Arne Nevanlinna: Hjalmar

5 November 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Hjalmar
Helsinki: WSOY, 2010. 294 p.
ISBN 978-951-0-36700-1
€29, hardback

‘Jansson!’ Hjalmar, the protagonist of Arne Nevanlinna’s second novel, is repeatedly woken by voices barking his surname at him. The people shouting at him are primary school teachers, commanding officers, nurses, psychiatrists and his bosses; these figures collectively serve as a sort of Orwellian ‘Big Brother’ figure, or Hjalmar’s social superego. At the core is penniless bohemian office drone Hjalmar’s relationship to his boss, Börje, who personifies the archetype of the Finnish banker, both idolised and loathed. Hjalmar eventually rises up from his lowly position into the opposition, aided by several picaresque characters and his own ‘pokeresque’ skills as a gambler.  Arne Nevanlinna (born 1925), an architect and essayist, began writing fiction late in his career: his first novel, Marie (2008), was a runaway success. It tells of a lady from the cream of Strasbourg society who had been married off to Finland and lived in isolation to the age of a hundred. Hjalmar does not quite match its predecessor in terms of quality, but the elegance of old patrician clans persists in its enjoyable irony.

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