In a remote, piney wood in Finland stands a convalescent hospital called Suvanto, a curving concrete example of austere Scandinavian design. It is the 1920s, and the patients, all women, seek relief from ailments real and imagined. On the lower floors are the stoic Finnish women; on the upper floors are foreign women of privilege - the 'up ...
In a remote, piney wood in Finland stands a convalescent hospital called Suvanto, a curving concrete example of austere Scandinavian design. It is the 1920s, and the patients, all women, seek relief from ailments real and imagined. On the lower floors are the stoic Finnish women; on the upper floors are foreign women of privilege - the 'up-patients'. They are tended to by head nurse Sunny Taylor, an American who has fled an ill-starred life only to retreat behind a mask of crisp professionalism. On a late-summer day a new patient arrives on Sunny's ward - a faded, irascible former ballroom-dance instructor named Julia Dey. Sunny takes it upon herself to pierce the mystery of Julia's reserve. Soon, Julia's difficulty, her tightly coiled anger, places her at the centre of the ward's tangled emotional life. As summer turns to autumn, and autumn to a long, dark winter, the patients hear rumours about changes being implemented at Suvanto by an American obstetrician, Dr. Peter Weber, who is experimenting with a new surgical stitch. Their familiar routine threatened, the women are not happy (they were not happy before), and the story's escalating menace builds to a terrifying conclusion.
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Publishers Weekly, 2010-01-04 A novelist in search of an appropriate setting for a bleak novel in the 19th-century tradition, where tuberculosis kills thousands and women are routinely deprived their societal voice, would be hard-pressed to find a more fitting venue than the Finnish convalescence ward where Chapman has set her anxious debut. Ex-dancer Julia is a reluctant tenant of the Suvanto Sairaala, attended to by an American nurse named Sunny Taylor with whom she shares an uneasy connection. The two women weather a succession of historical set pieces involving the consequences of imperfectly understood obstetrics, Finland's changing relationship with Russia, and madness. If the patients and doctors like Pearl Weber; her surgeon husband, the stitch-happy Peter; and the defiant Mary Minder are a microcosm for Chapman, they're little more than guinea pigs for Peter's increasingly sinister experiments. The haunted atmosphere, though, is routinely undercut by injections of elementary Finnish, periods of moody dead air, and an unnecessarily extended denouement. It's much tamer than the gothics it emulates, but its proto-feminist subtext and Ingmar Bergman aura are brilliantly communicated, making for a promising, if not always satisfying, first novel. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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