Anne-Marie Berglund’s writings are considered to be the most idiosyncratic of Swedish literature as a whole. She was a prize-winning writer who gained the recognition of critics, fellow writers, literary specialists, and keen readers. Nevertheless she remained unknown to the wider readership.
Anne-Marie Berglund was born in Finland in 1952. Her parents were Finnish-Swedes, who resided in Esbo, about a Swedish mile outside of Helsinki. When Anne-Marie Berglund was four years old the family moved to Bergslagen where her father, Arne Berglund, worked within forestry and her mother, Rut Linnea Berglund, took temporary cleaning jobs. The family then moved to Rimbo in the Norrland region. There Anne-Marie Berglund’s parents were contract workers for the county council laundry services. From the very first stanza of her debut poetry collection, Luftberusningen published in 1977, she poses a challenging question: “är det sant att jag är dömd till tystnad av kulturtraditioners förakt och försprång, att mina ord är fel ord, att göra dikter av” (is it true that I am condemned to silence by the contempt and advantages embodied in cultural tradition, that my words are the wrong kind with which to create poems).
In a 1996 interview for the Dagens Nyheter newspaper Anne-Marie Berglund revealed that it was a sense of “proletarian anger” which drove her to begin to write. She was angered by the suffering of her nearest and dearest, but her writing did not take the form of social realism. She enjoyed “conjuring up words” and her anger became stories of the absurd. Anne-Marie Berglund’s second poetry collection, Mellan extas och fångenskap published in 1978, captures her emotions in its very title.
Anne-Marie Berglund moved to Stockholm and trained as a physical education instructor and as a physiotherapist. She spent almost two years living in France where she wrote and became influenced by French culture, attending an art school there. She entered into a relationship with a Frenchman and became a Francophile who made regular return visits to Paris or the Riviera where she would amass material for her writing and for travelogues which were published in the cultural pages and in cultural magazines. In “Genernas kedjor”, published in 1997 in Episoderna. 33 reseminiatyrer, she writes about her working-class background and about the restlessness which forces her to be constantly on the go. This edition contains a selection of her photographic art: black and white photographs, often double exposures, of empty hotel rooms and cafés. This work also includes her drawings. Over the years she held a couple of exhibitions in Stockholm displaying her drawings, water colours, and dolls she had made. Her final exhibition was in 2017 at Galleri Örhänget in Stockholm. Anne-Marie Berglund read out newly-written work at the vernissage. Her interest in photography was shared by her partner, Hideo Matsumoto, with whom she maintained a thirty-year relationship, albeit they did not share a home. He has produced several author portraits of Anne-Marie Berglund.
Anne-Marie Berglund’s work can now be seen as a precursor to the literature which emerged during the 1980s. Her writing served as a signpost for female writers of poetry and short prose expressing destructiveness and the need for freedom. Examples of these writers are Kristina Lugn, Agneta Klingspor, and Beate Grimsund. Anne-Marie Berglund’s style is both girlishly fussy and pure burlesque, the characterisations are sometimes provocatively virginal. It’s irrelevant that her female characters find themselves in the traditionally ‘male’ position of single vagabond writers. When confronted by a man, irrespective of whether he is a vagrant or a “count with gentle hands”, the woman is forced into a subsidiary position. In Anne-Marie Berglund’s use of erotic language it represents power instead of sexual pleasure.
She released twelve publications and her trademark form of expression was the short story and fairy-tale like lyrical short prose about women who travel. They stay in worn out hotels in which they write fictional accounts of the arbitrary nature of writing, about death, about men, and about loneliness. These women also cultivate the art of engaging with strangers. Enticing imaginary encounters with men are humorously juxtaposed with the disappointing reality of joyless actual sexual encounters. The young female author turns meeting society’s lowest into an honour as though through their eyes, in their hands, she can find her way to the written word. Sometimes the erotic adventures are portrayed as violent and destructive: the narrator’s dilemma is her inability to say ‘no’ - somewhere, somehow, the instinct for self-preservation has been lost.
In “Hotell världen”, part of the essay collection entitled Att skriva sin tid – nedslag i 80-och 90-talet (edited by Madeleine Grive and Claes Wahlin), Kristoffer Leandoer describes Anne-Marie Berglund as a mystic and a romantic who seeks to “break out of the social construct, to freely engage with life at every social level”. He sees a similarity with the French romanticist Gérard de Nerval, and Anne-Marie Berglund does reference him a couple of times in her literary texts. Leandoer mentions, amongst other things, Nerval’s gnostic roots, “…the love for the holy inner entity of life which is expressed as ‘Fire, water, earth, air … which meet to dream in the crystal’.” Anne-Marie Berglund claimed that she collected mystics. Nerval created a mystical world of symbols in which mystical figures spent the night at night-shelters and/or at the pub. Similarly, one of her characters called Aurélia, who appears in Dam med dåligt rykte på sin vanliga runda, comes round in a hospital following a psychological breakdown.
