The Cuckoo's Progress

Fifth novel by author Sture Dahlström first published in 1970 (In Swedish as Gökmannen in 1975).

Xerxes Sonson-Pickelhaupt opens a fertility clinic to help women with fertility problems. His methods are 100% natural. He is the cuckoo that lays his eggs in other peoples' nests. His goal is to fill the entire world with his own descendants.

As the book starts he is already father of 47 children, but his drive to become the new Adam sends him into unexpected situations and lots of conflicts with a world that doesn't appreciate his greatness. He corresponds frantically with the Swedish military authorities, experiences the world's first sperm theft and is in continous war with his enemy the car man. The book is a long line of slapstick style inseminations and hilarious situations.

The story about the manuscript is definitively the wildest of all Sture Dahlström's manuscripts.

Sture started writing the novel in 1964 in English after his Swedish publisher had turned down the first draft. He started writing it while he was still living in Spain, but moved to London after about a year. My guess is to improve on the English. When the manuscript was about half finished Sture showed it to the female American author Claire Rabe who sent it to the famous publisher Maurice Girodias at Olympia Press in New York.

Girodias accepted the manuscript and a contract was signed. Sture received an advance in the form of a lump sum and monthly cheques to finish the script, a story that is told in more detail in the novel "Kattens Skratt."

Cuckoo's Progress was published in paperback edition from Olympia Press in New York in 1970. The cover is amusing in itself with a semi-pornographic picture. The following year it was re-published by Olympia Press in London. However, this was done without even informing Sture in advance about the re-publishing. After the publishing the contact between Sture and Girodias almost broke down completely. Sture didn't receive any more money, no sales figures, etc. Still Girodias asked for the rights to publish the book in hardcover and sell on the rights.

When Olympia Press went bankrupt in 1972 Sture got himself a literary agent named Gloria Loomis. She passed the book to the publisher M Evans, who were going to publish the book in hardcover, and then Bantam or Berkley's were going to publish a massive pocket edition. It was a matter of big money, and the contract was ready to be signed. All that was needed was for Sture to approve the changes made by M Evans' editor. The editor had made some changes to make the book "comprehensible" and "accessible to as many readers as possible".

When the proposal for editorial changes arrived it became clear that it would mean quite serious rewriting of the novel. The publisher wanted to remove everything complicated and difficult, remove all internal monolog, remove all dream sequences, poetry, surrealism and fantasy from the book and try to fit it into the mould for American middle class best seller litterature. After long and intensive correspondence Sture turned the whole deal down in 1976. This was the first time ever that an author had turned M Evans down.

As this was going on Sam Peckinpah, Hollywood director, had read the book and decided he wanted to make a film out of it. The contract was signed in 1976 and Sture was being placed in Peckinpah's London apartment to write the film script. Unfortunately Sam Peckinpah suffered a severe heart attack in 1977 and the project was cancelled, although Sture got paid for the film rights and the script writing.

The Swedish version was released thanks to a chance meeting between Sture and Bo Cavefors. They met outside a bakery in Lund 1973 where Sture offered the manuscript to Cavefors. The latter decided to publish it the next day, and the book was printed and published in 1975.

If you by any chance should happen to stuble across the English version somewhere, like a used book shop, could you please let me know the contact details.

To give you an idea of the style I have translated the first few paragraphs from the book into English (which is kind of weird, since it's translated from English to Swedish originally).

I lift the bags and walk through the hot September breeze towards Rue du Seine, stopping occasionally to look in the windows of the art galleries. Everything looks familiar, everything looks green and menacing. Don't get excited now, Sonson, but right behind you hangs a genuine Rabelais, a large living Pantagruel. I haven't seen it yet, but I can feel it through windows and cars and bodies, a baroque-bellied magnetic canvas that forces me straight through the traffic over to the other side. I stand and stare at it with arms hanging down. Black. Gilted barrels extruding from black eternity. Mine. An altar painting for my bedroom wall. Fertility barrels. Males. Machos.

The barrels are full of something that belongs to me, suddenly I know I have to own them. The gallery is small, can only show six canvases. I enter and clap my hands. The old man running the gallery appears out of a hole in the floor. What is he doing down there? Is his basement full of emaciated artists who paint and sing? Are they standing there in long rows with their feet chained to the walls? Are they crying? The old man looks like a bishop.

"Do you speak Latin?"

"I'm sorry, I don't understand."

"You should be talking Latin."

"What can I do for you?"

"I'm interested in that painting. Is the artist here?"

"Just a moment."

Maybe he has thousands of painters down there. Sewers and basements and dark dripping cathedrals steaming of rat eating artists.

He disappears down the hole. Now he unlocks and takes off the foot cuffs. The painter raises through the floor. He is a small unsettled man with short arms and a strange head. It is slightly larger than an orange. The old man wants to peel it and bite into it with his false teeth. How can such paintings grow out of such a small head? He is a little guinea fowl with bunches of eggs growing along the red spine. I respect him. I smile towards him and all the painters in the world.

"The barrels. I want to buy your barrels."

He gazes at my shoes. Shoes like that don't buy barrels. He looks at my rather elegant bags. Maybe. Do you think I am pulling your leg?

He looks triumphantly at the old man. Somebody likes his work; somebody wants to pay for it, somebody wants to talk to him about his favourite child, an art loving bag man wants to pay one thousand six hundred francs and leave a space on the wall that can be filled with a new egg already on the way. He will be able to write to his parents and tell them that he has sold a canvas. One thousand six hundred is too cheap.

"Best price if I take it with me right now."

"Ten percent discount."

"You give at least thirty to the gallery. One thousand francs?"

He looks at the old man. They need the money. He thinks about the eggs inside him, feels the canvases rise within him, he thinks of bags of food, he thinks of women and cars and new exhibitions. Little guinea fowl. Lay golden canvases for us, we need you more than you realize. His orange head is not tense anymore, it has become a dwarfed indian head. It has become six hundred francs smaller.

"Thanks. I know it is worth more. At least two thousand. Maybe fifty thousand."

"Not yet. Later maybe."

"Never knock anything off the canvases. Here is one thousand six hundred."

The old man takes the money, smells the bills and puts them in a small tin.

I walk in the middle of the road, a boy runs behind me with the painting on a cart. I am back again, everything is fresh and new, small Parisian women clatter against the tarmac, old posters look at me from... dusty windows and approve of my buy. The cathedral nods welcoming to me with booming bells in its hands.

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