Tag-Archive for ◊ serene ◊

• Saturday, June 14th, 2014

Arto Paasilinna, one of seven children – five sons and two daughters – was born in 1942 in Kittilä, Lapland in Finland to a civil servant father and a housewife mother. He studied at the General and Elementary School Line at the Lapland Folk Academy.

As a young teenager, Paasilinna worked in various jobs. One of them was as a farm labourer and a wood cutter. He says: “I was a boy of forests, working the land, timber, fishing, hunting, the whole culture that is found in my books”. Later he worked as a journalist, writer and editor for various newspapers and literary magazines.

In 1975, finding journalism “more superficial and meaningless”, he decided to dedicate his time to writing his novel, The Year Of The Hare. He sells his boat to finance the novel which becomes an instant success. From now on Paasilinna is able to live off his writing. He becomes the most acclaimed writer in Finland and in other Scandinavian countries. He is a prolific writer and millions of his books have been sold worldwide.

The Year Of The Hare, Arto Paasilinna’s favourite and most famous novel, has been translated into several languages. It was first published in Finnish in 1975 and in English in 1995. The Year Of The Hare was selected by the Unesco Collection of Representative Works which funded the English translation by Herbert Lomas. It has won three major international awards and was twice adapted for feature films: a Finnish film in 1977 named “Jäniksen vuosi” and a French version in 2006 called: “Le lièvre de Vatanen”.

The middle-aged Finnish journalist, Kaarlo Vatanen, and his middle-aged colleague photographer,“two dissatisfied, cynical men” are driving back to Helsinki from Heinola, after an assignment for their weekly magazine, when their car hits a leaping leveret. The photographer stops the car and Vatanen goes looking for the wounded animal in the nearby forest. He finds it with a broken left hind leg and holds him in his arms for comfort before nursing him.

In the Chinese zodiac, the rabbit – cousin of the hare – has represented Hope for Chinese people for a long time and in the Chinese legend, the moon goddess, Chang’e, had a rabbit as a pet.

Vatanen, who is going through a middle-age crisis, instantly senses a bond between him and the leveret, who will become his inseparable companion. From this moment on, Vatanen finds himself magically connected with nature away from the strain, turbulence and rampant consumerism of urban life which he can no longer endure.

Vatanen feels free from all constraints for the first time in his life. He decides to sell his possessions, abandon his wife and his job after realizing that he neither cares for his unloving wife nor for his empty, boring job and travels across Finland’s wild nature away from civilization. Vatanen chooses the path of no return with no regrets, seeking an adventurous new life. A fascinating exchange occurs: the conventional Vatanen becomes an untamed man while the wild hare turns into a domesticated animal. In each others company, man and animal will help one another to heal their afflictions: psychological for one and physical for the other.

During this one year several surreal events happen, Vatanen lives doing odd jobs, repairing a hut or cutting logs in the forest as well as fighting a ferocious forest fire. He even gets engaged to Leila, an attractive young lawyer, while being drunk but once sober he surprisingly has no recollection of taking such an important decision. While living and working in the forest, Vatanen has to fight a ravenous, cheeky raven and a dangerous, vicious bear and follow it across the border to the Soviet Union which leads to his arrest by Russian soldiers accusing him of spying.

The satirical and cynical Year Of The Hare is a story of a dissatisfied, embittered man who takes his courage in hand by giving up everything to fulfill his dreams in the hope of attaining a serene life. It’s a quest for freedom and a journey of exciting adventures. Consequently, this tale unleashes the dream that lies deep inside each one of us: the search for the meaning of life and the yearning to lead a simple harmonious existence in peace with nature beyond the bounds.

• Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Margaret Forster was born in Carlisle (England) in 1938. She was educated at the Carlisle and County High School for Girls. She won a scholarship to Sommerville College, Oxford where she was awarded an honors degree in History.

Margaret Forster married the writer and broadcaster Hunter Davies in 1960. Today they live between London and the lake district in England. They have three children, two daughters and a son. Their eldest daughter Caitlin also became a novelist.

Margaret Forster worked as a teacher in Islington, North London from 1961 to 1963. Starting from 1963 she worked as a novelist, a biographer, a contributor to newspapers and journals, and as a regular broadcaster for the BBC. She was also on the Arts Council literary panel for three years, and a chief non-fiction reviewer for the London Evening Standard.

