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Sara Lidman: Regnspiran (The Rain Bird)

Egron Stahl had been something of a wild young man, at least by the standards of rural Sweden, drinking and womanising. However, he had then found God and become a very stern and moral Christian. He had married Hanna but, for a long time, they had had no children. Eventually, Linda was born. Hanna was very happy but Egron was not. Why should this heavy burden have been laid upon me in the autumn of my life, when I believed myself about to achieve a state of purity? He is fifty.

Egron does not believe in frivolities. All the other houses have wallpaper but theirs does not. When Hanna suggests it, she is firmly rebuffed but, one day, when he is away, she wallpapers their cabin with newspaper. He is not pleased.

Soon there is a conflict between Hanna and Egron or, more particularly, Hanna’s concern for Linda and her concern for Egron. She thought it more important to feed the child than for Egron to fast at appointed times, for example. Egron insists that it is the stern duty of parents to break the will of a child who shows unruly tendencies, as Linda seems to do. He maintains that his harshness towards Linda is inspired by a purified form of love.

Egron liked company when he was a young man but, once he converted, he chose to abandon all his youthful habits and that included company. However, a growing child needs to meet other children. Linda takes her round to visit the other Stahl family, where there are three children. However, the cousins are quiet while Linda is not. Egron insists that the child’s imagination needed to be checked.

For her sixth birthday, Hanna makes her a doll which Linda calls Gockan. Linda adores Gockan. But Egron still has problems with her. For a start, she never sits still or keeps quiet in church and Hanna frequently has to take her out. Things get worse when they bring some chicks in the house and Linda plays with them and inadvertently kills one. Egron is so furious he throws Gockan on the fire and prevents Linda from rescuing her. Things get worse when it turns out that the chick is not dead but was only resting.

The relationship gets worse when Linda has a dream that Egron injures himself with a axe and bleeds to death. When Egron dies both her mother and the locals start to fear her because of her premonition. We follow Linda as she grows up. She has a difficult relationship with her mother a well as with the locals who tolerate her and sympathise with her because of her father’s death but are nevertheless wary of her, not least of her continuing erratic and unruly behaviour.

One family she is close to has three girls, all older than her. They have adopted a boy, Simon, of about Linda’s age. Simon is hard-working and well-behaved but not very bright. Linda twists him round her little finger. The pair claim to be in love but when their behaviour, instigated to a great extent by Linda, goes beyond what is deemed acceptable in an early twentieth century Swedish farming community, he takes the blame.

It is Linda, as a teenager, who organises the local dances (not always approved of by the parents), not least because she can entertain the others by playing the accordion, which she does very well, and by mocking the adults in the community.

However, Linda remains a disruptor and now that she is an attractive young woman, the young men are starting to take an interest and that can only lead to trouble.

I have reviewed several books already on this site, which tell the story of a family or community which is seemingly stable but when there is a new arrival, this person changes the entire group dynamic, often causing considerable damage to the group. Obvious examples include Pier Paolo Pasolini‘s film Teorema (Theorem), Ivan Vladislavic‘s The Folly, Hilary Mantel‘s Fludd, Simone de Beauvoir‘s L’invitée (She Came to Stay) and Ali Smith‘s The Accidental.

Linda is certainly a case in point. The people in this community are superstitious and they believe in the Little People, a sort of leprechaun-like creature that lives underground and can cause mischief. However, as the title tells us, there is the rain bird. Its arrival presages rain, hence its name, but it is also an ill omen of bad times. Egron hears it cry when Linda is born. There is no question that Linda is a disruptor, first of all in the Stahl family, where she causes conflict between husband and wife, and then in the broader community, where her actions cause all sorts of problems and, indeed, damage several lives.

It is not always clear whether she is intentionally wicked, self-willed or just completely unaware of the feelings and concerns of others. Lidman cleverly gives us clues indicating any of the three possible interpretations. Linda herself more than once seems bemused by what is happening in the village, in particular what she calls the Village Whisper, i.e. the group of people who essentially run the village, even if they have no official title. She also tries to find things out and often comes up against a brick wall. In other words she is curious in a society which does not really tolerate curiosity and she is also wilful in a society that expects and even demands total conformity.

The other question is how much are the men to blame? Egron is strict and inflexible and, even by his own admission, totally unsuitable for being a father. On one occasion, he loses his temper and beats Linda and strikes Hanna. Yet, he has his religious feelings, which may be fairly extreme but are not too far beyond the norm for the village and he expects them to be obeyed. On one occasion, he asks a another boy in the village about his relationship with his father and the boy admits his father is strict and often rightly so but yet there is no antagonism between the boy and his father, as there is between Linda and Egron.

As for the other boys, we do know that teenage boys can be both naive and stupid and can get carried away by their sexual desires. Equally, Linda would not be the first woman to lead a young man on. Despite all this, there is clearly the feeling that Linda goes just a bit too far in her actions, often causing more damage than she intended.

Lidman tells an excellent story and, in Linda, creates a complex person. We leave Linda when she is still a young woman. It would be interesting to see how she fared in later life.

Publishing history

First published 1958 by Bonnier
First published in English in 1962 by G. Braziller
Translated by Elspeth Harley Schubert