When I Forgot Hardcover – 8 Nov 2007
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`A sophisticated response to 9/11 and a delicately woven meditation on love and war'
-- TLS, Hirsh Sawhney
`Compelling' -- Antonia Hadley, Yorkshire Post
`Elina Hirvonen is not a woman to shy away from big subjects and contentious issues....written in crystalline contemporary style, When I Forgot has become the most translated novel in Finnish history, its dark themes of breakdown striking a chord in the post 9/11 world it depicts.'
-- Tina Jackson, Metro
`No previous Finnish novel has had such international success as When I Forgot; its intelligence and power make this deserved'
-- Paul Binding, Independent
`[An] exemplary first novel ... a book that whets your appetite for another one' -- Archie Bland, Spectator
`[a] powerful book...a fine study in role-reversal between parent and child, older brother and younger sister, and a wrenching read for anyone who has witnessed someone close suffer mental breakdown.' -- Catherine Taylor, Guardian
About the Author
ELINA HIRVONEN is 30 years old and this is her first novel. She is a celebrity in Finland, where she has previously been a TV presenter and chat show host. She has just finished her first documentary, which focuses on African migration to Europe. She is a passionate traveller and has journeyed independently through thirty different countries.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
The novel follows Anna, a writer, as she tries to forget, remember and reconcile a childhood damaged by her brother Joona's sickness. Her memories jump between the recent past and her distant girlhood but maintain a constant balancing act between hopeful denial and guilt. Interwoven with this are the details of her lover Ian's childhood, his tainted by his father's post Vietnam breakdown.
This is at times without doubt a very affecting novel and the descriptions of both Anna and Ian's desperate attempts to will their loved ones well again is powerful stuff. Of course mental illness still carries a stigma and Anna and Ian's lives seem somehow heavier for the burden of an ill relative. Profoundly moving too is the heart wrenching guilt that lives on within Anna and Ian, that perhaps they could/should have done more and this feels refreshingly real in a world of short attention spans.
So why only 3 stars? Well, because interesting and moving though it is the book somehow lacks a cohesive gel. It's a short book, with bite-sized chapters but it flits backwards and forwards between now and then, between Anna and Ian; and whilst this might be a clever portrayal of the confusion of mental instability, it just doesn't translate into an easily readable novel. While moved by certain sections of the book, ultimately the jumpy structure of the book meant I wasn't drawn into the story, I was never gripped, this was not a page-turner and really it should have been. I will be interested to read her next novel.
Elena intersperses her narrative with memories of her own lonely childhood; her partner, American lecturer Ian, has his own demons too as a bullied youth with a father damaged by Vietnam.
A deeply moving book, to which the little flashes of happy memory give added poignancy.
Whilst there's nothing too wrong with the author's writing and the story and characters do convince, there is little to set this apart from the thousands of books out there about young people growing up and finding a sense of self outside their family environment. This book trods the familiar path (particularly seen in debut novels) of the protagonist coming to terms with the difficulties of childhood being replaced by the somewhat difficult, if related, difficulties of adulthood.
"When I Forgot" passed the time reasonably enough, but there wasn't enough here to particularly convince me to look out for any future novels by the same writer.