Maile Chapman - Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto (4 stars)

Maile Chapman - Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto

(Jonathan Cape)

Crackling with a fitful nervous energy, Maile Chapman’s novel is the arrestingly titled Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto. It concerns a convalescent hospital set among Finnish pinewoods in the 1920s, harbouring women with intimate ailments, both real and sometimes feverishly imagined. Head nurse Sunny Taylor is coolly professional, having locked and left her own dark memories in the US for a new life in Scandinavia. The sullen arrival of Julia Dey, an exasperating and ageing ex-ballroom dance instructor who creates an unsettling dynamic between herself and everyone she encounters, heralds cataclysm across the hospital.

The sky, the weather and nature complement the torpid sense of boredom within, as ‘routine turns like a wheel.’ Sharply observed and functional statements help to build up an unsettling narrative, evoking a keen timbre of isolation, claustrophobia and bodily unease. Your Presence … is a heady concoction of the Gothic and thrilling which combusts with startling, and compelling, consequences.

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