New from the archives

11 May 2015 | This 'n' that

Juhani Peltonen

Juhani Peltonen. Photo: C-G Hagström / WSOY.

This week’s pick is, like last week’s, a period piece – this time a cry for help from the 1980s in the work of Juhani Peltonen (1941-1998).

Like Runar Schildt’s short story Raketen, written shortly before Finland gained independence from Russia and was almost immediately plunged into civil war, these pieces by the multitalented Juhani Peltonen, who wrote plays for stage and radio as well as short stories, novels and poems, were published shortly before major and irrevocable change.

In the short story ‘The Blinking Doll’, we are a year short of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and it seems as if things are never going to change. We follow two forty-year-old lawyers, Juutinen and Multikka, as they trudge along the beach in one of the charming resort towns of the west coast in which they have spent a couple of days dealing with a minor felony case.

They’re both forty, and divorced, disillusioned with their jobs and with the world; and both are infatuated with one of their colleagues, a woman whom they call ‘The Blinking Doll’.

There is, Peltonen says, a ‘pact of friendship and mutual assistance between the men’ – a jocular reference to the notorious treaty of 1948 in which Finland was obliged to resist attacks on the Soviet Union through its territory, and to ask for Soviet aid if necessary. In 1988, this seemed as if it were written in stone – and the men’s emotional lives are similarly petrified. They discuss their isolation, their lack of purpose, their inexplicable weeping fits. The most painful thing, says Multikka, is love; or, says Juutinen, and which comes to the same thing, the lack of it.

As Erkka Lehtola, our then Editor-in-Chief, remarks in his introduction, Peltonen – Finnish literature’s best-known comi-tragedian, he calls him – focuses on the difficulty of loving in a violent, mechanical, oppressed world. Is it the passage of twenty-five years that imbues his writing with such a poignant sense of stasis and futility? There is a sense of desperation, barely controlled. As one of his poems has it,

Too abundant in the course of the evening
Cries for help from the heart of stifled detail, legato.


The Books from Finland digitisation project continues, with a total of 388 articles and book extracts made available on our website so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.

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