Review: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

PAPERBACK; 215 P.
PENGUIN BOOKS, 2012/1851-53
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

Cranford is an affectionate and moving portrait of genteel poverty and intertwined lives in a nineteenth-century village. One of Elizabeth Gaskell’s most beloved works, it centres on a community dominated by women and governed by old-fashioned ways. The formidable Miss Deborah Jenkyns and the kindly Miss Matty’s days revolve around card games, tea, thriftiness and an endless appetite for scandal, until change comes into their world – whether it is the modern ideas of Captain Brown, a bank collapse, rumours of burglars or an unexpected reappearance from the past.

As you might remember from my previous post, Reading Cranford in September read-along happened this month. I read Cranford for the first time a few years back, and this time the experience was different but at the same time comfortingly similar. Cranford tells the story of a small country village dominated by women. Men are not a fixture in Cranford, and the women prefer it to be so as they can “decide questions of literature and politics [without] unnecessary reasons and arguments”. Life in Cranford is quiet and comfortable, as the women have their own social code that is followed. However, world is subject to change and the novel looks at how this particular country village handles the winds of change.

What surprised me in reading Cranford was how much happened in such short number of pages. Especially in the beginning, it seems that Cranford and its women are constantly in movement, but still stay the same. This is one of the elements why many see Cranford as a charmingly quaint and sentimental – there is something very warm in the depiction of silly old ladies with tender hearts. However, there is more to the novel than that. Gaskell’s other works, such as North and South, were often set in industrial towns with a large number of characters. In Cranford the surroundings are the opposite, but the ideas are still there. The contrasts between rural life and the industrial towns, men and women, servants and aristocracy, all feature in the pages of Cranford.

Gaskell utilizes irony and wit in her writing, combined with intertextual references. One of the first debates of the novel is between Miss Jenkyns and Captain Brown over literature – Dr. Johnson vs. Charles Dickens. Dickens was a friend and editor of the Household Words, in which Cranford was periodically published, so it was interesting to see how Gaskell placed her fellow author into the debate between sexes, between tradition and modernistic values. I know that it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I still heartily recommend Cranford both for its heartwarming elegance as well as dry wit and social commentary.

4/5

— Mrs Forrester (after they had grown warm and cool again) acknowledged that she always confused carnivorous and graminivorous together,just as she did horizontal and perpendicular; but then she apologised for it very prettily, by saying that in her day the only use people made of four-syllable words was to teach how they should be spelt.

Who’s Who – Finnish authors

Finland is a small country with population of approx. 5.5 million, situated in the northern Europe between Sweden and Russia. As the national language, Finnish, is spoken only in Finland, we Finns tend to read a lot of translated fiction. However, every year a small number of Finnish fiction is translated into other languages, such as Swedish, German, French and English. Here’s a quick peek at some of the internationally famous Finnish authors (plus one epic) – see if you know any of them!

F.E. Sillanpää

The only Finnish author to have won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1939, F.E. Sillanpää wrote in the years of 1916-1945. Three of his novels have been translated into English: Meek Heritage (1919), Maid Silja (1931; his most acclaimed work), People in the Summer Night (1934). Sillanpää was acquainted with many of the cultural figures of early independence, such as composer Jean Sibelius. However, he struggled with alcoholism as well as personal issues later in his life. I must admit that I have never read an entire book by Sillanpää, only excerpts of his writing.

Mika Waltari 

Mika Waltari was a very prolific Finnish author who rose to fame after WWII. His international bestseller, The Egyptian, has been translated to over 40 languages, and was made into a Hollywood film in 1954. Waltari wrote novels, fairytale collections, poetry collections, plays, radio plays, non-fiction, and more. Out of his vast bibliography, 11 have been translated into English. Waltari was also an important figure in the Finnish liberal literary movement Tulenkantajat. I’ve grown up reading Waltari’s fairytale collections, and read some of his novellas in school. However, I still haven’t gotten round to tackling The Egyptian that’s sitting on my shelves. Some day…

Väinö Linna 

One of the most influential authors of 20th century Finland, Väinö Linna won the hearts of Finnish readers with The Unknown Soldier, a book depicting a group of Finnish soldiers in the Continuation War between Finland and Soviet Union. He also gained fame with his Under the Northern Star trilogy. Both books have been translated into English; however, strong criticism has been made against the translation of The Unknown Soldier and a new translation is expected to be published in a few years. I read The Unknown Soldier about a year ago, and was surprised how misguided I had been in thinking that it would be only ‘a war novel’. I hope that the trilogy will be just as good, if not even better.

