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Showing 1-7 of 7 reviews(4 star). See all 25 reviews
on May 13, 2016
This took me a long time to read, which I at first thought was a mark against the book. The subject matter -- the faculty and patients at a remote convalescent hospital in Finland sometime after the first World War -- didn't intrigue me, and I thought I couldn't get through it but in staccato sessions every week or so because I was bored. And to be fair, there are stretches I think the book could have done without. That said, there's no mistaking the very palpable atmosphere brought to one's mind while reading this book. I finished it some weeks back and still occasionally think about it. This suggests it was the atmosphere that kept me from reading for too long at a moment, and that atmosphere is very well-developed, built piece-by-piece over its some two hundred pages. The author does a masterful job layering what seem like simple concerns and trivial pursuits into a web of interactions and reactions that build further towards the climax, all surrounded by the unforgiving and claustrophobic ice of the setting.

A lot of reviews I've read mention the book's genre shift at the very end (last fifty pages or so) feels hackneyed or out of place, but I don't think those reviewers were paying attention. With the ending in mind, the novel becomes a slow discourse on the dissolution of identity. You're given hints of backstory early on that will "explain" the characters, and while you get some more it's never enough to satisfy if that's what you're looking for. No, the real beauty of the novel comes from its relentless description of (and narrative adherence to) routine. Routine buries other concerns, routine is what the characters at Suvanto are looking for. In a way, it's almost relaxing. Until it isn't, when certain events occur, and the genre shift happens. At that point, you're stuck. Your mind is so hazy from the routine, is that blood in your relaxing book? The use of a Greek chorus structure for the narration really helps this. Early on you can find yourself asking who the "we" in the narration is, but this question will slip away for a while until you notice its terrifying return.
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VINE VOICEon July 8, 2010
I approached this book with much anticipation, and for much of it, was gratified. The mood and setting are remarkably delineated. Set in a remote "hospital" for women in a bleak 1920's Finland, Chapman fills the pages with sensuous detail clearly bringing to life the humid, hothouse atmosphere. It is unclear why many of these women continue to take up bedspace in what purports to be a hospital, which includes a floor more like a private club for women who are bored, hysterical, or just plain trying to get away from their real lives. Such indulgence is tolerated so long as their providers have the funds to keep them there, and their society is comforting for them, with the familiar faces, food, time in the sauna and games playing in the evenings. The book is partially narrated in a first person collective, which gives an unsettling tone throughout, alerting the reader to plot developments, so that when there is a sudden shift, it is not entirely unexpected.
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on May 6, 2013
The patients were both easy to abhor as well as sympathize with.
One felt that Pearls HUSBAND tried but got a raw deal overall

Who did it? Was the threat of changes in their abnormal _normal closed society partly responsible for some actions?
You be the judge after reading.
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HALL OF FAMEon April 8, 2010
A sanitorium set in Suvanto in rural Finland, sometime in the late 1920s, has drawn female patients from all over Europe and America. Many are wealthy women who enjoy the specialized spa treatments and the chance to escape from their everyday lives for periods of up to six months. One physician asserts that "these are bored women....They like being sick." A young American nurse, Sunny Taylor, who has taken a job here to escape the difficult memories of her own life, is also hard pressed to be completely sympathetic with the self-indulgent, yet Sunny recognizes that they all do experience real pain--and they are all unhappy with their lives "outside." The arrival of Julia Dey, a woman with a serious infection, changes the atmosphere. Julia is often mean-spirited and sometimes deliberately cruel, and she creates chaos.

Gradually, the lives of the women and their difficulties unfold--many are friends from previous stays. Dr. Peter Weber, the physician in charge of the hospital, believes that most of their problems are gynecological, and he is developing a surgical stitch which he believes will cure some of their problems. This, in combination with hysterectomy, may lead him to fame, he believes-if he can get his research completed in this rural hospital. It is his surgery on one of the women which leads to the climax and the long denouement, as the conflicts demand resolution.

In several places throughout this debut novel, author Maile Chapman refers to the action of Euripedes' The Bacchae, and though the parallels between that early Greek play and this contemporary novel are not exact, many of the themes become clearer when considered in view of that play. The "Bacchae" in Greek mythology were sometimes considered madwomen, who, acting together, enacted their own vengeance and appeared to be unconquerable. It may be this trait which has led some critics to call this a "proto-feminist" novel, though the shallow lives of the female "up-patients" certainly do not represent any ideal to which most feminists aspire. The novel's themes, as in the play, also depend on sets of contrasts: civilization vs. savagery, freedom vs. control, the rational vs. the irrational, order vs. chaos, and even men vs. women. The conflicts do get resolved eventually, and, with echoes of the Greek chorus reverberating throughout the conclusion, many readers will feel that the balance of the universe is restored in ways similar to Greek tragedy.