Anne-Marie Berglund, like Nerval, stages surrealist or absurd dramas in which the narrator playfully assumes various roles as a way to pass time. She plays with various voices, such as when a boldly self-confident one converses with a terrified fragile one, the introvert speaks to the extrovert. In Staden vid gränsen published in 1987, Anne-Marie Berglund writes about walking on an unfamiliar street and the realisation that she is Irina Papescu and not “the person one is dressed up as and has hitherto performed as”. The stories are divided into four episodes: Beaches, Rooms, Ruined castles, and Roads. Writing, in other words, is not very different from the theatre. In the archives of Sveriges Radio one finds four plays by Anne-Marie Berglund. The first dates from 1993 and is called Jag är en annan, directed by Claire Wikholm. Uti vår hage, from 1997, was directed by Torsten Flinck.
The women in Anne-Marie Berglund’s fictional world are anarchists who are not just fleeing from the working class chains. They are fleeing from the necessity of creating a bourgeois nuclear family and from the social power-games of existence. Her writing rarely describes typical Swedish milieus: for example, a middle-class family having a barbecue at home and going to Ikea is impossible in her fiction. Dam med dåligt rykte på sin vanliga runda, published in 1991, has the narrator preferring to converse with the doorman at a worn-out hotel rather than with her own husband. Although the stage seems set for eroticism, in the end there is no ecstasy.
In Raserier, published in 1994, Anne-Marie Berglund once again writes about “the art of arrival and the pain of departure and the train toilet…” as well as about the jeopardy of trying to capture the mood in writing, and the impotence that results when it remains elusive. Commentary on the role of the author, the mentality of writing, can be found as a theme of her writing, often reflecting Kristina Lugn’s naiveté. “I feel sorry for stories which cause such earache that they scream as soon as you blow on them. / I feel sorry for all the stories which have to die before they are born, just because their organs are weak and their perspectives are narrow”. Anne-Marie Berglund’s writings also exude a sensitivity for language, a search for words beyond empty phrases. “I’ve travelled around the world like a stranger in order to avoid being blinded by the common lies of language”. Sometimes one can detect Finnish-Swedish idioms in her language, slightly elevated and beautiful. Gallows humour and understatements are typical of Finnish.
Her sole novel, Dansa min flicka, published in 1989, is set at a funeral in a French village, where a ladies’ man has passed away. His widow looks back on a man who wanted to redeem women sexually, both old and young. There is no intrigue. Instead it is a lengthy novel which captures the inner essence of thoughts regarding the widow’s childhood, youth, and her relationship to her husband. This is also the only one of Anne-Marie Berglund’s fictional male characters which she has not written ironically, sarcastically, or crudely. Indeed, this work even contains rare views from a small Swedish town.
Anne-Marie Berglund’s final poetry collection, entitled Jag vill stå träd nu, from 2000, is her least romantically theatrical piece. It contains an everyday directness and the title, perhaps, expresses a longing to be settled. Or to be grounded. Absence, departures, and death are all recurring themes. After this publication she was awarded the Svenska Dagbladet prize and in 2005 she received the Sveriges Radios prize for lyricism.
Anne-Marie Berglund never really became popular. She remained an author’s author who is compared to Jean Rhys and Marguerite Duras. She herself felt she had a connection to the Argentinian-Italian artist Leonor Fini, a surrealist who lived in Paris during the 1930s. She examined sexuality and portrayed women in dominant positions.
The use of “Anne-Marie” in her writings has often been mistaken for autobiography. However, she was only expressly autobiographical in Breven till mamma, her last book, published in 2005. Here she definitively enters into the school of working-class literature. Throughout her 30 years of the travelling she undertook in order to write Anne-Marie Berglund sent letters to her mother Rut Linnéa Berglund, who subsequently catalogued these letters chronologically. The published letters contain the dilemma of one who transgressed class divisions. When the world opened up before her so did her sense of guilt towards her parents who never had the chance to realise their dreams. The portrait of the working-class mother contained in the introduction offers insights into the underpaid slog of immigrant workers and how this impacts on relationships when there is no space beyond the need to survive. The daughter’s reports from the wider world became an elixir for the repressed mother. However, as time passed this travelling lifestyle itself became a new type of prison for the daughter.
Anne-Marie Berglund died in Stockholm on 6 March 2020. The funeral was held at Högalid church on 20 March 2020.