Marja-Liisa Vartio The Parson's Widow

ISBN 13: 9781564784834

The Parson's Widow

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After the publication of The Parson's Widow, Vartio's fifth novel, Finnish critics hailed it as a masterpiece, her finest literary achievement. This is the first opportunity for English readers to become acquainted with her unforgettable characters: the eccentric widow of a country parson, her maid Alma, and the other inhabitants of a rural village. Readers will discover the passions that lie beneath the villagers' reserve and formality, and that from time to time break through the polite surface with devastating results.

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About the Author:

Marja-Liisa Vartio (1924-1966) is a major Finnish author who wrote lyric poetry, short stories, radio plays, and five novels. She became a central literary figure who helped renew prose writing in 1950s Finland with modernist symbolism and a daring use of time and points of view. Vartio's novels continue to be reissued in Finland, where some have been adapted for the stage.

Her work has also been translated into many languages, although Dalkey Archive's publication of The Parson's Widow is the first time it has appeared in English.

Review:

"Vartio's last novel is her richest work, a multifaceted synthesis of all her previous writings." --Ulla Helwe

"This is a brave work that distills an epoch. There is a glow of great laughter and bubbling madness in it." --Matti Paavilainen

"First English translation of a modern classic from Finland. Vartio (1924-1966) left behind volumes of lyric poetry, short stories and a handful of novels. This one is regarded by some critics to be her masterpiece. The central characters are the eponymous Adele; her maid, Alma; and the parson who remains a vital presence even in death. Adele and Alma spend most of their time reliving the past and arguing about whose recollection is the perfect one. Their stories reveal much about their own fears and preoccupations and the pitiful secrets that seethe just beneath the surface of respectable rural life. They also force the reader to confront some unpleasant possibilities: that neither character is reliable, that memory itself is woefully unstable and that life is more or less meaningless anyway. This novel has much in common with other works of literature produced in Europe during the middle of the last century, but Vartio domesticates existential philosophy. The narrative is not set in the empty otherworld of, say, Sartre or Beckett, but in the thoroughly mundane interiors of the pastoral middle class. Hopelessness is not rendered in oracular puzzles or quotable koans, but, rather, in endless arguments about the best way to dust a taxidermied owl. There is something farcical about the smallness of the characters' world view, but there's a rigorous sort of honesty in Vartio's approach, too: The bickering of Adele and Alma represents alienation as it is experienced by the average citizen of the Western world in a way that the abstract nihilism of Waiting for Godot and No Exit do not. Despair in miniature." --Kirkus Reviews

"This is a brave work that distills an epoch. There is a glow of great laughter and bubbling madness in it." --Matti Paavilainen

"First English translation of a modern classic from Finland. Vartio (1924-1966) left behind volumes of lyric poetry, short stories and a handful of novels. This one is regarded by some critics to be her masterpiece. The central characters are the eponymous Adele; her maid, Alma; and the parson who remains a vital presence even in death. Adele and Alma spend most of their time reliving the past and arguing about whose recollection is the perfect one. Their stories reveal much about their own fears and preoccupations and the pitiful secrets that seethe just beneath the surface of respectable rural life. They also force the reader to confront some unpleasant possibilities: that neither character is reliable, that memory itself is woefully unstable and that life is more or less meaningless anyway. This novel has much in common with other works of literature produced in Europe during the middle of the last century, but Vartio domesticates existential philosophy. The narrative is not set in the empty otherworld of, say, Sartre or Beckett, but in the thoroughly mundane interiors of the pastoral middle class. Hopelessness is not rendered in oracular puzzles or quotable koans, but, rather, in endless arguments about the best way to dust a taxidermied owl. There is something farcical about the smallness of the characters' world view, but there's a rigorous sort of honesty in Vartio's approach, too: The bickering of Adele and Alma represents alienation as it is experienced by the average citizen of the Western world in a way that the abstract nihilism of Waiting for Godot and No Exit do not. Despair in miniature." --Kirkus Reviews

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