Hjalmar Söderberg is one of Sweden’s most well known writers, or so I hear. Doctor Glas seems to be one of his most well-read novels, although I can’t say much for it as it’s my first time reading him. I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading him though, and that I will be going further down his bibliography as soon as time allows (meaning, when I pass along any of his books on my visits to the book stores).
Doctor Glas is a fictionalized diary featuring Doctor Glas as our narrator, a doctor who is I think in his thirties, someone who is well established with his own clinic and of good reputation, though hardly extraordinary. He chronicles parts and pieces of his every day life – from meetings, dinners, conversations with people in Stockholm, friends, patients and strangers. What he sees on his evening walks, what his window view looks like, the small details of life and through it we see the seasons change. There’s something bigger going on in his life too, because of one of his patients – a beautiful married woman, the beautiful young wife of the old priest of the city. Because of her affair she finds herself going to Doctor Glas for help to get out of her situation, basically to help her avoid having a physical relationship with her husband. Doctor Glas becomes entangled in the business, and this woman becomes a central point in his life (although it’s not the only focus of the diary as a whole). It’s not a love story per say, although love is part of the story it’s not I’d say what the story is about. Rather, what I personally appreciated was the moral questioning and musings on life, death, and all the things in between that comes as a result of him becoming part of her life – or her becoming part of his. The more philosophical discussions and conversations Doctor Glas has with himself in the diary is what I really felt fascinated by.
I also really liked the simple parts of the story, like when he is describing Stockholm and Uppsala’s streets, what he had for dinner, what the sunset looks like and how the window view changes with every day that passes. There’s something quite serene about his writing, something I really connected with and that I appreciated even when I wasn’t necessarily always in agreement with some assertions. I also liked that there’s some discussion on his profession as a doctor and the obligations that comes with being a doctor – what it includes and what it doesn’t include, where the line is supposed to be drawn, etc. I found it fascinating on its own but especially because it is a reflection of the thoughts and discourses of the time. I seem to have a very strong liking for late 19th to early 20th century Sweden in general, so I enjoyed this book – like Selma Lagerlöf’s diary, on that point alone.
It’s a fairly short book, but I think it’s also quite dense. It took me longer to read than I expected, but I look forward to someday returning to this book.
Until next time, happy reading!