Friday, 13 February 2015

Book Review/Appreciation - "The Winter War" by Philip Teir - "See You In Paradise" by J. Robert Lennon

When I purchased the BBC magazine with attached CD it was without forethought or foresight, I simply bought it because that is what I invariably do. Sibelius’ 4th Symphony with the forever present Finlandia was simple happenstance, coincidental. Funny how things go isn’t it?
This is a book about Finland and comes from a Finnish author.
When you think of modern literature, the difference between literary and commercial, you are bound to consider Jane Austen whose romantic comedies exemplify individual traits. So too Tolstoy. When either wrote it was by virtue of characterisation that the overall story arc was formed. It is no different here.  

There is Max and there is Katriina. They are husband and wife having been married since the seventies when they were as cool as the times within which they met. Fact is they typify all of that decade’s left-wing soft centred liberalisation. He a Finland-Swede whose first language is Swedish whilst she, a city snob as far as Max’s father Vidar is concerned, speaks straight Finnish. They have two daughters, Helen and Eva, of whom they are both very proud with two grandchildren by the former. They all live respectable middle-class lives. He a sociologist who found fame some twenty five years ago with a series of publications, she with her degrees and a capacity for health care that sees her globe-trotting when needs arise. Helen is married and teaches. Eva, two years younger at twenty nine than her sibling, lives the life of an art student in cosmopolitan London. Max is all set to celebrate his sixtieth birthday an event overseen by Katriina. All that can be right with the world is. Then former student, now journalist, Laura Lampella asks to interview Max in the Helsingin Sanomat. Life sometimes throws a mean curve ball.

It is from this platform of respectability, from the comfy, cushioned but failing family, dysfunctional at its core, that the tale is told.

Imagine if you will the ocean lapping at the shore. Four pebbles plop into the ebb and flow, the rise and fall of the incoming tide. As each subsequent swell delivers its undercurrent of silt which builds another shelf so the pebbles rise up surrounded by a growth of additional sea shaped life. In this way Teir forms his characters. This is a book defined in the telling by the shading of its characterisation, by the rich manner in which the author creates narrative around nature, the flaws and short comings of its fictional people.
Language is structured well. Sentences flow direct without embellishment. Translator Tiina Nunnally should be commended. There is no sentimentality within the telling, nor any sense of the obvious even if that is the outcome. As debut novels go this is a stunner.

The novel of 2012 was J. Robert Lennon's 'Familiar.' A staggering book that I, and many others, overlooked in light of the other splendid novels published. You cannot put such oversights right. The best you can do after the event is praise them and credit them their due. ‘Familiar’ was a fantastic novel worthy of the very highest praise. So then, after recognising my error you would have thought I wanted have repeated it.  My missing this book with its collection of short stories was not so much missing it, I knew of its publication, but rather my putting off until tomorrow that which I should have done today. Again, I apologise.  

When you open the first pages of 'See You In Paradise' it is rather like entering an art gallery, one whose primary function is to present art that is funny, moving, charming, electrifying, surreal, absurd and highly inventive.

There are fourteen black paintings, fourteen short stories that bedazzle the mind while engaging the intellect. Nothing is sacred in Lennon’s world. He bows to know known sacred cows seeing all and everything as fair game for his quick-fire imagination. In many ways he is the American equivalent to Magnus Mills in that he too has a hilarious, slightly subversive, sometimes a little more unnerving, deadpan delivery. It’s all a bit bonkers yet never outwardly so. He manages to keep a tight rein on that wilful streak of his allowing only splintered cracks to appear in the main frame that add rather than detract from his narratives. 

Each of these swellegant, elegant short stories, these sumptuous bites of literary delights is a novel in miniature. It takes real talent to do that. Of course English teachers through the ages have been telling us that it is the short story that profiles fine literature best.

From the EC Comics like ‘Portal’ with its doorway to nowhere in particular to the divinely quixotic ‘Hibachi’ through the wicked ‘A Stormy Evening at the Buck Snort Restaurant’ to the quasi-horrific ‘The Wraith’ we are in for a hell of a treat.

When I reviewed 'Familiar' I closed by suggesting it was "a schizophrenic orgy." And then concluding   “Not since Peter Ackroyd's brilliant thriller 'Hawksmoor' have I read anything so wilfully psychotic." In many ways this novel dances around those careening edges formulating madness as it meets head on sanity. A combustive force of literature.


Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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A Utility Fish Shed Blog