The Club: A Chronicle of Power and Abuse at the Heart of the Nobel Scandal

On November 22nd 2017, in the whirlwind autumn of the #metoo Movement, Sweden’s biggest daily newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, published an explosive investigative report of sexual assault that led to a series of events that rocked the international literary community and brought one of the world’s most prestigious cultural institutions to its knees: The Swedish Academy.

Award-winning journalist Matilda Gustavsson’s exposé featured harrowing witness accounts from eighteen women who claimed they had been assaulted by a man married to an Academy member who was deeply embroiled in the institution’s workings – a man who came to be knows as “The Cultural Figure”. In the wake of the publication, internal fighting took over the Academy. Beyond the association with an alleged rapist who had used the Academy’s good name to exploit women for decades, allegations of corruption surfaced. The so-called Cultural Figure and his wife, an academy member and a renowned poet, together owned an influential private club – which was frequented by the country’s cultural elite. Rumours of abuse taking place in and around the club circulated. But just as with everything else surrounding the Academy, it was shrouded in silence. Until Matilda Gustavsson broke the story that drew the curtain on a dark world of abuse and exploitation.

The Club digs deep into the machinations that brought down one of the most respected, and secretive, cultural institutions and made the world’s premier literary prize implode before our eyes. Matilda Gustavsson depicts a unique international scandal while presenting an insightful portrayal of the dynamics of power and influence in the world of the arts. This is the riveting story of how power and influence can be wielded in the most elevated rooms of culture – and how art is created and lives are destroyed as a result.

The Club has the ambition to delve more deeply into the story of Sweden’s most harrowing MeToo case […] [Gustavsson’s] research is impressive. From the news-driven and at times one-sided stream that characterizes a daily newspaper grows a social drama about art, power, and dependency. The puzzle grows, sometimes in unforeseeable directions and the pieces become more and smaller. Matilda Gustavsson has interviewed hundreds of people in Sweden and abroad. Despite the fact that the cause of events have already been plowed through by many, she succeeds in building a tension that lasts throughout the book. […] The book is incredibly well-written. Above all, the witness accounts are balanced and charged. […] At times journalists talk about ‘taking a scalp’, which usually refers to taking down a person of power, preferably from as high a position as possible. Matilda Gustavsson’s ambition is much greater. She wants to change the narrative. To be the one who suddenly turns on the lights in the movie theatre when you least expect it.”
svenska dagbladet (se)

“[Gustavsson] has written a book where she not only portrays what happened at Forum and the secrets that surround the place, but also the huge repercussions that followed her exposé. An Academy that quickly crumbled. Protests. News headlines all over the world. A cancelled Nobel Prize. And finally a rape verdict. As a consequence, her book also becomes a literary reportage about Sweden at the end of the 2010s. […] Decency is a concept that has been viewed as a tad obsolete in recent decades, but in the light of this scandal it ought to be re-established. The fact is that decency means to show consideration, to not lie and steal and abuse people against their own will; be it socially, financially, or sexually, but also to have the courage of one’s convictions and respect for the truth. Sara Danius has been called ‘the decent secretary’, and in the same way you could call Matilda Gustavsson ‘the decent reporter’. She manages to keep her cool and never succumb to shallow moralism in her portrayal of Jean-Claude Arnault and his victims. On the other hand, it’s no wonder she developed a form of paranoia during her work, to the degree that she began to look over her shoulder and was afraid to stand too close to the subway tracks. It says a lot about her courage and integrity that she, despite this, managed to conduct her investigation and then write a book that is one of the best examples of literary journalism that has ever been published in Sweden.”
dagens nyheter (SE)

“In many ways, Matilda Gustavsson’s and Dagens Nyheter’s exposé was a journalistic paradigmatic shift. Suddenly, journalists realized that it was possible to write about that which had previously been pushed aside with a sigh and some words about how problematic the mission was. The uncovering wasn’t so much an uncovering as it was a shift of the public gaze and language, so that known circumstances and facts could emerge anew. What Matilda Gustavsson did was to put words to something everyone already knew. She translated, if you will, a number of incidents to a coherent story; she drew a new pattern. It’s hard to look at her contribution as anything other than a journalistic coup. […] Despite its small size The Club is a rich book. In prose light as a feather Matilda Gustavsson manages to both isolate and pin down Jean-Claude Arnault’s character and his frightening view of women, as well as say something substantial about the Swedish cultural world and the narrow-minded friendship corruption that exists within it. At its best, The Club shows how a culture of silence is created and lives on, how sexual assaults are trivialized and can thus go on, and how conspiracy theories can invade seemingly great minds. […] The November 2017 reportage about the Cultural Figure is a milestone for Swedish journalism, and The Club is a strong companion piece.”
GÖTEBORGS-POSTEN (SE)

“It’s a harrowing read, but the real strength with the book is how Gustavsson manages to pinpoint how this could have gone on despite being known for decades.”
SYDSVENSKAN (SE)

The Club reminds, exposes, and tells everything from the beginning. It’s not often you read such a solid piece of journalistic labour, well researched and at the same time so skillfully and delicately told. The book is a page-turner, even though I already know about most of what’s happened. Matilda Gustavsson’s reportage really is a traditional macho investigation: revealing, subversive, and with thrilling details about sex, power, and cover-ups. But she is a beginner when it comes to investigative journalism, and chooses to be open about that fact. […] Matilda Gustavsson’s brave investigation is journalism at its best, the kind that changes the world.”
kristianstadsbladet (SE)

“It’s an incredibly well-written literary reportage, vivid and at the same time subdued, with much that is implicit between the lines. And not only does [Gustavsson] succeed in saying a lot about the cultural world, she also further nuances the view of rape, with many horrifying witness accounts that are difficult to read. […] This book should not be read as a scandal book, but as an impressive literary reportage, a feminist and delicate reportage that discusses structures greater than simply the twists and turns of the Swedish Academy in recent years.”
SR kulturnytt (sE)

“Not every journalist who has written articles knows what to do with all the space that comes with writing a book. But Matilda Gustavsson knows exactly what to use it for: she further complicates and balances the accounts of sexual assaults and how they’ve been dismissed. […] What you get is a very intelligent interpretation, and a rich read, that examines different power structures at heads in our society.”
SVT KULTURNYHETERNA (SE)

The Club is a fascinating examination of power in the cultural world, of how far people are willing to go in the name of art, but it is also about the cost of coming forward. […] To read The Club is shocking and exhausting. […] It’s an impressive piece of journalism, a brilliant example of how to write about something so complex as Metoo (the book definitely ought to be required reading for journalism students). It reminds us of why Metoo was so urgently necessary, and the power of good and sound journalism. This is exactly why it’s one of the most important books of the year.”
DN MAGASINET (NO)

“Gustavsson has been thorough and delivers an impressive book, both journalistically and literarily. It’s quite simply a real page-turner. She has talked to around one hundred sources with knowledge of the matter. She nuances and elaborates, interprets and reflects. She exposes myths about victims of sexual assault and rape, and problematizes both Metoo, the girls, and her own role as a journalist. […] The Club is an important reminder of what the Metoo movement is actually about: abuse of power, sexual harassment, and those who were victims of it for far too long, without anyone stepping in to do something about it.”
verdens gang (NO)

MATILDA GUSTAVSSON (1987) is the award-winning journalist behind the already historical scoop that has rocked the Swedish Academy and the international literary community. Her trail-blazing literary reporting is the foundation of her upcoming book The Club – A Chronicle of Power and Abuse at the Heart of the Nobel Scandal that will be published by Albert Bonniers Förlag in 2019.

Learn more about Matilda Gustavsson