A day in the life of a son

Issue 1/2006 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Jarmo Papinniemi on Markku Pääskynen’s new novel

In Markku Pääskynen‘s third novel, the two greatest modernists’ ways of portraying the human mind come together: James Joyce’s plunging, leaping, unstudied free-associations are combined with Marcel Proust’s calm, broadly arching, cultured yet intimate deliberation.

Considered one of the most original creators of new Finnish prose, Markku Pääskynen (born 1973) began his career with two ambitiously constructed novels that experimented with the properties of literary narrative. Etanat (‘The snails’, 2002) starts off in Gothenburg, Sweden, with a streetcar accident, and the role of coincidence in the story is carried to the extreme. Ellington (2004) is a portrait of a serial killer in which the truth keeps changing until the reader is so thoroughly confounded that in the end it’s clear that there is no ‘real’ truth underneath the various versions of the story.

Placed beside Pääskynen’s third novel, these seem like clever postmodernist exercises. Tämän maailman tärkeimmät asiat (‘The most important things of this world’, Tammi, 2005) is a day-in-the-life novel that exemplifies modernist ideals, where, in the space of one summer morning, we dive into the consciousness of a young protagonist.

Pääskynen also resembles Proust in his warm yet analytical portrayal of the young man’s relationship with his mother. ‘I don’t know my mother,’ the young man states at the beginning of the narrative, and his attempt to get to know a mother who has remained a stranger, as well as other family members, is one reason for the whole story. Waiting for his mother to arrive on the train, he sinks into reminiscences, basing his stories on Oedipus the King.

The story moves through a small section of Helsinki on a single morning, but the young man’s thoughts carry the reader along on a journey that spans both childhood and the future, from a small town in northern Finland through Poland, Greece and Egypt. Books, dreams and myths are combined with the protagonist’s memories and stories been told to him form a wise and won­drously peaceful fabric.

The writer maintains an ironic attitude towards the main character, whose desire to be an artist is greater than his talent. He accumulates observations in his journal, but between the lines it becomes clear that the young man does not have a future as a great writer.

Along with reminiscing and writing, the mind of the protagonist is also busy telling stories. As we move with him through the streets of Helsinki, we are witnesses to the process of the birth of literature. But Pääskynen’s novel isn’t literature about literature; the road from observation to conception to the final written phrase unfolds in fascinating style.

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