith from New York, chief accountant Polina from Moscow, heart transplant patient Rosa Imaculada from Brazil, upper-crust Nina of Marseilles who is expecting twins, cancer patient Wlbgis from the Netherlands, aspiring model Maimuna from Senegal and Austrian teenager Ulrike.
They have to find a way of ‘living’together after life, but before death. They share their life stories up to the last minute. So in the book, unlike when they were alive, there is someone to say goodbye and watch them go. The book ends with newspaper reports of their deaths, many of which were violent.
In her controversial Finlandia acceptance speech, Lindstedt seized the opportunity to criticize government cutbacks and growing class divisions and appeal for social solidarity, rather than “sprinkling verbal confetti” as she herself put it.
But she did thank her characters. As she said (my translation), they had to fight. “For us who are still alive, our life is a passing phase in which we must take the opportunity to show our solidarity. We will not get another chance.”