Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. Feel free to grab the button & join in!
This week’s featured book is Your Presence Is Requested at Suvanto by Maile Chapman:
- Paperback:280 pages
- Publisher:Graywolf Press (May 24, 2011)
- ISBN-10: 1555975879
- Source: Publisher
Set in the late 1920s, thousands of people are dying of tuberculosis. Suvanto is a Finnish convalescent hospital, a place of recovery for many women. Most of the patients are wealthy women, seeking reprieve from their everyday lives.
Julia Dey, a former dancer, has been admitted to Suvanto against her will. Suffering from a number of ailments, including a horrible infection, Julia makes her displeasure about being a ward of the hospital known to all around her. Her nurse, Sunny Taylor, is an American. She came to Suvanto to escape her unhappy life, winding up unhappier than before. Ultimately, however, she realizes that the patients have reason to complain, validation for seeking solace from their lives.
Dr. Peter Weber is the physician who runs the hospital. Like many doctors of that time, he believes most of the women’s problems are gynecological. He believes he has perfected a procedure that will cure these woman. This procedure includes a specific stitch, and ultimately a hysterectomy, to literally rid the women of what he believes is the source of their ailments. He sees the women of Suvanto as test subjects, guinea pigs on which to test his skills. Unfortunately, not enough is known about hysterectomy’s at this time, and Weber’s efforts to heal become lethal.
Your Presence Is Requested at Suvanto is an incredibly dark, gothic novel. The time period in which it takes place, the setting of an isolated hospital, really add to the overall feel. The pacing is quite slow, done deliberately so the author can describe and set up the setting around the novel. Chapman leaves the latter part of the novel, after the horrible event that sets the climax, up to the reader to interpret. Many readers might have issue with this, I personally enjoyed it tremendously. To play detective, piecing together clues, was incredibly entertaining.
The characters of this novel aren’t easy to love. Despite the issues leading to/causing their bitterness, I couldn’t really find sympathy with any of them. The character that came closest was Sunny. In an attempt to escape her own life, she became immersed in a living hell. But even her character is questioned at the end, the reader left wondering what happened.
Your Presence Is Requested at Suvanto is a novel I enjoyed immensely, but not one that I would recommend to just anyone. It’s not an easy read, both due to the theme but also the detailed writing as well. It is a book you must devote your entire focus to, but once you do you will become immersed in the lives of the Suvanto women. Not only a mystery, but also a showcase of the time period, the way women, even the wealthy, were regarded. I’m not sure which part of the book terrified me the most: the horrific medical practices or the way women were regarded. Chapman has obvious talent; I look forward to reading more of her work. Highly recommended.