Thursday, July 29, 2010

Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto

Read 7/23/10 - 7/29/10
2 Stars - Recommended Lightly

Expectations. I think my expectations led me astray with this novel. Reading the advance praise for Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto set the stage for impossibly high standards. Seeing authors like Audrey Niffenegger say it was "unnerving and full of gorgeously written surprises and frightening marvels", and Junot Diaz claim that Chapman gave us "an eerie gift of a novel" using words like hallucinatory, ominous, and gothic to describe it, I couldn't help but think this book was going to creep me out and keep my mind moving through the middle of the night.

The novel starts off slow and sleepy, with a prologue from the joint points of view of people we have not yet met. They admit they have done something, something they are willing to share with us now, something they are not necessarily proud of, but felt compelled to do.

"We care only for ourselves...We love everything that we did...We are safe and happy now, and this is what we wanted."
It's a tale that takes place in early twentieth century Finland, in an old convalescent hospital that caters to women only, in an attempt to cure them of their "female problems".

So I tucked into the novel fully prepared to be chilled to the bone. I forgave the author for the first 50 or so pages, where she was still introducing us to Sunny, nurse to the female up-patients of Suvanto, and the women she looks after; Julia, with her gaudy rings and nasty behavior; Pearl, who enjoys playing her fellow sick-mates against one another with her game of favorites; and Mrs. Minder, a pyromaniac who tries to please. I also forgave her for the next 50 pages, in which we meet Dr. Peter Weber - the resident doctor who is hoping to test out the new "Weber Stitch" on the current female patients and also on the women with high risk pregnancies that he plans to incorporate into Suvanto.

See what I mean about setting the stage for expectations? I was mentally rubbing my hands together in anticipation.

150 pages and the novel is still slowly uncurling itself, not fully letting it's intentions be known, creating this uncanny sense of something BIG coming, right around the corner, if I would only just keep turning the pages. And I did. Oh, how I kept turning those pages.

Closing in around the 200th page, I was seriously beginning to wonder if I had wasted my time with this novel. I had less than 70 pages to go and nothing had really happened. I had reached the end of my rope. Chapman's teasing had gone on too long, had worn me out, with nothing to show for it....

But then, Chapter 13 slapped me across my face. It just reached right out and slapped me. HERE was something! Something BIG. Something I didn't see coming. Something I didn't think the author was capable of doing.

I began reading with renewed interest and the further I read, the more convinced I became that this, this chapter, was the catalyst for something even BIGGER. Hold on to your seats, ladies and gentlemen, this could become a very bumpy ride.

Only, it ended sort of .. meh .. for me. The story never really packed the punch that I thought it would. Or could. And I was left a bit confused and exasperated by the time I read the last line.

If you like slow meandering stories that take their time and won't frighten or surprise you, then you will find a lot to like here. Chapman can certainly tell a story!

Thanks must go out to Graywolf Press, who continue to treat me wonderfully, and supplied me with this review copy. We can't always expect to like everything we read, can we? Though I did give this one a fighting chance.

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