Aleksis Kivi 

Part of Finnish literary foundation, Aleksis Kivi wrote the first proper Finnish novel, The Seven Brothers  (published in 1870). The Seven Brothers tells of seven unmarried and rather rowdy brothers who struggle to fit into the norms of society, preferring the freedom of the forests. Aside from his masterpiece, Kivi wrote plays and poetry before dying in 1872. I’ve read The Seven Brothers twice and keep discovering new things every time I read it.

The Kalevala

A collection of Finnish folk lore, collected and compiled by Elias Lönnrot. The Kalevala is “19th century work of epic poetry from oral folk lore and mythology”. The Kalevala metre is a form of trochaic tetrameter, which makes it hard to translate into English. However, there are at least 3 known English translations of The Kalevala. It is said that J.R.R. Tolkien drew part of his inspiration for Middle Earth from The Kalevala. I’ve never read the entire Kalevala, only parts of it.

Tove Jansson 

(You knew this was coming.) Tove Jansson was a Finnish-Swedish author, illustrator and artist whose international breakthrough came with The Finn Family Moomintroll (1948). Mostly known for her Moomin books and comics, she also published short story collections for adults. She was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 1966 for her work in children’s literature. If you want to know more about her short stories, check out my Tove100 post!

And now for some more current (alive) authors:

Color photo: Medium shot of Arto Paasilinna, sitting behind a table, speaking in a microphone.Arto Paasilinna

Arto Paasilinna is a Finnish humorist, whose works have been translated especially into French. Overall, his books have been translated to over 27 languages, but in English there are only The Year of the Hare, The Howling Miller, as well as some non-fiction, such as Businessman’s Guide to Finnish Sauna. I generally enjoy Paasilinna’s writing, although I’ve only read 3 of his novels (Year of Hare being one of them).

Sofi Oksanen

A contemporary Finnish female author, Sofi Oksanen rose to fame in 2008 with her third novel Purge. Purge is the discussion of two women in 1990s Estonia, revealing the deep set wounds that the Soviet government inflicted on the people. The novel was originally a play that Oksanen wrote, and it is the only one of her work that has been translated into English. It was the first foreign novel to win the French Fnac prize in 2010. I read Purge in English translation back in 2011, but didn’t really enjoy it as much as everyone else. I guess I should give her other works a try.

Leena Lehtolainen (pictured)& Ilkka Remes

Lehtolainen and Remes are both prolific crime fiction writers. Leena Lehtolainen is best known for her crime series following a female police officer Maria Kallio. Many of her books have been translated to several European languages, and she is rather famous in Germany. However, as of late two of her Maria Kallio books have been translated into English: My First Murder and Copper Heart. I’ve read almost all of the Maria Kallio books and can highly recommend them.

Ilkka Remes writes both adult thrillers as well as young adult mysteries. He writes under a pseudonym and has gained high popularity both in Finland as well as Germany, where his books have been translated by Stefan Moster. I must admit that though I consider him as one of the most famous Finnish authors, I have never picked up any of his books.

Salla Simukka (left) & Emmi Itäranta (right)

Finally I have two Finnish YA authors whose books have recently been published in English. Salla Simukka began her career in 2002 and has published a book almost every year since. Aside from writing young adult literature, she has translated Swedish fiction, worked as book critic, edited a literary magazine for children as well as worked as a writer for a Finnish tv series. Her global success came with the Snow White trilogy, with the first book As Red As Blood being translated into over 40 languages. 

Emmi Itäranta published her debut novel Memory of Water in 2012. The book depicts a world where water is rare and the human race has had to regress, digging through waste to find useful materials. The unusual thing about this book is that she wrote it simultaneously in Finnish and English as a part of her creative writing masters studies in University of Kent. Itäranta’s novel was published in English in the spring of 2014, and it has gained a lot of good reviews.

