Jonas Hassan Khemiri’s The Family Clause is an excellent example of this genre. Exquisitely translated by Alice Menzies, this novel by a significant Swedish author and playwright is deceptively simple. It is narrated over ten days, each day a new section. The first day presents the return of a “grandfather” – who now spends time in his “old country” for several months at a stretch – and his interactions with his two children: a professionally successful daughter who is also a divorced mother and estranged from her son; and a far less successful son with a family showing signs of strain under the pressures of parental care.
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 — from the poo-smeared ‘war zone’ of infant mealtimes to the panic-inducing plenty of late-night supermarket aisles — yank us down to modern earth. As for the old man — ‘He was born grumpy and he’ll die grumpy.’ In the meantime, the cantankerous self-regard that keeps him afloat lends The Family Clause an epic, as well as a comic, buoyancy.