~written by Katarina Mazetti
~translated by Sarah Death
If Benny & Shrimp (written by Katarina Mazetti and translated from the Swedish by Sarah Death) hadn't been directly brought to my attention, I would have completely passed over it, not even realizing my mistake. First of all, there's the title: Benny & Shrimp really does nothing for me; Benny being the name of one of the main protagonists and Shrimp being the annoying and rarely mentioned nickname give by him to the other. The novel was originally called Grabben i graven bredvid which could be (very) roughly translated as The Boy from the Grave Next Door--now, that is something that would have more likely caught my attention. The second issue is the cover, which is very nice don't get me wrong; I appreciate the clean design. But once again, despite being a fantastic color of bright green, it doesn't really grab the eye. Fortunately, I was offered a copy to review and I didn't end up missing out on reading this utterly delightful love story after all.
Day after day, Desirée, aspiring children's librarian and recent widow, comes to visit the sparse and immaculate grave of her husband. She finds herself sharing this time with Benny, who visits his parents one grave site over. Just as their gaudy headstone starkly contrasts that of the simple one belonging to Desirée's husband, so does Benny differ dramatically when compared to Desirée herself. One of the few remaining dairy farmers in the surrounding area, Benny's a little rough around the edges. At first they can't stand each other, but an awkward romance develops anyway. What begins as physical attraction steadily grows into something more, but ultimately they both must face the reality that it might not be possible for them to be together. Soon it becomes apparent that their differences will make their love rather difficult even if passionate.
Mazetti does a wonderful job in the portrayal of her two main characters; they have very distinctive personalities, and it's a delight to learn their changing impressions of one another. The "chapters" alternate between Desirée's and Benny's perspectives, overlapping to some extent--allowing both sides of the story to be told. And of course, they tend to remember events a little differently from each other, too. Benny and Desirée make great characters because they're so complete, foibles and all. I liked them both, and was rooting for them all the way, but they each definitely had some quirks and characteristics that I found less than endearing.
Benny & Shrimp was offbeat and charming, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Though, I will admit that the final segment took me a bit by surprise and I'm not sure how well it really fit with everything that came before. The book provides an excellent depection of an awkward first love and all the missteps and misunderstandings that can so easily happen when negotiating a meaningful relationship. I'm very glad that this book has made its way into an English translation. It has been about ten years since the novel was first published to much acclaim, and has also been adapted for film (which I must really try to find and watch). I'm just hoping that it's sequel, Familjegraven (roughly translated as The Family Grave), also makes it into translation.