Review: As White As Snow & As Black As Ebony by Salla Simukka (Snow White, #2 & #3)

Disclaimer: As these are the second and third books in the series, the review might contain some unintended spoilers. I recommend you to read the first book (As Red As Blood) first.
Disclaimer#2: These books have not (yet) been translated into English, but will most likely be published by Hot Key Books (UK) or Skyscape (U.S.)

HARDCOVER ; 236 P.
TAMMI, 2013
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

Lumikki Andersson is backpacking in Prague, where the weather is scorching hot. A girl approaches her in a small café and claims to be her half sister. Lumikki’s parents seem to be hiding a secret concerning the family’s past, so the girl’s claim rouses Lumikki’s interest. Despite her erratic behaviour, the girl manages to persuade Lumikki to join a religious family community. Later it turns out that the members are no relation to each other, after all. But it is not until Lumikki learns that the cult leaders are planning mass suicide that she understands just how dangerous the cult is. Furthermore, someone is planning to profit from the tragedy. Lumikki gets acquainted with the streets and graveyards of Prague when she is forced to run for her life to prevent the tragedy. The religion of the cult is not pure; and innocence is not as white as snow.

Lumikki Andersson wants to get a break from everything. The events of the past winter still haunt her and a short vacation in Prague seems to be just what the doctor ordered. However, soon after her arrival she encounters a young woman who tells Lumikki that she is her sister. There has always been something strange in Lumikki’s family and thus she slowly begins to believe that Zelenka might truly be her sister.

I loved the first book, As Red As Blood, and thought that Lumikki presented a very interesting and refreshing protagonist. In As White As Blood, the scenery is the complete opposite: whereas in Tampere the weather was extremely cold, Prague is in the middle of a summer heatwave. The mystery of the second book is two-folded: is Zelenka her sister and what is going on in the cult? On top of that, Lumikki is coming to terms with the relationship that changed her life. As a reader I was a bit overwhelmed with all the different elements in the story, while at the same time I was underwhelmed with the actual mystery. For me, the plot of the sister just felt a bit too unrealistic – instead, I would have loved to read more about the broadcasting schemes.

Nevertheless, Simukka writes extremely entertainingly and I loved her descriptions of scenery and as well as the action. I guess my general problem with second books in series is that they often seem to only fill in the gaps between other books. As White As Snow focuses more on the character of Lumikki than the mystery itself, but I felt that as a character, she didn’t grow. I recommend the book to those reading the series as well as others interested in the mystery genre.

3/5

HARDCOVER; 192 P. 
TAMMI, 2014
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

The high school of performing arts is rehearsing a modern-day version of Snow White, and Lumikki Andersson is set to play the leading role. The rehearsals are going well, and there seems to be genuine chemistry between Lumikki and the boy playing the role of the huntsman. Will she finally get a happy ending? As the opening night approaches, Lumikki starts receiving notes from a secret admirer whose infatuation soon turns out to be a dangerous obsession. The admirer threatens to turn the premiere into a blood bath unless Lumikki consents to his demands. Lumikki tries to uncover the stalker’s true identity, and in doing so comes face to face with the darkest secrets from her past:  what happened to her sister? Time is running out, the opening night is just around the corner and Lumikki has to find a way to outwit the stalker with a soul as black as ebony.

The third and final installment in the Snow White trilogy returns to Tampere, Finland. Lumikki seems to have found a balance in her life and is rehearsing for a school play for Christmas. However, she starts receiving strange messages from someone who seems to know more about her past than she does. As the messages take a darker turn, Lumikki is again forced to run to save herself and others.

As Black As Ebony is a gripping book that I read in one evening. After beginning, I could not put it down but stayed up late to finish the book. The writing and the pacing of the story forces you to keep reading, turning page after page. Behind the mystery of the dangerous messages, is the larger mystery about Lumikki’s past and the family secrets. A fair warning: it is dark, very dark.

In my opinion As Black As Ebony was a well-balanced story, avoiding the overload of  the second book. Personally, however, it did not quite reach the same level of awesomeness as the first book. Overall, the Snow White series presents well-written mysteries but also deals with a lot important themes of sexuality, bullying, loneliness and relationships. I definitely recommend that you pick it up if the mystery genre is something that you enjoy.

