A Fairy Tale

Jonas T. Bengtsson

A Fairy Tale
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A Fairy Tale

Jonas T. Bengtsson

March, 1986: the Swedish prime minister, Olof Palme, has been assassinated, and a young boy and his father are on the move again. Travelling from Sweden to the outskirts of Denmark and into the heart of Copenhagen, the two live an itinerant life on the margins of society. The father, an eccentric, restless man, takes a series of odd jobs - from making antique furniture, to landscaping, to working as a bouncer at a strip club. By day, he home-schools his son. At night, he weaves a fairy tale about a prince and a king on a secret mission. But one day, their adventure takes a dark, unpredictable turn.

Ten years later, as the boy enters adulthood, he tries to conform to the demands of ordinary life. Yet he is haunted by his childhood - and questions about his father’s murky past can no longer remain unanswered.

A Fairy Tale is a coming-of-age novel like no other. Powerful, sensitive, and utterly mesmerising, it reveals the indelible legacy that our parents leave to us.

Review

Do not let the title fool you: there are no fairies – kindly godmother types or otherwise – in Danish author Jonas T. Bengtsson’s third novel. It is a narrative that navigates through the shadows of humanity and, like the works of the Brothers Grimm, eagerly throws open doors many would consider best left closed. That being said, an undercurrent of tenderness and innocence is present in the form of the protagonist: a young boy desperately trying to understand the opposing forces of love and betrayal he feels towards his father.

A Fairy Tale charts the nomadic life of this boy and his idiosyncratic father who believes they are being pursued by what he classifies as ‘The White Men’. As a consequence, the boy’s life is scattered into brief encounters with a variety of characters and locations that shape, for better or worse, the man he eventually becomes. Bengtsson cleverly examines how parental authority can mould a child’s internal world and brings to painful clarity how easy it is for things to go wrong, despite best intentions.

A Fairy Tale is not an easy read, just as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is not an easy read: the novel challenges the reader to examine the extremes of familial love and the resilient bonds that knit such love together. The father figure in A Fairy Tale, however, is a more complex character than McCarthy’s dad, a man whose sole focus is the safety of his child, no matter the cost. Bengtsson’s father is a character more prone to mistakes, delusions and human error; as a consequence, the impact his behaviour has on his son is both affecting and tragic.

Bengtsson has artfully created a piece of existential fiction (fans of Knut Hamsun or John Fante rejoice!) that tugs on the heartstrings and leaves a solid impression.


Samuel Zifchak works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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