At the Edge of Light by Maria Peura
|At the Edge of Light by Maria Peura|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: A story of hope and despair of growing up among the dysfunctions of an isolated Finnish village - as cold and stark as the landscape in which it's set.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 240||Date: July 2007|
|Publisher: Maia Press Limited|
Don't go on the ice, they always said. The ice could break, shatter, you could fall through and drown. Walking on the ice is exactly what Peura's At The Edge of Light feels like.
Sharp. Severe. Strangely indefinably beautiful. But ultimately bleak - and cold - and very unsettling.
Kristina is a typical unhappy teenager going through the physical and emotional changes of growing into a woman. Unfortunately, she is doing this in the confines of a claustrophobic village in the far north of Finland, on the edges of the local bully-circle (sometimes in the circle, sometimes part of it), in the midst of a totally dysfunctional family (which seems to be the norm for the neighbourhood).
In plot At the Edge of Light is just another rock and roll story. Young kids struggling to understand, failing and seeking escape as an alternative. Death is everywhere. The reality of it. The longing for it. It is so all-pervasive that it loses its power to shock and simply becomes one of those 'yeah whatever' kind of answers that might be a solution to something or other.
"Full of insight and humour," the publishers tell us. The humour must have passed me by. The insight is into the darkness of the average young girl's soul... particularly when it's compounded by limited choices (of places to go, people to be with, futures to dream of). Kristina wants to be beautiful, wants to be loved... and she does what's she told to try to be those things... in which her body generally refuses to co-operate until she finds a way to force its submission to her will... and other parts of her mind sabotage her attempts for fear of not succeeding.
Insight too into the mixed messages that adults send to the youngsters. Do this, don't do it. Eat up, be thin. Be happy, think on death. But for you... , but I love you. Is it any wonder that we all go, for a time, slightly insane? Is it any wonder that for some it is more than slightly, more than for a time?
There is no plot as such - no from here to there tale to be told. Just the exposition of a few months of ordinary torment, spun around with descriptions of the local and family histories. A year in which Kristina falls in love, discovers the truth about her father's affairs and her mother's illnesses and finds other troubles in the families of her friends. A depiction of a harsh world in which there is precious little love, scarcely more friendship and no loyalty whatsoever.
What rescues the novella from its own desperation is the power of description. Other commentators use words like 'lyrical', 'rhythmical' 'full of power and fury'. It is all of those things. With a touch of the magical realists, we're taken into the realm of Kristina's relationship with the river, with the ice of winter, and the too-bright waters of the summer lakes. The eerie track-thudding passage of the train echoes with the same lonely pathos that the long whistle whine moans over the American mid-west. A train that passes through, but provides no route out. Except for the final one.
What threatens it, is the often abrupt degeneration from the beautiful and evocative into the earthbound expressed with unnecessarily brutal crudeness. Children are seldom kind to each other, and early sexual encounters have little tenderness about them.
At the Edge of Light is balanced on a knife-edge between the profound and important, and the banal. Sadly I think it teeters too far the wrong way.
I'm not entirely sure that I fully understand this book. It may be one of those I come back to and take an entirely different view of. For now... I find it like the bleakest of the northern wastes: with haunting aspects of beauty, but ultimately unredeemed.
You might also enjoy Black Noise by Pekka Hiltunen.
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You can read more book reviews or buy At the Edge of Light by Maria Peura at Amazon.com.
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