Sunday, September 7, 2014

Emmi Itäranta

Emmi Itäranta (b. 1976) was born in Tampere, Finland, where she also grew up. She holds an MA in Drama from the University of Tampere and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Kent, UK, where she began writing her debut novel, Memory of Water. She later completed the full manuscript in Finnish and English. In 2011, the novel won the Fantasy and Sci-fi Literary Contest organised by the Finnish publishing house Teos. It was published to enthusiastic reviews in Finland in 2012 under the title Teemestarin kirja. Translation rights to the award-winning novel have been sold in 14 territories to date. Itäranta’s professional background is an eclectic blend of writing-related activities, including stints as a columnist, theatre critic, dramaturge, scriptwriter and press officer. She lives in Canterbury, UK, and is currently writing her second novel.

Recently I asked Itäranta about what she was reading. Her reply:
There are few authors whose work makes me look at my diary and pencil in a two-day slot for reading when they have a new book coming out. David Mitchell is one of them. While waiting for Mitchell's new novel The Bone Clocks, due out in September, I picked up his debut Ghostwritten.

Ghostwritten is a novel with a multitude of voices and characters, each equally compelling. Their interwoven lives and the way the book spans geography and time feel at times like blueprints for Mitchell's later grand opus, Cloud Atlas. But this familiarity works for rather than against the book. One of the reasons why I enjoy Mitchell's work so much is that all of his novels seem to take place in the same fictional universe (or possibly multiple, overlapping fictional universes). Characters from one book make unexpected cameo appearances in another; time and space seem governed by strange laws of interconnectedness. Due to its cluster-of-voices-and-styles nature Ghostwritten inevitably rejects any attempts to describe it through genre labels, so suffice it to say it is a highly accomplished, literary yet readable novel with an end twist that genuinely took me by surprise. And that does not happen very often.

I read Ghostwritten mostly on planes during a very busy period, and afterwards I visited my native Finland for several weeks. Amidst the Nordic summer nothing seemed a more appropriate read than Tove Jansson's The Summer Book. It portrays the relationship between a young girl and her grandmother during a summer in the Finnish archipelago. Each of the short episodes focusing on their interaction is a small, perfectly polished gem, glowing with the light of white nights. I can't think of any other writer in whose work the Nordic seasons are present so powerfully and tangibly: the waxing and waning of light and dark, the sun-burnished summers against the backdrop of long winters enveloped in ice. The Summer Book is, in my opinion, a near-perfect book: simple and sparse, funny in unexpected ways, profound and wise. Like so many others, I grew up with Jansson's Moomin books. Even now, going back to her work always feels like coming home.
Visit Emmi Itäranta's website.

--Marshal Zeringue