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Agnes Lidbeck: Dad wanted to read the Man without qualities on his deathbed

I have often wondered what you would choose as the last reading. You know the game: if you just got to listen to a song the rest of life (”Patience”, by Guns 'n' Roses), if you only got to eat one thing (pistachios, where the salt stuck together in the slot), if you only got to look at one thing (”The Wire”, with a tulpanbukett above), if you only had to drink one thing (the impossible choice between skånerost and champagne).

If you only got to choose a book ..., where, when death peers through the door and you only have a few pages left. What would you choose then? And why? Would you tune with something impressive, something that made the next of kin to take after the worshipful spirit as the bed linen was folded together and the vases were emptied?

Or would I give the hell in the violence and sit with a Jilly Cooper from her golden age. Any of those when all of the playing polo and put on each other behind the clubhouse. Or oh, maybe just fall into ”the Boy upstairs”, out of the hat describing contest, and fall asleep to the sound of the Martin as klinkar on the piano.

. In this context I will think of my father. He had several laps of disease – cancer, heart – before he died, and I think it is about ten years before he goes away when he is posted a few days in one of the Stockholm hospitals (in my memory it is spring), he calls and asks me to do him a service. Can I cycle past with ”the Man without qualities”?

”the Man without qualities” is a classic, and förbålt thick, the works of Robert Musil. In barndomsbokhyllan it is four volumes, bound in brown and gray. The one where the spring (or it may have been early August?) is I is long enough to take it out of the shelf without having to stand on tiptoe, young enough to keep at it for the first time.

I step into town. The bicycle path from Smedslätten to St. George goes over the Tranebergsbron, a tough vault, in a headwind. As every time, on the crest, I wonder if the bridge would hold, or if it ends now, with tungtrafiken the roaring of the water. I have the spirit in my throat when I dump the bands, all four, in the foot of the bed. Dad never ask for anything. And he looks so tired out. I can't think of how tired he looks. Look how many pages of reading! Reading enough for half a year, at a reasonable pace. He repeats, with pathos in his voice, what he said on the phone, that he always wanted to read ”the Man without qualities” before he dies. Do not talk with the voice. Don't die.

So yes, I must have been old enough to ride a bike in city traffic, but young enough to be an optimist, young enough to not know how quickly death can come when it comes, and how little time it then leaves for reading.

her father really was not any particular literary literate person. I gave him books for christmas every year. Sometime sometimes he was a jerk and bought a new fixer-upper and would move, then it could happen that you got some shopping bags, books, back, unbroken. And some other small things. Once I did an experiment and gave him the same book four years in a row. I now have four copies of that particular book - in the estate I got them back, unopened, uncommented.

So why ”the Man without qualities”? Of all the titles? Had my dad had any special connection to Vienna, where the story is set? How he chose otherwise, the particular talisman, to have lying on the bedside table – to look death, have not come yet, I'm busy. The book is tentative, groping around modernism. How he chose that particular text in order to keep the end in the distance? Musils works did not reach a large audience during his lifetime, he died penniless, in exile. Are there any signs there? What did father that he would be, if he read it? What was the characteristic of the text which he imagined would have the ability to stop time? Or he wanted to just have company? Was he just curious? Musils book is unfinished, it is a work without truly end. He died while he was working with it. Perhaps there is a key there?

Or perhaps there is no key.

Time passed, and when he would die again, really die this time, I asked if Musil.

did you Read ever out of it?

What?

”the Man without qualities”, you know?

Why would I read the all the books?

on one of the highest shelves. I will not encounter it if I don't make an effort. But, yeah, maybe I will ask someone ride by with it sometime when I lie and feel me dying and thinking that I have a works left. I'm saving a little at the moment, actually.

Perhaps, on who may ride the bike to stand, in retrospect, and weighing the books in his hand and wonder what they said to me. Maybe it will stand and wonder a lot of other things, too, which is not going to know. Perhaps there will be something of the children. Who are wondering. Again.

Perhaps one should say already now that there really were no reasons. In addition to a sjujävla title, of course.

And a legacy to manage.

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