The novel is dark, almost claustrophobic in its intensity. By leaving much up to the reader and not spelling out exactly what is happening in the latter part of the book, Chapman avoids the trite and keeps her novel mysterious and atmospheric. The novel is often frustrating, however. The characters are not likable and rarely inspire sympathy, and the author's real purpose is not clear. Long character sketches sometimes prove to be for characters who are peripheral to the main action, and the idea of the women as victims, as they so often regard themselves here, counteracts the idea that these are real bacchae (and feminists). Chapman is an enormously talented writer with a smooth style and sense of drama, however, and many readers will look forward with anticipation to her next novel. Mary Whipple
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VINE VOICEon February 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Chapman is a splendid writer, with a great talent for narrative tension, for creating intriguing characters and for constructing a near-tangible location. My only quibble from the outset was the lack of a time-frame. Since I don't care to read cover copy which, too often, gives away too much plot, I dived right into the book and floundered a bit, trying to make sense of the goings-on in the hospital environment. But that is a minor quibble. The remote Finnish setting, the isolation, and the extremes of temperature all add a substantial weight to this tale, making it feel as if the characters are chronically struggling for enough air to breathe. Rarely have I read anything that gives such a powerful sense of place. I was in equal parts fascinated and repelled by Nurse Sunny and some of her charges: Julia, Pearl, Laimi and Mrs. Minder. They are all drawn with bold, yet intimate, strokes and yet, to the last, maintain some degree of mystery. It is quite an accomplishment. Alas, the climax of the book is a let-down and the denouement is very disappointing. There is, in effect, a Greek chorus that bookends the story and left me trying to figure out what actually happened. I'm sure the author wanted the reader to try to puzzle out who did what to whom but, sadly, the final chapter and the epilogue are so convoluted--twisting strands of real and not-real into such a tight rope of prose that it just isn't possible. It's a pity because such a fine creation deserves a more succinct conclusion. The book is well worth reading for the author's talent with language and for a flawless rendering of such a strange and intriguing place as Suvanto.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Let's start with the good news: Maile Chapman writes beautifully. Her novel, set in the Finnish convalescence ward, successfully summons up a bleak, haunted ambiance, in the tradition of Daphne Du Maurier and Charlotte Bronte.

The novel centers around an uneasy danse a deux between Julia, a former ballroom dance instructor who comes to Suvanto because of long-term effects of syphilis and a prolapsed uterus, and Sunny Taylor, the unfortunately named American nurse who prides herself on her professionalism. Julia resides in the "up patient" section- the part of the hospital that is set aside for those of better means, and inhabited by more demanding patients. Chapman nicely delineates the differences between the up patients and the more resigned Finnish patients who inhabit the lower floors.

Into this world enter a number of other characters: Pearl Weber and her stitch-happy husband Peter, the passive-aggressive Mary Minder, and others who sometimes serve as foils for the discontented and dramatic Julia.

As the seasons turn from summer to a bleak and unforgiving winter and Peter's experiments take on a more sinister tone, leading to a flurry of rumors and innuendos, emotions at Suvanto reach a crescendo. That, in turn, leads to a way too long denouement, which, to this reader, was ultimately unsatisfying. A Greek chorus of voices - at the beginning and end of the novel - work to position the tale as a tragedy.

This is an author with definite talent; the harsh, isolating, remote Finnish setting and the racheting up of tension is done very well. But the coldness also seeps into the characterizations; sometimes, I felt I was getting intimate glimpses into these women's lives but many times, I felt as if I were being held at arm's length from really "knowing" them. All in all, this is a writer to watch.
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on May 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'd hate to use a cliche, but this novel was very haunting. "Your Presence Is Requested At Suvanto" is set in an unusual location, a 1920s-era 'convalescent' hospital in Finland. We get introduced to a number of its residents, all the women there for their own hidden reasons. Chapman's book is not one that lays out the plot neatly, the reader is more likely to discover more and more pieces of the puzzle as they read further. For me, I really liked how the descriptions of characters' thoughts and relationships to each other added to the gloomy atmosphere of the novel. It was not always an easy read, but it was definitely worth reading.
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