In a recent visit to my local secondhand bookshop I stumbled across a collection of Stig Dagerman’s short fiction, The Games of Night (Quartet Encounters, 1986).
Stig Dagerman was regarded as the most talented young writer of the Swedish post-war generation, publishing four novels, a collection of short stories, a book of travel sketches and four full length plays before his death in 1954, aged only 31. One critic, speaking of Dagerman’s passion and prolific output, said ‘His books exploded from him.’
I’ve been taking my time with this one, not least because of the weight of novels I have to plow through this term for my MA, so I’m only three stories (plus a superb introduction from Michael Myer) in. As you might expect from a Scandanavian author, there is a dark current flowing through what I have read so far (which is understandable considering the dark events in the author’s life), but there is also a tenderness squirreled away inside the dark, something the reader can warm there hands on in the night. Graeme Greene, in his cover quote for the 1961 edition of Dagerman’s short fiction, said: ‘Dagerman wrote with beautiful objectivity. Instead of emotive phrases, he uses a choice of facts, like bricks, to construct an emotion.’
The title story, The Games of Night (Swedish title: Nattens Lekar), deals with themes of alcoholism and child neglect and brims to overflowing with the emotive constructions Greene describes. Ake, the child narrator, lies alone at night, dreaming of and playing with ways he might bring his father home from the pubs and bars in which he spends his nights and all his wages. The child’s imagination carries him to his father’s side as if astral projecting and Ake leads his father to taxis and trolley buses in the hope his father will make it home and his mother will stop crying. When such efforts fail the boy, in his imagination at least, resorts to violence. It is a simultaneously chilling and tender portrayal of a child lost in the disintegration of a marriage. An all too real tale of domestic problems with a unique and clever dash of magical realism thrown in.
Dan Levy Dagerman’s (a relation of the author?) short film adaptation of The Games of Night captures the essence of the story. I particularly like how the filmmaker deals with the problem of showing Ake’s ‘traveling’ through the night to arrive with his father.
If, like me, you hadn’t heard of Stig Dagerman before, I would recommend your seeking out this collection. He’s an author I can’t believe I haven’t stumbled across earlier in my reading life.
And while we’re on the subject, who was the last author you ‘discovered’ by happy accident?