Posted by: chartroose | August 13, 2008

At the Edge of Light

2007, Maria Peura

At the Edge of Light was originally published in Finland in 2005, and I chose it to be the next novel in my self-imposed World Book Day Challenge.  For quite awhile, I tried to borrow it via interlibrary loan and everyone kept turning me down.  I had pretty much given up hope when it magically arrived in the mail from Washington University in St. Louis.  “Hooray, it’s finally here,” I thought, as I eagerly started to read the first chapter.  I needn’t have bothered to become so excited, because I only got through about thirty pages before I had to give up completely.

At the Edge of Light is the one of the most depressing novels I’ve ever attempted to read.  The characters in this book are obsessed with suicide.  If one person in a family kills himself, then it’s pretty much guaranteed that other family members will follow.  Smooshing ala train seems to be a popular mode of self-destruction, as does hypothermia.  Finland, being at the top of the world like it is, is pretty damn cold in the winter, so it wouldn’t be hard to freeze to death in record time.  Good Lord!  My days of suicidal ideation are long gone.  Give me Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm any day!

I’ve always heard that Finland is notorious for depression and suicide, so I decided to investigate this further.  In the ’90’s, Finland was #1 in teen suicide, and, along with Iceland and New Zealand, was in the top three for overall suicide rates.  Finland also has problems with alcoholism and domestic abuse.  These social ills have improved recently, though, due to better mental health resources and greater access to antidepressants and neuroleptic pharmaceuticals.  Thank God for happy pills!

Here are some fairly current suicide rates.  Why are former Soviet countries, like Slovenia and Estonia, so high?

It seems like Finland is kind of coming into its own now.  In addition to having one of the coolest languages on the planet (Finnish is totally gender neutral), it’s also one of the most egalitarian societies in existence.  Men and women are considered to be total equals, which is something every society should be striving for.  If you are greeting a married couple, the wife should be greeted first.  Amen to that!  Wives should ALWAYS be greeted first, dont’cha think?

One of Finland’s most famous authors is Tove Jansson.

She wrote a bunch of children’s books about “Moomintrolls.”

Ms. Jansson died in 1991, but the Moomins live on.

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Responses

  1. A good friend of mine did an artistic residency in Finland for six months when she was in art school – she has wonderful stories of her time there, but most of them center on how silent people in Finland are. She is from Ireland so going to a pub is a social event. In Finland she would enter a TOTALLY SILENT pub and then try not to freak out for the next few hours. She was not surprised at the high suicide rates after living there for some time – it was dark, cold and way too silent.

    What a bummer the book turned out to be such a disappointment!

  2. Yes, Verbivore, I’ve heard that the Finns are very reserved. I wonder why? It has to be difficult enough to live in a place where it’s dark a lot of the time, so why make it worse by being silent and morose?

  3. Wow! I would never have imagined. I have always heard idealic things about the Finns.

  4. Jessica–It’s too bad I don’t know anyone from Finland because I’d like to riddle him/her with questions about culture and traditions and why they’re so sad. I really would like to know.

  5. Following the theme, how depressing is that when a book you’ve been waiting for since the dawn of the ages isn’t good? That was interesting information about Finland, though. And yes, the wife should always be greeted first. 🙂 It’s interesting that such a progressive society would have such a high suicide rate…

  6. This review reminded me of a book I couldn’t finish because it was too depressing: Garden State / Rick Moody (NOT the movie source). It was beautifully written, but the mood was way too dark.

  7. On the other hand, I have discovered that Japanese readers love the Moomintrolls. Japanese and Finnish are, as strange as it seems, linguistic cousins. So this may not be a coincidence.

    Tove Jansson’s house is now owned by a professor of – I forget what – who is happy to show visitors the fireplace where the Moomintrolls lived.

  8. One of Finland’s most famous authors is Tove Jansson.

    Who wrote in Swedish.

    The Finn I’d most like to read is Frans Eemil Sillanpää, Finland’s only Nobel Laureate (in 1939), who is sadly out of print at the moment. I hope he somehow comes back into fashion or someone somewhere acquires the translation rights and gets him back on the shelves.

    I’ve always meant to read the Kalevala, Finland’s national epic.

    But, Finns I have read include Arto Paasilinna, whose The Howling Miller was an entertaining read and Rosa Liksom’s Dark Paradise which, if you thought At The Edge Of Light was depressing, will push you over the edge: it’s plenty of short stories, all untitled, usually lasting a few pages only. All bleak.

    Another Finnish author I’m interested in reading one day is Johanna Sinisalo. And I’m told that Sofi Oksanen’s third novel will be the first of hers to receive an English translation, although there’s no date – or publisher! – as far as I know.

  9. Literate–I was talking to my Dad about the Finnish suicide rates, and he was surprised too. It is puzzling…the Finns are beautiful, intelligent, progressive people. Why are they so sad?

    Care–I think I’ll skip “Garden State.” I like sad books just fine, but there’s a limit to the extent of sadness for me. If they’re too depressing, then I get all depressed too.

    Stewart–I didn’t know Tove Jansson wrote in Swedish, especially since she lived and worked in Helsinki. Oh well! Maybe I’ll try to borrow an English translation of Johanna Sinisalo, if there is such a thing. I recently finished an excellent novel by a Swedish author named Mikeal Niemi. Since he’s from the Sweden/Finland border, I figured he was about as close as I can get. Thank you! You are the “wordliest” blogger out there!


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