Book Review: Your Presence is Required at Suvanto by Maile Chapman

Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto by Maile ChapmanI was at Waterstone’s in Nottingham (UK), not knowing whether to buy any books (given my TBR pile) and if I did, what it should be. There were at least 20 that I could pick up and gladly take home, but I was determined that two or three should be all I buy.

Then, as sometimes happens, I ended up buying a totally different book. One that I had never heard of. My husband pointed it out to me, while I was deciding between Solar, A Week in December (which I did buy as well), Wolf Hall, Room, and many more.

Such is the human psyche, that if we can’t choose between a number of options, we choose something that was not included as an option. Has that happened to you?

Your Presence is Required at Suvanto: What it is about

It’s the 1920s, a convalescent hospital (Suvanto) in the Finnish woods. Besides a large amount of “real” patients, mainly local people, there is also an upper floor with privileged women from abroad, whose husbands work in the timber industry in Finland.

These are women with which not much is wrong, physically. Some come back each winter, and treat the place as a hotel. Most have a dysfunctional relationship with their husbands and use their “illness” as a reason to stay away for months.

The protagonist of the book is Sunny, an American nurse, who has her own reasons to be so far away from home (in the 1920s, it wasn’t a quick plane flight to Finland!). She takes it upon her to look after a new patient, Julia Dey, Danish, who is difficult and uncooperative.

There is a clear picking order amongst the women, with Pearl being the most popular. They are all very sensitive of change and are upset over the smallest thing (one woman cried because her lettuce was cut the wrong way).

But when something happens to Julia, all women, including Sunny, fear for the continuity of their peaceful existence.

Your Presence is Required at Suvanto: What I thought

The book is written in the present tense. All the way through. This can be very tricky, but in this novel, I think it worked. I felt very close to the action (as far as there was any) but it also created a feeling of melancholy.

The writing was beautiful and the story very atmospheric. Chapman knows how to write in a beautiful, literary way. It did make for slow reading, which, as you know, I’m not always keen on. In this case, it didn’t matter.

What mattered more was that the story itself was slow. Very little was happening. I am tempted to say that most of the action happened in the last 30 or so pages. In hindsight, all that was described before this worked towards the dramatic ending. However, at the time of reading, the story doesn’t seem to go anywhere.

The writing is beautiful, the location and the people and their interactions are interesting, but the purpose of the story was lost on me for most of the book.

The end made up for it, although it was very hard to understand what exactly happened.

I read this book with my local face-to-face book group. Only four of us ended up reading and discussing it. We all found the book very atmospheric and well-written, although one or two found it too slow-going. Together, we worked out most of the story, why this, why that. This book is ideal for a book group discussion, provided your book group likes literary novels.

If you enjoy literary fiction set in a unusual location, dealing with spoiled, rich women in the 1920s, you will enjoy this book.  If you insist on a story that is compelling from beginning to end, then you should look elsewhere.

I got this book: bought it in a book shop

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 263

First published: 2010

Genre: literary fiction, historical fiction

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at bookhelpline.com. In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

7 Responses to Book Review: Your Presence is Required at Suvanto by Maile Chapman

  1. Cindy says:

    I think I would enjoy this.

  2. Trisha says:

    I just went to half-priced books last Sunday with the clear intention of buying two specific books. I walked out with 7 books, none of which were on the original list. Gotta love book shopping.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Oh, I know, Trisha! Self-restraint is hard in a book shop. So, do you have to go back again for those two books that you went in for originally? 😉

  3. Amy says:

    This book intrigues me despite not being the most exciting of stories! I read 3 or 4 books at a time so readong a slower=paced book is fine. I find it fascinating that an entire hospital floor is set aside for women who want time away from their husbands so badly that they go into the hospital…wealthy women who may have other options. I’m curious about Sunny, too. Thank you for this review!

    I admire you r restraint in the bookstore…that’s hard to do especially when you saw many books you’d like!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Amy, the floor with rich women basically financed the hospital so they could take in local women that were really ill for free (or for less money)! 🙂

  4. Chinoiseries says:

    I am not sure about this book. On the one hand, it sounds like a book I’d like (and yay, another Nordic novel!) but then again, I just finished The Seas, which lacks a connecting thread as well (and isn’t compelling either until the very, very end), so maybe I won’t read this anytime soon. Had not heard about this author before, always happy to be introduced to new ones 🙂

    • Leeswammes says:

      Chinoiseries, it sounds like this book is similar in how it develops as *The Seas* so maybe, IF you were going to read it, I suggest you read some other books in between.

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