Veckans måndagsmötesgäst är ingen mindre än den finska författaren Sofi Oksanen, vars tredje roman ”Utrensning” fått mången recensent – inklusive mig själv – att gå upp i brygga. Jag vet att det bara är mars än så länge, för tidigt att ropa hej och så vidare, men just nu undrar jag om inte Oksanens kolsvarta skildring av Estland under och efter ockupationsåren är det bästa vi kommer att läsa i år. Vi får se när det är dags att summera litteraturåret, men jag har mina aningar… Klart är i alla fall att det är en bok som lever kvar i minnet långt efter att den är utläst. Prova själva.
Min mejlintervju med Sofi Oksanen genomfördes på engelska, och hon gav mig så långa och bra svar att jag valt att inte översätta utan låta Sofi ”tala” utan inblandning och eventuella feltolkningar. Enjoy!
Hi Sofi, what are you reading right now?
Background material for my next novel. And ”He” by Asko Sahlberg, he’s one of my favourites from today’s Finnish literature.
Which authors and/or works have influenced you most as a writer?
Marguerite Duras, Aino Kallas, Djuna Barnes, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, Sylvia Plath, the Brontë sisters, and A.Solzenitsyn of course, among others.
… and as a reader? (Assuming there is a difference.)
Marguerite Duras is my favourite author as a reader as well. But when I´m reading for fun I enjoy most historical, literary novels (thick ones), for example Sarah Waters. And ”Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë is one of my favourites.
The big literary trend in Sweden over the past decade has been a sort of factualisation of fiction. The edges between fact and fiction have been blurred, and many authors have written about actual people and events in their novels – which has caused a lot of anger and debate in the literary world. What have the biggest literary trends and debates been in Finland over the past decade, do you think?
Well last year ”Koljatti” by Jari Tervo was a hit – it’s a satire in which the protagonist is a prime-minister called Lahnanen, who is not able to sleep properly and he has a sex-slave in the cellar. The problem was that the protagonist reminded people of the real prime-minister Vanhanen quite a lot. Or let’s say that there were lots of people who saw it as a problem.
Then there was another novel as well in which the main character reminded of our former minister of foreign affairs. The novel was ”Paljastuskirja” by Taina Latvala.
Both politicians have been surrounded by scandals related to women (these scandals have made head-lines in Sweden as well), prime-minister Matti Vanhanen had an affair with a single mother and the former minister of foreign affairs sent sex-messages to a stripper called Johanna Tukiainen (and in the end the price for sending sex-messages were high, he had to resign). Matti Vanhanen also sued his ex, Susan Ruusunen, (and the publisher) after she wrote a book called Prime minister’s bride and the court case is still going on, which is quite interesting as a case about freedom of speech. I have read the book and it’s quite interesting, even though not well written. There are sms-messages Vanhanen sent his babe and I have to say that those simple messages reveal that our prime minister is a person who cannot write, is not able to express himself verbally. As a voter I think it’s my right to know, how little he knows about the lives of ordinary people. And he knows very little. So I think it was a good thing that it was published.
I read Jari Tervo’s novel and find it good. The problem is we don’t really have a tradition for satire, there are quite few people who are not able to read the novel as satire, but as a realistic description.
But I can’t say really that this is such a huge trend or a cause for a debate, though it’s interesting which main characters you find from tabloids become main characters in fiction as well. There have also been other novels, like ”Mestari” by Hannu Mäkelä (fiction about the poet Eino Leino) and Runoilijan talossa by Helena Sinervo (fiction about the poet Eeva-Liisa Manner) and ”Helene” by Rakel Liehu (fiction about Helene Schjerfbeck). All these novel were highly appreciated, award-winning novels, but not novels about living persons like those I mentioned above.
Your latest novel (”Utrensning” in Swedish) has won several prestigious awards (congratulations, by the way!). If you could give an award to any writer – living or dead – who would it be and why?
Well Arto Salminen could be one who’d deserve a prize.
Who is the most overrated writer of today?
Depends what you mean. Sales, critics or awards? Most thrillers or romances are not respected at all by critics, even though they sell and people read them a lot. And books praised by critics don’t appeal to the buying audience in a large scale.
… and the most underrated?
In Finland I could say Arto Salminen whose novels are great satires and also fun to read. His characters are tragic but you can’t stop laughing when reading about their adventures. There’s great black, morbid humour in his novels and he describes the collapse of a welfare state. For example there’s a taxi driver who sends his old mother to the nursery and sells her appartement before she dies, just to get the money to himself. But the mother stays alive, gets better and wants to return to her home and that’s when the problems really start. The taxi driver also tries to get some extra money by pretending to be a doctor and a gynecologist when visiting old people, and at one point the children of his ”patients” come home when he’s doing his inner examination of an old lady.
He also wrote a novel “Kalavale” about reality TV, before reality TV really became a big thing in Finland. And about tabloids, people who were ready to do anything for publicity. And about shelters for refugees with Finnish racist staff working there. Unfortunately he passed away before making a break-through. Critics didn’t really like his work when he was alive and his novels didn’t sell well.
Do you have any guilty pleasures? Books you wouldn’t be caught dead reading in public but still secretly enjoy….
No. But as a child my favourite author was Sergeanne Golon and the Angelika-series. The Catherine-series was great as well. I’m not ashamed of that though :)
Finally, a few quick either/or questions. Fact or fiction?
I enjoy reading fiction more, but for my work I need more non-fiction.
Hardcover or paperback?
Bookstore or library?
Finland or Estonia? (In terms of literature.)
Hard to say. I have written two novels about Estonia in Finnish and there are still a few more to come. I read more Finnish fiction, but more Estonian non-fiction. More Estonian poetry, but more Finnish novels than Estonian ones.