Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto
Suvanto is a sanatorium/hospital in Finland, set sometime in the 1920s. The story is focused on Suvanto’s upper floor patients – mostly bored middle-aged women with no major illnesses, who see Suvanto as more of a holiday resort and spa than place of convalescence. Sunny Taylor, an unmarried American in her early 40s, is the nurse in charge of their floor and it is through her that most of the story is seen. Sunny fled to Suvanto following the death of her mother, whom she nursed through her protracted illness, and to enjoy a measure of independence and self-containment. The story moves at a slow pace – the quotidian life at Suvanto, with the flow petty issues is narrated in a vague, impressionistic way. Until the end of the novel, nothing very much happens apart from the slow moving of the seasons from late summer through to the harsh, dark winter and spring again. And then one of the “patients” dies following routine surgery, and this opens up a vein of grief and resentment. There are more deaths, but at the conclusion, which is macabre and rather disturbing, the reader is not fully aware of just what has happened.
Chapman narrates a spare, poetical description of life at Suvanto and the lack of essential meaning and pattern of the lives of the women. The story does not have, or indeed requires, a strong historical focus, but it is a highly impressive and delicate novel, observing the minutiae of institutional life and the thoughts and emotions of the women there.