torstai 8. maaliskuuta 2012
Maile Chapman: Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto
I did not plan to buy this book: I had never heard of it, or the author, until I came across the novel at a bookstore. The setting of the novel just sounded so bizarre, so unusual, that I had to read it. Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto is an American author's debut novel set in a convalescent hospital called Suvanto somewhere on the coast of Finland in the early 1900s. Apparently, Maile Chapman spent a Fulbright year in Finland, visiting early 20th century hospitals and doing research for the novel.
Suvanto, in the novel, is certainly a strange setting. It is a hospital, or sanatorium, mostly for Finnish and Swedish-speaking female patients. The top floor of the building is reserved exclusively for upper-class women from wealthy families. Many of them have been put there by their husbands or other male members of the family for reasons that they cannot speak of. Some of them have strange physical conditions that they try to hide. Some are slightly mad, or pretend to be so. Some just dislike their husbands, or their husbands dislike them.
Most of the women on the top floor are, according to the novel, "wives and daughters of the foreigners who work for Finn-American Timber", so they speak English - which is convenient for the author... This also makes life easier for the nurses at the hospital and the main characters of the novel who are also - strangely - American women.
So this is a book set in Finland, but none of the main characters are Finnish. Once I realized this, I started to read the book more critically and in the end I think that I concentrated more on finding little annoying details and small discrepancies rather than enjoying the actual story. :)
Chapman has tried to create a realistic Finnish setting by including some of the typical stereotypes: pine forests, silent people, the dark and cold winter, the sauna... Unfortunately, two things ruin the effect - at least for a critical Finnish reader like me. :) First of all, why is Chapman's Finland full of Americans? The hospital staff, doctors, patients etc. all seem to be either native speakers or otherwise fluent in English. How likely would this have been in a small institution in the Finnish countryside in the early 20th century? And since Chapman - for some reason - did not want to make her characters Finnish, then why set the novel in Finland at all? Why not set it in the pine forests and the dark & cold winters of Northern USA, or Canada, where it is more realistic that everyone speaks English?
Secondly, Chapman tries to add some local colour by including some Finnish words here and there. She probably should have asked a Finnish person to proofread the novel, because there are quite a few spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in the Finnish words and phrases. For example, one of the nurses asks "Mitä sinun etunimi on?" when she wants to know a patient's surname. And "No, thank you", is, according to the author, "Ei kittos" in Finnish. And the Finnish staff members of Suvanto make cards that say "Hyvää Joulua ja Onnelista Uusi Vuotta". I mean, if you're going to use words and phrases in a foreign language in your novel, don't rely on Google Translate! :)
Of course, these are just small details that annoyed me personally, but I didn't think the rest of the novel was that great either. The cover of the book has a blurb from Audrey Niffenegger stating that the novel is 'Full of gorgeously written surprises and frightening marvels'. I'm sorry, but I think Niffenegger was speaking about a different book. I found zero "gorgeously written surprises" in this one and even fewer (if it were possible) "frightening marvels". In my opinion, the novel is not a horror story or a gothic mystery, although some reviews have described it as one. The atmosphere of the novel is strange and claustrophobic, yes. But above all, it is just a description about an unusual group of women, all staying at what appears to be more like an upper-class hotel than a hospital:
But these are not sick people. These are bored women, powdered and perfumed for dinner. This is terrible. This is a life without surprises. This is torpor.
So I thought this was just a very, very strange and disappointing novel, but a lot of British and American reviews seem to think it is absolutely amazing. So who knows, maybe I just didn't notice the "gorgeously written surprises"..? :)
Maile Chapman: Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto. Vintage Books. 2011.
The Guardian: Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto
Wikipedia: Maile Chapman
** So American -haasteen kategoriaan Modern Women Writers (1/5 suoritettu) **