A hasty glimpse of Finland shows a content and thriving country - peaceful, with excellent education and social systems, and a landscape bespectacled with gorgeous wintry spaciousness. But underneath lies a more menacing side, a country subsumed by darkness half the year, crippled by one of the world's highest suicide rates and a strikingly high proportion of mental illness.
Beyond even that is a country of individuals, one not revealed by the popular media or by cursory tourism, and that is what Elina Hirvonen's stellar debut novel brings to light. Focusing on the jagged relationship between the narrator and her mentally disturbed brother - whom, when the novel opens, she has deliberately pushed from mind - When I Forgot is the remembrance of her splintered family past, a Proustian revealing which is at once both forceful and heart-rending.
Hirvonen writes calmly and lucidly, and this short novel is accessible to all, taking in 9/11 and the Iraq War protests as an all-too-present background to the narrator's reminiscence. She speaks to a worldwide audience (it is the most translated novel in Finnish history), and deserves huge success in the UK and elsewhere. She is also a TV presenter and filmmaker, whose recent feature about African migration to Europe (Paradise: Three Journeys in the World) has been selected for the Amsterdam Film Festival. Hirvonen is an exciting author, and I for one greatly look forward to her next novel.