Aura is the twelfth novel in the twenty-year writing career of Anja Snellman (born 1954; until 1997 Kauranen). It clearly recalls Snell man’s first book. Sonja O. kävi täällä (‘Sonja O. was here’, 1981) in its depiction of the difficulty of becoming, and the desire to become a writer. The novels are also linked by a confessional narrator; by varying her voice, the writer has deliberately dramatised a personally experienced and already written-about world.
Reading Aura, it feels increasingly as if Kauranen-Snellman is telling her best stories, depicting intimate relationships that are important to the identity of the individual. Ihon aika (‘The time of the skin’, 1993) was memorable as a moving depiction of a woman’s body painfully delineated between a mother and daughter. The writer has dedicated her new novel to her father, and it is built on the tension between father and daughter.
‘According to research, women writers have generally been daddy’s girls,’ says the novel’s narrator to her friend Aura, who wants to be a writer. What being a daddy’s girl means, however, remains undecided in the novel. Depth and nuance to the ‘research’ are nevertheless added in the novel by a variation on the idea of literature as the father’s language, which is simultaneously a gift and a burden.
The household goddess and idol of the two writing friends in Aura is Sylvia Plath. Snell man has structured her novel like a textile, whose warp is formed by the poetry of the beloved writer. Aura’s chapter headings are the names of Plath’s poems, and quotations from many of her poems are embedded in the narrative itself. For those who have read their Plath, the lines from Ariel invite an intertextual process of gold -washing, but the game-playing between the writers’ textual worlds deals with broad themes rather than closely denned meanings.
Alongside the writing daughters who remain in their mighty and undefined fathers’ shadow, Aura sets another obscure child, the literature that is called serious. The novel begins with a provocative scene staged by a young girl in a bookshop. The girl runs into the midst of interviews with writers with an axe in her hand and shouts: ‘Don’t kill literature!’
In the life of the narrator, the episode sets in motion both her own birth as a writer and above all the critical examination of becoming a writer. Writerdom and literature shrunk to the merchandise of the market forces disparage the ethical task of serious literature. The trendy blockbusters written by the narrator are a fixture in the autumn book lists, but they lack presence and reality, the emblems of serious literature. She feels she has betrayed the literary calling of her earlier self, but, as the novel ends, believes that she has rediscovered the path she has lost.
Anja Snellman’s new novel thus mirrors itself, and in the metatextual image one cannot help but see the writer’s self-critical gaze. This attitude demonstrates the writer’s courage before her dramatised self-portrait and justifies her demanding questions about the role of literature in a marketplace of light, easy-reading novels.
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About the writer
Mervi Kantokorpi is a literary scholar and critic and reviews books for, among other publications, the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat.
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