Tragic Redemptive Debut Novel Captures Journey Through Grief
An exclusive Authorlink interview
In Every Moment We are Still Alive, Tom Malmquist, Melville House (translated from Swedish to English by Henning Koch) – Tom and Karin are eagerly anticipating their daughter’s birth when Karin suddenly becomes seriously ill. In the hospital, doctors struggle to save her, while Tom struggles to make sense of the chaos around him, both in Karin’s treatment and in his own emotions, while also attempting to manage the involvement of his mother and his in-laws. When Tom’s daughter is delivered prematurely from her mother’s failing body, Tom’s life becomes even more overwhelming, yet infused with a murmuring of hope for a way through his grief.
AUTHORLINK: First, I would like to say I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sorry that Karin missed out on knowing her beautiful daughter. Your book is called an autobiographical novel. Why did you choose to write it as a novel instead of a memoir?
The story of the book follows the rules of art and literature. Everything in the novel is a conscious choice by me as the author.
MALMQUIST: The story of the book follows the rules of art and literature. Everything in the novel is a conscious choice by me as the author. In places, I’ve turned up the volume, in others I’ve lowered it. I’ve added scenes; I’ve removed scenes. In that way I have created my own reality. In other words, a piece of fiction all for the purpose of creating a good story. That’s also why I’d say the book is more like a Greek tragedy than it is reality.
AUTHORLINK: All the details of the hospital, the illness, the locations and even your names, make it seem factual. Is much of it fiction? What are some significant changes that make it fiction?
It’s all based on my life and true in that sense. But it is fiction in the way the truth is presented.
MALMQUIST: It’s all based on my life and true in that sense. But it is fiction in the way the truth is presented. The hospital details are an example of an aesthetic choice I made while writing. Personally speaking, the details became important to me at the hospital, and when I came home from the hospital they became like linchpins, the things that kept me together. The details are what keeps the book together. But all the details were also representations of life, its diversity, they became the opposite of death; death as in complete emptiness.
AUTHORLINK: Why did you choose to run all the dialogue between characters together, with the narrative, and without quotation marks or paragraphs when you are in the “present” of the story? Then, in the flashbacks, there are still no quotation marks, but the dialogue is separated for each character?
MALMQUIST: I have tried to retell it just as everything was. The situation was naturally intense, chaotic. I wanted to create a strong torrent, a flood. The stylistic choices are meant to help the reader feel the chaos that I experienced.
AUTHORLINK: How did writing this book affect you as you wrote?
Every time I broke down when faced with a scene, I knew it was right.
MALMQUIST: Every time I broke down when faced with a scene, I knew it was right. In that way the book was easy to write. But to constantly break down was physically taxing. I sweated, even had muscle cramps in my stomach. But while I was writing I was keeping Karin and my father alive. The hardest part was probably to hand over the manuscript to my publisher. It was like losing Karin and my father all over. The parts at the end of the book, where I write to Karin, were tough. I write in “you” form, it isn’t till then that my feelings and what I am thinking are expressed. Before then the book just chronicles my experience. The end was my goodbye to Karin.
AUTHORLINK: Your previous experience has been as a poet and a sportswriter. How did you make the transition into writing a novel, especially such a personal one?
MALMQUIST: I tried to write poetry the day after Karin had passed away, in my room at the hospital. I couldn’t. It was as if the poetry heightened the chaos inside. It just made me feel worse. A few weeks after Karin’s passing, I wrote her funeral eulogy. I described what had happened at the hospital. I wanted to tell the people grieving in the church why Karin had suddenly died. It helped me give structure to my sorrow and what had happened. I felt a bit better after writing like that. I actually felt joy in the writing. It became my lifeline.
What I realized there at the hospital while trying to write is that poetry is the amplification of emotions.
What I realized there at the hospital while trying to write is that poetry is the amplification of emotions. At least in my case. A specific emotion transforms into a cosmos. Prose, however, is the compression of feelings. Again – it is to me when I write. A cosmos becomes a specific emotion. In that way prose became a better tool for me to use to give chaos structure.
AUTHORLINK: What are you working on now?
MALMQUIST: It’s a book about a murder in my hometown of Huddinge. It’s going to be a true crime novel, but with a poet’s touch. I don’t want to say anything more than that now; I might promise something I can’t keep.
About the Author: Tom Malmquist lives in Sweden. He has published two poetry collections. He is the first novelist to win Sweden’s prestigious Dagens Nyheter Culture Prize. His debut novel, In Every Moment We are Still Alive, was chosen as an Indie Next List selection and an Indies Introduce pick.
For more information: https://www.mhpbooks.com/books/in-every-moment-we-are-still-alive/
Tags: biographical fiction, literary fiction, Malmquist
This post was written by Diane Slocum