First published in 1981, then followed by a sequel (Gangsters) in 2005, Gentlemen has achieved cult status in Sweden, and is now available in translation for the English-speaking world. It’s the tall tale of an aspiring young writer named Klas Ostergren, who falls into the wild world of Henry Morgan, one-time boxer and touring jazz pianist, in 1979 Stockholm. It’s a time of revolution and change, and Henry and his brother Leo are in the midst of all the happenings, cultural and political.
The narrative is framed by the story of Klas, now holed up in the Morgans’ spacious apartment, frantically scribbling about the events of the last few months, before the disappearance of both Henry and Leo. Flashbacks show the Morgan brothers as children, Henry the strong, confident one and Leo the introverted flower-collecting poet; flashes forward reveal that Henry has reinvented himself many times—as spy, man-about-town, lover, liar, musician—but always earnest, to the point that one wants to believe the preposterous things he does and says. As an adult, Leo is dark and taciturn, hiding his secrets close to him with none of Henry’s bravado. The brothers depend on each other despite their differences, though, since it turns out that some of their secrets are shared. Klas’s naïve attempts to discover the truth ultimately show that he, like Henry and Leo, is self-absorbed and immature, which is perhaps a statement about Sweden at the time. Other characters permeate the story, including the beautiful, seductive Maud, her mysterious lover/patron “W.S.” and the other inhabitants of the Morgans’ apartment building, who all have secrets of their own.
The book is an interesting snapshot during an important time in Sweden, reflecting both the dark and the light of the country.