4/5

Bloggiesta!

FallBloggiesta 2014Last minute sign-ups are becoming my trademark for this autumn. A few minutes ago I decided that I would participate in the Fall Bloggiesta – an event that encourages bloggers to fix and improve their blog as well as help each other out. My main reason for participating now is because there are all sorts of bits and bobs that need maintenance and attention in my blog, but also because I’ve lately been too busy to blog properly. And once you fall out of the habit of writing, it’s harder to get back into it.

The event starts today, but I’ll probably do most of the work over the weekend. Warning: things might look a bit wonky for a while. Nevertheless, here is a small list of things that I hope to do during the Bloggiesta weekend:

❏  catch up on unwritten reviews 
❏  update link lists and archive lists 
❏  write one long-planned/requested posts 
❏  clean up tags 
❏  change or fix one thing on your sidebar 
❏  update pages (TBR, About, Review policy) 
❏  change one thing on your layout and/or look 
❏  comment on other Bloggiesta partipants blogs

End comment: Phew. Cleaning up and reorganizing takes a lot of effort, but it is also very rewarding afterwards. I was able to catch up on reviews, write a few almost-finished drafts and schedule a long-planned post for the upcoming week, which I hope you’ll enjoy. I also took the plunge and changed the banner and colours – something that I’ve been very hesitant about since I’ve gotten attached to the old Chinese lanterns. The whole Bloggiesta experience was fun and I’ve discovered many tools and useful sites thanks to other bloggers!

August-September Book Haul

Hello, dear friends!
It’s time to share some pictures and stories about the new books on my nightstand. Before we get to the books themselves, I would like to apologize for the wrinkled sheets, as I did not have time to pull out new ones for the shoot 😀

Most of these books have been acquired in September as a result of getting back to university and being exposed to so many great books. Here’s the overview of the four books that I’ve acquired these past months. I know there are still two review copies coming in the mail, but they will be mentioned in later book hauls.

IMG_7460

Visiting a few charity shops back in August, I picked up Oscar Wilde’s Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays. I read The Picture of Dorian Gray in May and fell in love with the way Wilde writes. Thus when I saw this edition for 1 euro, it didn’t take much time before I had gone to the register to pay for it. I’m really interested to read his plays and see if he really is as snarky and ironic as everyone praises him to be.

IMG_7428

As I have mentioned in a previous book haul, our university department has a book exchange shelf where you can donate your books and take others in exchange. I stopped by in the first week of September and picked up two very interesting books. First one is another Penguin edition with the orange spine – Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildefell Hall. My knowledge of the Brontë sisters is bare, to say the least. I’ve only read Jane Eyre, though Wuthering Heights has been part of my collection for almost 4 years now. However, a lot of bloggers and booktubers were talking about this book in the summer, so my interest was piqued.

The other book that I picked up from the exchange shelf is The Hours by Michael Cunningham. The book tells the story of three women in three time periods: Virginia Woolf in 1920s, a young wife reading Mrs. Dalloway in 1940s, and Clarissa Vaughan in 1990s’ New York. This books is also one that has recently been talked about, but more than that, the premise sounds very intriguing. I read Mrs. Dalloway in March and because it left me a bit confused, I hope The Hours might help me to get a better sense of the original.

IMG_7440IMG_7443

And finally, Swedish crime fiction. Mord på 31:a våningen by Per Wahlöö is the first book in the Inspector Jensen series, and has also been translated into English under the title Murder on the Thirty-first Floor. The author is actually better known as the co-writer of Detective Martin Beck series. As I began my minor studies in Swedish this semester, I’ve been meaning to read more fiction in Swedish. I came upon this book in the library sales shelf, and because the description sounded interesting, I decided to go with it. My reading of Swedish crime fiction – and Nordic noir in general – is limited to Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, so I thought I might as well start with this one. However, if you’re interested to know more about Scandinavian crime fiction, you should check out this amazing blog called Nordic Noir Book Club.

