An elite in Decline
Snob's Island Henrik Tikkanen
Translation Mary Sandbach
Henrik Tikkanen wrote a series of novellas about a single family, members of the small Finnish-Swedish elite that used to dominate Finland’s financial, political and cultural life. With the family’s declining lifestyle as the background, the author portrays himself as an artist, a man and a husband.
Tikkanen’s blunt honesty makes his new novel a great reading experience. We laugh while feeling death in our hearts.
Although Tikkanen shied away from labelling them as such, Snob’s Island consists of three autobiographical novellas. The titles refer to addresses he lived at in different periods of his life. Brändövägen (the first part) is in the elegant upper-middle-class area, Bävervägen (the second part) is a bedroom suburb, Mariegatan (the third part) is in the centre of Helsinki. At the time, the novellas were read by the public with special avidity and expressions of horror. The disclosures about manifold family problems – his parents’ alcoholism and promiscuity, the suicide of one brother, the rapid decline of another – caused a scandal in the Swedish-speaking community.
The first of the books fixes on the childhood, youth and military service of the narrator. In the next volumes Tikkanen tells about his growing dependence on drink, his continental travels, his efforts to establish himself in the newspaper world, his dull first marriage, and his passionate affair with the woman who became his second wife. More generally, Tikkanen’s novels depict the decline of a certain world, which began with the World Wars: the rich elite has lost its property and influence and is losing its privileged position, but continues to live in the old way, refusing to see that the world has changed.
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