Few if any books caused such headlines in Sweden last year as the unauthorised biography of the King, Carl XVI Gustaf – Den motvillige monarken by Thomas Sjöberg with Deanne Rauscher and Tove Meyer, which made some rather scandalous suggestions about the monarch’s private life. Now that I have at last wasted some time on reading it, I find it first and foremost a very peculiar book. It has two parts which bear little relation to each other.
The first part, which fills some 2/3 of the book, deals with King Carl Gustaf’s life until he became king. It opens with a chapter on the days in which he succeeded to the throne – the illness and death of his grandfather and the ceremonies surrounding his accession and Gustaf VI Adolf’s funeral. These events are described in great detail, with official documents in antiquated legalese (or perhaps rather officialese) quoted in their full length, which eventually becomes rather tiresome but which nevertheless offers an idea of the rather old-fashioned system which the 27-year-old monarch came to preside over. This might have set the stage for an interesting contrast between the system the young king inherited and how he adapted to it or adapted the system to suit his ideas and his time. But no such reflections are made in this book.
Instead we go on to hear about his upbringing, which is well enough, but which brings little we have not already heard. The exception might be the chapter on the case against his maternal grandfather, Duke Carl Eduard of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, for crimes against humanity following World War II, which the authors seem to have done proper research on in German archives and which nuances the picture in an interesting way.
Having been through the future King’s education and military service we reach a chapter on what happened in Torekov in the summer of 1971, i.e. when one reached the compromise whereby the monarchy was retained in the new constitution but the monarch was deprived of almost his entire constitutional role. This is a very interesting topic and again this chapter might have served as a backdrop for what one would expect to find in the second part of a biography of the King, namely how this shaped his role and how he has related to it.
But then the book changes into something completely else. The remaining 120 pages or so do not deal with the reign or with the King’s life after his accession or the development of the monarchy in those 37 years. No single person has been more important to all those three aspects than Queen Silvia and it is perhaps symptomatic that she is mentioned only three times in the second part of the book.
What we now get instead is a loose and rather thin account of parties, extramarital affairs, visits to strip clubs etc in which the King and/or his friends are alleged to have taken part. But we are also treated to long and detailed digressions about the life stories of various other people linked to these claims.
Much of these chapters are made up of interviews, often in verbatim form. Some of those interviewed seem unable to utter a complete sentence (“But, he ... that one ... I don’t understand because he has never been near... I have never had any grip on him... never had... more than said hello to the guy... I don’t understand what he has...”) and some of them do not remember much at all. A waitress at an American strip club King Carl Gustaf is alleged to have visited fourteen years earlier has, among other things, this to tell the interviewer:
“Did he tip you?
Yes absolutely, normally...a couple of thousand dollars.
So he gave you two thousand dollars?
What happened when he left?
I don’t know.
Do you remember that he left?
I don’t know, I don’t remember seeing him leave”.
And so on and so forth, seemingly without any bells ringing to the authors suggesting that this might not exactly be what one calls and eyewitness to history. There is a foreword dedicated to the sources, where we are assured that the tale told by a notorious gangster must be reliable because co-author Deanne Rauscher “has heard him tell the same things again and again”. But is it really so that something must be true simply because it has been repeated?
At the end of the book the authors try to make a case for why this gossip about King Carl Gustaf and his friends is important – it has to do with no lesser issues than the constitution, democracy and indeed the security of the realm.
An unauthorised biography of King Carl Gustaf might in itself have been an interesting thing as most books on living members of the Swedish royal family have been written by, in cooperation with or under the supervision of the Royal Court’s Information and Press Department and are thus quite one-sided and frequently dull. But as biography this book is an utter failure simply because it does not tell the story of the main protagonist’s life. Instead it relates the first 27 years of his life and then descends into an orgy of gossip about peripheral events and various people’s sex lives.