Anyways, that was all the books! I cannot wait to get into these once I finished the ones that I’m currently reading – that is, Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell and Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin. Let me know  if you’ve read any of the books mentioned in this post and what you thought of them! x

Review: Salo by Turkka Hautala

PAPERBACK; 320 P.
GUMMERUS, 2012/2009
SOURCE: PURCHASED

Disclaimer: This book has, unfortunately, not been translated into English. Thus all the excerpts here have been translated by yours truly.

Award-winning debut novel that sets to tackle difficult subjects. The novel narrates the lives of eleven residents in a small Finnish town. A man kisses his wife for the first time in years and an accident ensues. A senior manager of the factory battles with how to tell his employees that the factory will be moving to India. And the infamous hat lady still walks the streets although everyone thought she had drowned in the river. Hautala’s stories are filled with Finnish melancholy, but bubbling under the surface is the inescapable comedy of everyday life.

Salo is a novel that depicts the life of a small town in South Western Finland. It could be that Salo is the story of a fictional town that greatly resembles a real-life town – or it could be any town anywhere in Finland. Aside from the title, the name of this town is never mentioned – it is “my town” or “this town” only. Thus you could change the title and it would be the story of that city. Salo consists of 11 chapters, all narrated by a different person. On the surface, these characters have nothing in common – they only pass each other in the street. We have a senior manager of the big multinational company who is so lonely that he talks about his life to an imaginary chess partner Kevin. We have a middle-aged woman who keeps the night-time kiosk in the town and meets all the night time walkers of the town. We have a pizza driver who has to switch his fluent Finnish into a broken dialect to keep up the appearance of exoticism. And the crazy hat lady that everyone thought had drowned in the river.

Salo is basically plotless. It is voyage to the inner lives of silent and withdrawn homes of the nation, with a healthy hint of comic everyday life. Hautala writes with a clear and accurate tone, merging regional dialects and spoken language to give every character their own voice. It took a while to get into the book and to understand were it was going, but after that it was very enjoyable. It’s definitely thought-provoking and even slightly depressing. The novel features so many lifelike characters, that I feel are walking on the streets of every town – only we don’t know them. Salo is not the first of its kind, but it is nevertheless well-crafted and well-written.

Salo is Hautala’s debut novel so I really look forward to reading more of his work. I bought this book last year in the Helsinki Book Fair, but for some reason it has been standing on my shelf unread. However, now I can happily say I’ve read it! As said in one of the blurbs in the back: “Hautala’s Salo is today’s Finland.”

4/5

Does the moment really matter when there are certain words that will hurt, but that must be said?

Reading Cranford in September

As I mentioned in my August Reads and September Plans post, me and two other lovely book bloggers are planning to read Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell together. The read-along/buddy read starts on 8th of September, so if you have the chance, please join us! The read-along goes on until the end of the month, depending on how quickly we read.

The idea for a Gaskell read-along came from Emma from Turning Pages and Tea after she read North and South. Emma from Bookwormchatterbox is also no stranger to Gaskell, having previously read and reviewed North and South as well as Mary Barton. My history with Gaskell began with Wives and Daughters, after which came North and South, and then Cranford. The idea to read Gaskell together had been bouncing for a while, before we settled for Cranford due to its short length as well as the fact that neither of the other two had read it before.

15827057Cranford tells the story of a small rural village dominated by women. As the narrator notes, “– whatever does become of the gentlemen, they are not at Cranford”. The ladies of Cranford have their own set of social rules and ways, which are put into test when a certain Captain Brown moves into Cranford. The change in the village reflects one of the themes that Gaskell applied often in her works – the contrast between rural England and industrial England. I hope that re-reading Cranford will give me the joy of meeting an old friend as well as an opportunity to examine Gaskell’s writing more closely. The Penguin English Library edition that I’ll be reading also has a small essay on the back, titled Cranford and the weapon of laughter which I hope will give me a new perspective to the story.

If you are interested in reading Cranford with us, you’re more than welcome to do so! As said, the read-along starts on 8th of September and continues until the end of the month. Let me know if you’d be interested by commenting below, and we’ll try to figure out how to go about. Maybe we can chat about our progress on Twitter, or start a Goodreads group for wider discussions? Finally, don’t forget to check out both Emmas’ blogs!