Book Club: Here’s what readers thought of The Serious Game

Book Club: Here's what readers thought of The Serious Game
Stockholm in 1920. Photo: Scanpix Sweden/Pressens Bild/TT
In February, The Local Sweden's Book Club has been reading romance classic The Serious Game by Hjalmar Söderberg. Here's what Book Club members thought of the book, what we learned about 1900s Sweden, and which questions it prompted for us.

Written in 1912 by one of the country's best known writers, The Serious Game follows the story of a man and woman who fall for each other at a young age. Their love lasts through the years, but that's not enough for them to be together, until decades later they attempt to rekindle the passion of their youth.

The book's core theme is addressed in one quote:

“You do not choose your destiny any more than you choose your wife, your lover or your children. You get them, and you have them, and possibly you lose them. But you do not choose them!”

Is that true? Many of our readers were struck by this idea, with several agreeing with the sentiment.

Another argument was that this was the case at the time the book was written, when Sweden had a much more structured class system, and traditions were far more rarely broken.

Early on, Lydia wonders if the pair could “create a little world for ourselves”, but the book explores their struggle to do this within the existing structures. Perhaps Lydia and Arvid would have fared differently if they were born several decades later. 

In the early 2000s, historians Lars Trägårdh and Henrik Berggren coined the term “the Swedish theory of love” which stands in direct contrast to the quote from The Serious Game.

They argued that only when two people were fundamentally autonomous, with no material or financial dependence on each other, could you have authentic love, and that this was the model on which the Swedish socialist welfare state had been built. Policies such as paid parental leave, subsidized daycare and free higher education helped make adults financially independent from their partners, and allowed children to be independent from their parents once they reached adulthood.

Meanwhile in the book, Arvid's role as a journalist gives Söderberg ample opportunity to remind us of the society and events which formed the backdrop to the book's relationship. 

Here's what else Book Club members had to say about The Serious Game:

“I had to think about this one because I loved the book but viscerally disliked the main characters. I loved the historical setting although I raised an eyebrow at how Söderberg talks about affairs and infidelity so matter-of-factly, like it's an every day occurrence at the time, and maybe it was but it's a direct contrast to the moralistic Victorian novels so popular in the UK.

“I detested Lydia. She is manipulative and, worst of all, a predator in sheep's clothing. She presents herself as the classic 'damsel in distress' when in reality she is cunning and capricious and just wants everyone at her feet. One of the things I love about Swedes it's their being always straightforward. Lydia is the antithesis of that. Arvid starts mildly irritating and goes on to become a vignette of himself thanks to Lydia's manipulation. I wanted to scream at him to get a grip the whole time. Great read, so complex and multilayered, with a lot of twists and turns. A great snapshot of 'Victorian' Stockholm.” – Samantha Hammell

“I found this book written a lot like the Great Gatsby in which the characters were written more to symbolize self absorption of that time period.” – Suzette Ehrlich

“The book's time period has been very fun to experience, I keep going to Wikipedia and getting lost in the historical references that are so commonplace in this book. I'm having trouble putting this book down!”

What to read next: If you found yourself gripped by the historical setting and story of The Serious Game, I suggest reading or re-reading Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, Anna Karenina by Lev Tolstoj, or Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane. All these books paint a rich picture of the societies of which they're a product, addressing the themes of what love is, and destiny versus our choices.

Join The Local Sweden's Book Club on Facebook to have your say in what we read next and chat to fellow bookworms, and sign up to our newsletter below to receive Book Club updates direct to your inbox two to three times a month.

And you can always get in touch by email (Members of The Local can log in to comment below) if you have book suggestions, opinions on this month's book, or any other ideas for the Book Club.

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