How to build a Finlandia Prize-winning novel

4 December 2009 | In the news


Antti Hyry

The Finlandia Prize for Fiction 2009, worth €30,000,  was awarded to Antti Hyry (born 1931) on 2nd December; his novel about building a stove, Uuni (‘The stove’, Otava), was chosen by the art historian and former director of the Finnish National Gallery, Tuula Arkio, from a shortlist of six.

Appointed by the Finnish Book Foundation, the prize jury (Professor Liisa Steinby, literary critic Olavi Jama and Saara Vesikansa of the Tampere newspaper Aamulehti) shortlisted the following novels: Salo (Gummerus) by Turkka Hautala; Ihmisen osa (‘The human lot’, WSOY) by Kari Hotakainen; Uuni (‘The stove’, Otava) by Antti Hyry; Kadotetut (‘The lost ones’, Gummerus) by Marko Kilpi; Ingen saknad, ingen sorg (‘No yearning, no grief’, Söderströms/Tammi) by Merete Mazzarella; and Ranskalainen ystävä (‘The French friend’, WSOY) by Tommi Melender.

Merete Mazzarella portrays life in the late 19th century; the central character in her novel is the author Zacharias Topelius (died 1898). ‘The contemporary Finnish reality depicted in four of the listed novels [by Hautala, Hotakainen, Kilpi and Melender] is not a bright one,’ said Arkio in her prize speech; violence and mental brutality – the hardening values of a country that once called itself a welfare society – manifest themselves in these novels.

In his tenth novel, the 400-page Uuni Antti Hyry (whose first book, a collection of short stories, was published 51 years ago), gives an account of the construction of a new stove in an old house. The contemporary characters live their lives in a small village in the north-west of Finland as they always have; work, rest, mealtimes, walks in the forest, observations on nature, past life and  the passing of time. Arkio said she became hooked by Hyry’s unhurried, detailed narrative about moderate, good life, spiced with laconic humour.

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