The Oblique Place

Written by Caterina Pascual Söderbaum
Review by Douglas Kemp

The author, who died in 2015 aged just 53, has left a profound literary achievement in this novel, which makes the reader regret her early demise. This is a poetic, demanding and quite often obscure work of fiction. It is extraordinarily difficult to provide a succinct outline of the plot, as the book does not have a conventional narrative. So what is the book “about” then? At its core, its subject is some of the worst elements of European behaviour in the 20th century. The focus is the author – forty-something Caterina Söderbaum, married with a young daughter. Her parents were products of the Nazi-fascist movements that caused so much global misery in the last century. The numerous stories and accounts slowly build up the picture, the essence being how the narrator’s family history has had such a profound influence upon her own life, memories and all that goes towards making up one’s existence. It is part of the recent literary trend of auto-fiction, and it can be a bit of game to speculate what is truth and what is fiction in the account

It’s an overused metaphor, but this novel is really like a Russian matroyshka doll, with stories nested within each other. The reader needs to be alert to what is going on, as the full picture slowly emerges with the multifarious narrative threads slowly drawn together, though there is no ultimate resolution. This is quite unlike any novel I’ve ever read before, but it is filled with historical insight and detail, close observation and enlightened vision, as the author drills down into the detailed episodes she chooses to illustrate. It’s both fascinating and challenging. If you want an easy saga read, then this perhaps isn’t for you, but it is definitely worth the effort.