Sunday, July 19, 2009

Books I've read this week - Benny & Shrimp

Benny & Shrimp by Katarina Mazetti, © 1998, English translation © 2008

About the book: "A man and a woman, both of them lonely, meet and fall in love. Both of them crave companship and family; both are intelligent and good-humored. As Benny and Desiree’ (a.k.a. Shrimp) are about to discover, all that can stand between them and happiness is – everything.

Benny is a dairy farmer struggling to keep his late parents’ farm alive in a modern world. Desiree’ is a small-town librarian who has retreated even further into her shell after the death of her young husband. They live in Sweden, and their love story begins surprisingly enough in a cemetery: it is there, visiting their loved ones’ graves, that they first spot each other. Their differences are obvious immediately – she’s appalled by the tacky decorations he so carefully arranges around his mother’s grave and he’s turned off by her peaked bookworm looks – but lust and longing drive them into each other’s arms. Just when it looks like love could conquer all, reality rears its ugly head with a vengeance. How can Desiree’ (whom Benny promptly nicknames “Shrimp”), with her love of high culture, independence, and postmodern theory, be happy in a creaking old farmhouse that stuck in the 1950s? And how can a man like Benny, who sings to his cows on Christmas Eve and longs for a buxom woman to come along and help run the farm, reconcile himself to store-bought meatballs and evenings at the opera?

In Benny & Shrimp, Katarina Mazetti allows her two characters to speak for themselves in alternating chapters, giving readers an intimate look inside the minds of two people as they struggle to bridge the gap between their separate worlds for the sake of true love. The farmer and librarian could be two figures in a pastoral fable, but here they spring to life in all their sexy, infuriating, confounding messiness. Will modern-day practicality keep them apart, or will the unlikely couple live the fairy-tale ending? Either way, their path is a universal one of love, heartbreak, and hope.”

I had heard good things about this book and it was even recommended in Entertainment Weekly this week, so when it arrived yesterday, I couldn’t wait to read it. I wasn’t disappointed. Even though the story takes place in Sweden, it could have been anywhere. Two very different people meet and for some reason, they’re just drawn to each other. Benny is a dairy farmer who inherited the family farm and works very long hours. He doesn’t know about housework, laundry, or cooking since his mother always did that.. He’s looking for a wife to cook, clean, and help around the farm and provide him with a family. Desiree’ grew up with money, went to college, and lives in an apartment while working as a librarian. She’s very neat and organized and wants a man to share her love of books and opera and she never learned how to cook much - she's basically a vegetarian. Her husband and Benny's parents are buried next to each other. They see each other at the cemetery where they share a bench and when they smile at each other one day, something just clicks. Neither knew what to do about it at the time but eventually they do get together. Now they just need to figure out how to make their lifestyles meld harmoniously since neither wants to compromise and they’re both terrible at putting their feelings into words.

There was a lot of humor in the book but also places where I wanted to cry or give both of them a swift kick. I really enjoyed this book but was kind of disappointed when it was done because I didn’t want it to end. The author did write a sequel, Familjegraven, that was published in Sweden in 2005. I hope it’s translated soon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Familjegraven!!! OMG yes. I'm dying to know what happens.