Since 1964 Margaret Forster has been very prolific. She has written biographies, criticism, fiction and non-fiction. She has won many prizes and awards for her fiction and non-fiction works. Her bibliography is quite long, amongst her novels is the very successful 1965 Georgie Girl, which was made into a film in 1966, and a short lived Broadway musical in 1970.

Keeping the World Away is the story of a painting, the women who owned it, and the message it bestowed on them. In the prologue, the young school girl Gillian, introduces the original theme of the novel; how about if a painting had a real life of its own, according to who owned it, and what it conveyed to the people who looked at it.

Gillian says to her teacher after staring and staring at one painting in The Tate Gallery for a while and noticing that “something was there which she couldn’t quite grasp… The lives of the actual paintings, especially one of hers. I was wondering where it had been, who had owned it, who had looked at it. And other things – I mean,what effect did it have on the people who have looked at it ? What has it meant to them, how have they looked at it, did they feel the same as I did, did they see what I saw.”

Keeping The World Away portrays the struggle of female artists in finding their way, their independence and freedom. Margaret Forster who is a feminist, like her predecessor Virginia Wolf in A Room Of One’s Own, describes how women from the early days of the twentieth century aspired to gain recognition from a society monopolised by men. They wanted their financial freedom as well as their mental freedom. Virginia Wolf said : “There is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of the mind.”

The novel is divided into six sections. The first section is a semi-fictionalised story based on a real painting, the corner of Gwen’s room in Paris, produced by Gwen John at the beginning of the twentieth century, and of the genuine Welsh artists Gwen John and her brother Augustus who where born two years apart in Haverfordwest, South Wales, Gwen in 1876 and Augustus in 1878 and both became artists. Gwen went to live in Paris and fell madly in love with the famous sixty four year-old French sculptor Rodin. Her passion was short lived by her lover who distanced himself from her young, “vigorous” and “voracious” needs.

Feeling lonely and forlorn, but at the same time serene, Gwen painted the quiet, and what she perceived as a peaceful corner of her Parisian attic room, yearning while waiting for her inattentive lover, Rodin to come and visit her, like in the past. She worked with a great deal of concentration and minutiae, putting her feeling and strong emotions into the painting, in order for her lover to understand her state of mind, and her longing for him: “she had wanted it to prove her own triumph. She had wanted to show Rodin that this was evidence of her transformation. She had imagined him walking into her room and being transfixed, overcome with admiration for what she had achieved.” Didn’t he tell her that “she must be composed and calm and let his own tranquillity enter her soul. Only then, he told her, would she do good work.”

Gwen waited patiently for Rodin who never went back to her. She offered the painting to her dear friend Ursula, who lost it during the journey back to England. From then on the saga of Gwen’s room corner painting begins.

The following five parts of the novel follow the journey of Gwen’s painting: The different women who owned it, loved it and shared the same aspiration felt by it, despite the different message the painting bestowed on each one of them, and how it had affected their lives, and that true art can have a life of its own.Charlotte, the dreamy, intellectual and art appreciator. Stella, the ex nurse and amateur artist. Lucasta, The artist specialised in portraits. Ailsa, Paul Mortimer’s oppressed wife. Then the novel ends as it started with Gillian who is now studying art in Paris and will be inheriting the Gwen’s painting after Mme Verlon’s death.

The painting of Gwen John’s room in Paris is today hanging in the Sheffield city art gallery in England.

The title of the book is taken from Gwen John’s own note book. She wrote : “Rules to keep the world away: Do not listen to people (more than is necessary); do not look at people (more than is necessary); have as little intercourse with people as possible.”

Gwen John (1876-1939) and her brother Augustus John (1878-1961) studied at the Slade school of Art in London. During their life time, Augustus became famous at an early age, while his introverted, solitary sister Gwen, who was obsessively in love with Rodin, remained in the limelight. Her paintings mainly depicting interiors, still-lifes and portraits were less appreciated than her brother’s bold style of painting. He was considered a great artist of his time. Recently,Gwen’s art became internationally renown while by contrast her brother’s paintings seem to have fallen into the shadow.

Margaret Forster’s combination of fact and fiction is done in a masterly way, with an easy-to-follow plot and a clear and limpid writing.

Category: Book Reviews  | One Comment