Elina Hirvonen (3 stars)

Elina Hirvonen

When I Forgot (Portobello)


The first novel by young Norwegian filmmaker and journalist Elina Hirvonen is a slim but well-formed volume. At 180 pages it’s a day’s read, although many of the evocative situations Hirvonen conjures will remain in the mind for a lot longer. Seen from the perspective of a young Helsinki girl named Anna, this is an affecting story about mental illness and its often shattering effect on families.

Anna’s brother Joona has been unstable since he was young, and institutionalised since he tried to burn down the family home and started drinking household cleaner. Putting off visiting him as long as possible, Anna pines for happier times, although her father’s inability to understand his son is the most frightening aspect of the story. Meanwhile, Anna’s seemingly stable American boyfriend Ian slowly reveals his family’s similar troubles, and this delicate, almost twee tale offers only a cold sort of comfort.

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