In this English translation of the late Swedish crime writer's first novel, a 1911 explosion nearly kills Oskar Johansson. The frightful accident that leaves Oskar disabled changes his life, but he survives and experiences many of the 20th century's joys and tragedies alongside his fellow Swedes.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Os[k]ar is not that he survived or that, despite his mutilation, he got married or that, despite the state of his reproductive organs, he fathered children. What sets him apart is how little he permitted the accident to change him ... Little by little, the unnamed narrator fills in his and our picture of Oskar, without ever reaching the man’s perhaps unknowable core ... the book shows a gifted storyteller at the start of an illustrious career, not blasting but chipping away at the stubborn rock that is Oskar Johansson.
The Rock Blaster...is a touching portrait of an everyman, warts and all, a life lived with dreams, hopes, stoicism and perseverance ... For an early novel this is a perceptive work, one that reflects Mankell’s personal beliefs and left-wing values. There are elements of the social critique here that can also be found in the Wallander books, but have no fear The Rock Blaster is not a polemic, although, the narrative is at times barbed. Importantly as a fictional biography, even for a brief work, The Rock Blaster holds the readers interest from start to finish, it’s hard to imagine people not taking to Oskar ... The prose is pared down, stark, and episodic, this is not a panorama of a life, but the cherry picking works, excerpts add up to a full picture. The overall effect is a biography of an ordinary man, living a hard life, an honest life, a working-class life. It’s always interesting to see where writers come from. The energy that drove Mankell’s detective novels is here. This is not published as a means of completing the catalogue, this story has merit in its own right but perhaps less public appeal than the Wallander series.
Years pass, marked by a highly characteristic parade of public events, private reflections, prose poetry, and prickly asides that will sound familiar to readers of Mankell’s memoir Quicksand (2017) ... A quietly acerbic overview of 20th-century Sweden from the perspective of someone nobody expected to live to see it.