Fredrik Sjoberg is a Swedish Entomologist, a collector of hoverflies and inhabitant of an island. I didn’t read the reviews of the book before I bought it; suffice to say it was a book written by a man obsessed with hoverflies and it had five star reviews. What more did I need to know?
This, however, is not a book about hoverflies. It is not a book about insects. It is a book about obsessions, collecting, being an entomologist, living on an island, following your passion, and, to be honest, being what most people would consider eccentric. The theme running through the book though, is actually the Fly Trap, or, rather, the inventor of the standard issue insect trap – Rene Malaise.
Rene Malaise was also a Swedish Entomologist. Malaise also collected flies, thousands of them. And art. He spent years in the Kamchatka region of Russia, even when his fellow travellers returned home. Later he visited Burma, and collected more flies. In between he collected a lot of art.
In what is a wonderful book, the author interconnects his life with that of Malaise; what it’s like to live in remote areas, how the author was really not an explorer, despite many trips abroad, how it feels to find insects new to an area, why collecting can become an obsession and, finally, reveals what is probably his own obsession. With Rene Malaise. Despite this, I feel I know a lot more about Rene Malaise, but not much about the Fredrik Sjoberg.
I found the book difficult to get into at first – perhaps it needed more insects for me. I didn’t know where it was headed or why. Then I read the second half in an afternoon, and it was a wonderful read. It didn’t matter that it meandered with no obvious purpose, or that hoverflies were not the main attraction (although some more insects would have been a bonus). It is a charming book, and one that I was disappointed to finish (although the end was a little weird). It is one of the few books that I decided straight away that I would read again.
Five stars if you like your natural history writing a little odd.