Tuesday, May 4, 2010

More about silent things (and telling about them)

Flowers, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Trunks, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Yesterday I wrote about the author Antti Hyry. I'm reading his price-winning novel (Uuni, in English "Oven"), published in 2009.

The book is so good I have to stop sometimes just to savour the words, and I'm thinking all the time: this here I would like to quote in some context. But then I realize that taken apart, the book would work at all, it is only in the long run of the story, in between the words, lines and chapters that the story runs.

Nominally Hyry tells a story of an old man who is building an oven, using brick-laying methods which are old, very old. The design of a traditional Finnish oven is proven to be durable, across generations, a hundred years or more. Something very different from most things made nowadays. The story tells also about many other things, such as getting old, about familiarity and strangeness, about changes, about the approaching of the end of one's life.

It is no wonder the book has received such praise. It is in itself an oven, slowly made, to be read slowly, to be felt for a long time. Also, I feel that Hyry has in this book found himself as an author, at the age of almost 80 years. What is interesting is how the topic of the book, the story of the book, and the way of telling of the story all work together.

My previous knowledge of Hyry has been mainly connected to his short stories, which have an interesting tension, the shortness of the text combined with the very slow unfolding of a viewpoint. The reader feels a bit like trying to understand an iceberg by observing the part of it which appears above the surface of the water. So much being left unsaid, but so much being said nevertheless.

This is the complete opposite of many writers of today, for example Dan Brown, the author of "The Da Vinci Code", a book which is filled with such amount of happening and random detail that in the end none of it makes much sense.

Hyry's way of writing is similar to making of an oven with traditional methods, a very deliberate, but also somewhat intuitive manner, combining tradition with a capability for unique self-expression. The book is also a story of failure, in small things, and in some large things. But in the end, accepting a failure can be also a recognition of learning which has been acquired. And finally, the book is a celebration of the wisdom - or at least the knowledge of one's limits - which is to be found at the end of a very long living on this earth.

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