The Rock Blaster

Written by George Goulding (trans.) Henning Mankell
Review by Marilyn Sherlock

This book covers the period from the beginning to the last half of the 20th century and follows the life of Oskar Johansson. At the beginning of the story he is employed in blasting holes through mountains to lay railway lines. This, of necessity, involves using dynamite, and when one charge fails to go off, he is sent in to see why. The result is pretty horrendous for him, as the charge does blow and he is badly injured. The rest of the book follows his life through and, although badly disabled, he struggles to maintain a normal life of both work and family.

This was Mankell’s debut novel, originally written in Swedish, and this is the first English translation. I have not read any other Swedish books so know nothing of their accepted style of writing, but I found this one slightly irritating in that it was written in very short bursts and seemed more like reading a diary than a novel. The publicity sheet refers to it as ‘written with scalpel-like precision.’ It follows the events of the 20th century, both social and political, and makes for an interesting read but in itself would not draw me to any of the many others written by Mankell who is probably better known in England for his Wallander series which have been televised with enthusiastic reviews. There is a useful glossary of Swedish terms for people, places and organisations at the end of the book which I found helpful.