From a profile of the great Swedish writer Per Olof Enquist who is now 76 and looks back on the years of writing since he got sober at 56. It’s never too late –
The last 20 years have been a fantastic time. I’ve written a lot of books,” he says.
Born in 1934 in Hjoggboele in Sweden’s far-north, Enquist published his first novel, Kristalloegat (The Crystal Eye), in 1961.
It was his writing, he says, that finally pulled him out of the relentless “black hole” into which he had plunged for his first 56 years.
“I think I wanted to be a writer all my life and I didn’t give up,” he says, conceding however that much of the time “it wasn’t so easy to survive.”
In his large Stockholm apartment, bookshelves cover an entire wall, packed to bursting with poetry, plays, novels and fairytales, all by his own hand, in the original Swedish versions as well as the English, French, German, Russian and other translations.
“It’s my egocentric bookshelf,” he laughs.
“Every time I feel depressed that I’m not doing anything, I look at this bookshelf and say to myself ‘well, that is seven metres (yards) and I have done a little bit, so I can die’.”
Page after page is filled with observations about history — both his own and Sweden’s — that repeatedly pick off scabs and reopen wounds since “I think people would be bored to death if you write a novel that everything is perfect in Sweden.”
Enquist came close to death several times during his alcoholic years. After trying twice in vain to kick the habit, he managed on the third try after convincing his caregivers to let him use his computer and discovering to his delight that “I was still a writer.”
“The most terrible thing about being a writer is not to write but to not write… I hadn’t written almost anything for 13 years,” he says.
“I think that in writing Captain Nemo’s Library I realised that I wasn’t totally brainwashed,” he says, insisting that working on the 1991 novel “saved my life”.
Nonetheless, he feels that he lost all the years, especially the three he spent living in Paris, when he was constantly drunk.
“I was sitting in a beautiful apartment on Champs-Elysees and couldn’t write… I remember the beautiful view from the balcony. Paris was beautiful to look at, but I couldn’t use Paris,” he says.
While his words are laced with regret, there is no trace of self-pity or denial.
He says he simply looks back in order to better move forward, as he does in the new autobiography written in the third person “out of honesty” so he can say anything.