I have managed to find some quality reading time amid the competing charms of a first visit to Sydney and catching up with family. Me being me means that from my original reading pile I added Diego Marani’s ‘New Finnish Grammar’ and a proof copy of Nigel Warburton’s ‘A Little History of Philosophy’ that is published by Yale in September. Whilst I have read the two new additions to the list it means that I have so far only completed ‘The Company of Fellows’ and ‘Ill Fares the Land’. Being part-way through ‘Boxer Beetle’ and ‘This is not the End of the Book’ with less than a week to go until I am on the plane home I fully expect to polish these off and also have a decent crack at ‘The Divided Self’ I suspect that ‘Shantaram’ will have to wait until a later date – sorry Becky, I can hear your squeals of disappointment from the other side of the world.
First up my bookseller thoughts on ‘New Finnish Grammar’ by Diego Marani
I tend to be more a reader of non-fiction but I have had the great fortune of reading two contemporary literay novels this year that have reminded me that the thoughts explored and language used in certain books can be as exhilarating as any plot line or character, and more rewarding to the reader. The first book that reminded me of this was ‘The Canal’ by Lee Rourke (I have been trying to write a proper review of this for months but cannot find the right words to convey just how much this book moved me and how it thrillingly reignited my love of reading quality literary fiction) For another novel to come along within a couple of months and capture my imagination as comprehensively is a rare treat indeed, but ‘New Finnish Grammar’ is extraordinary on many levels.
It was originally published in Italy in 2000 and has, I believe, been translated into various languages before this Dedalus Books edition came in May. The plot is pretty straightforward – set during the Second World War a man is found on the quayside in Trieste, he has been beaten up to such an extent that he has completely lost his memory. The only clue to his identity is the name Sampo Karjalainen on a tag sewn in to his sailor’s jacket. A doctor, originally from Finland, takes him under his wing and facillitates the recovery of the man and helps him return to Finland where slowly and painfully he learns to read, write and speak again. The relationship between identity and language underpins the book and the love and respect that the author (and, indeed, Judith Landry the translator) has for words and language is apparent on every single page. I lost count of the number of times that I chuckled quietly or gasped involuntarily at a simple yet beautiful word play. “But only those who are fully acquainted with the power of the word should dare to have recourse to its magic” Marani weaves into this story the troubled history of Russo-Finnish relations, ancient myths and sagas and a doomed love story that is heart-wrenching but never cynical.
A stunning book that deserves the wide audience that it appears to be getting after a gushing review from Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian I know that it is a book that I will be thrusting into peoples hands for years to come urging them to buy it, read it and spread the word. It is the least that I can do for the pleasure that it has given me.
Time to go and read now, I hope to do some more mini-reviews tomorrow…