- Paperback: 156 pages
- Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (August 13, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385722672
- ISBN-13: 978-0385722674
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #417,733 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Doctor Glas: A Novel Paperback – August 13, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
First published in 1905, Doctor Glas is considered to be Swedish novelist Hjalmar S"derberg's masterpiece. The beautiful young wife of the repellant Reverend Gregorius confides to Glas that her sex life is making her miserable and begs for his help. Smitten with her, he agrees, even though she already has another lover. He does intervene, but when it becomes clear that the Reverend will not give up his "rights," Glas begins planning his murder. Arranged in the form of a journal, this fascinating, deeply moral (yet never moralizing) novel, trans. by Paul Britten Austin, offers the voyeuristic thrill of reading over the doctor's shoulder as he wrestles with his conscience.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
“Splendid. . . . Söderberg [is] a marvellous writer.” –The New Yorker
“[Doctor Glas] not only sketches the light and shadows of its time, but maps territory still being explored by the writers of today. It is a volcano, shaking, about to erupt.” –The New York Times Book Review
“Elegant, vigorous, and tightly-knit. . . . One of those marvellous books that appears as fresh and vivid now as on the day it was published. . . . It occurs on the cusp of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, but it opens doors the novel has been opening ever since.” –Margaret Atwood, from the Introduction
"Imagine the classic nineteenth century drama featuring a tyrannical older man, his hapless daughter or young wife, and her caddish suitor, as in Balzac's Eugenie Grandet and Henry James's Washington Square, this time conjured up by a sensibility akin to Strindberg's and Ingmar Bergman's--and you begin to have an idea of the force and candor of this searing masterwork of Northern European literature. The retrieval of Doctor Glas in English is a bracing gift to hungry readers." —Susan Sontag
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Top Customer Reviews
One day a young lady named Helga provides his life a twist, coming to his examination room, pleading for him to declare she has an "infection of the womb", so her husband of six years, Pastor Gregorius, will not touch her sexually. In truth, she has another man in mind. Glas knows Gregorius personally, and despises him for his own reasons, but after some moral agonizing, the young doctor takes the bull by the horns, "diagnosing" Gregorius with a "weak heart", telling him sex could kill him. This medically-enforced chastity drives Gregorius mad, and he "rapes" his wife out of frustration one night. To diffuse the elevating tension, Gregorius takes a brief trip to another town, during which his wife openly appears in public with her lover back home on Stockholm's streets. Glas, the first-person narrator of this book, reflects on the meaning of life, recalling the young girls he knew earlier in life, admitting he has never held a female in an embrace, and finding himself falling in love with Helga himself.
In his diary, Glas wonders if abortion and murder are not similar, in the sense that both relieve a burden of life. Glas wonders if Gregorius could justifiably be killed to relieve the "burden" upon his wife Helga. He reflects on morality, love, sex, and religion, his thoughts become increasingly feverish. He debates the issue through his diary, turning through various twists of logic, trying to find a relative position which is simultaneously moral and expedient. He even goes so far as to prepare two tablets of potassium cyanide, one for the pastor, and one for himself, should his plan go badly. He clearly loses mental clarity with his obsession over this issue.
Will he actually try to kill Gregorius? Will he woo Helga for himself? Will he drop the entire issue, and snap back to reality? Will he accomplish the impossible reconciliation between morality and his impulses? The resolution will be an interesting one, but Glas will offer only one insight: "Life, I do not understand you."
The book itself is nicely written, the prose lovely of description, polite, high-toned, and at times romantic, and the subject matter frank, from schoolboy wonderment and embarrassment, to "husband's rights" and the moral place of abortion, euthanasia, murder, love, sex, infidelity, and unrequited love in society. The narration is elegant, and this brief novel (150pp) is actually surprisingly substantial. The tone is thoughtful throughout, and an interesting book to read.
(Note: Some readers might have some fun knowing there is a very interesting website, created by a fan, which features this book's various Stockholm locales posted in photos.)
Summary, no spoilers:
This story is told by way of the diary entries from Doctor Glas, a lonely, Stockholm physician. He is in his 30's, and is a virgin. He is very bright, very philosophical, and has decided that he is above caring about such things as sex, or love.
That is, until Helga comes into his life. She is a patient of his, and the wife of the local pastor, also a patient. Helga is young, and beautiful, and hates her repulsive husband who she describes as a "monster," who forces sex on her. She confides all this to Glas, as well as the fact that she is having an affair with another man.
Glas, desperate to help her, struggles with the notion of killing the vile minister, to make Helga happy.
One of the things that makes this book so fascinating, is that Glas tells us that he will not lie. Yet, we wonder if he is an unreliable narrator - because we wonder if he is becoming unstable. Is the minister such a bad guy? Why does he want to help Helga, when she is in love with another? What has happened in Glas's past that makes him the way he is?
This is a book filled with ambiguities and discusses serious issues, such as abortion, euthanasia, religion, sex, and love. The discussion is as relevant today, as it was then. And because of all this, I am recommending this book for my book club. Though only 150 pages, I just know that it will make for a great discussion, and no two people will see it exactly the same way.