Some faint hearts may sink at the idea of a torrid Swedish family drama peopled with nameless figures identified only as ‘a grandfather who is a father’, ‘a sister who is a mother’, and so on. Stick around: this gets better ... offers much more than satire or sociology — even if it does depict a Sweden seldom glimpsed in morose rural policiers ... Shuttling between viewpoints, Khemiri’s prose has a zing and bite stylishly served by Alice Menzies’s pacy, idiomatic translation. If those abstract labels (‘a son who is a father’ etc) suggest some solemn archetypal conflict à la Strindberg, then the gleeful ferocity of close-up observation yank us down to modern earth ... an epic, as well as a comic, buoyancy.
Strung together, engrossing, minute-by-minute passages become layered, and character arcs grows steeper by degrees ... Depicting his characters’ perceptions of one another, and themselves, Khemiri points to universal truths: in this and any family, roles change over time, and, with any luck, so do the people in them.
... disappointing ... This conceit begins to fray over the course of the narrative’s 10 days ... The father has a much better relationship with the daughter, though he — and unfortunately Khemiri — pay her afflictions scant attention ... Khemiri does little here to put his own spin on the usual showdown of repression versus dreams of liberation ... It’s a relationship built on neglect and resentment, and just too familiar to be compelling ... Choosing to focus on the father/son relationship over father/daughter is the key to the novel’s shortcomings. The leading men lack nuanced personalities, and their constant bickering quickly grows tiring. Whatever foreboding their verbal tussles generate fizzles out once the anticlimactic confrontation over the father clause is reached. The daughter’s perspective is relegated to ringside status; surprisingly, she is never given a one-on-one confab with her father. Why not set up a scene in which she might break free of her father’s grip and shatter his pride? Unfortunately, Khemiri chooses distractions instead: extended experimental sections in which the point of view changes to that of a ghost and then a four-year-old child. Both are jarring detours from the novel’s realism and they contribute little to the story, neither insight nor pathos ... Still, while the novel suffers from staleness, Khemiri’s playful style (and no doubt his playwriting background) keeps the acrimonious, though wordy, confrontations moving along. He deftly crafts intimate scenes in which short, staccato-like sentences are used to describe details and movements. In particular, the book’s depictions of parenting are chaotic and hilarious ... These amusing asides keep The Family Clause from becoming a slog. Khemiri is clearly a skilled writer. He avoids sentimentality and doesn’t shy away from excavating the deep flaws and nagging wounds of his bedeviled characters. But this family is fractured according to formula: a dull plot and stagnant ending only compound the feeling that we are dealing with the generic conflicts of a clan with no name.