Kristina Carlson: Mister Darwin’s Gardener

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Despite the name, this book is more about the God than the garden. Kristina Carlson has fantasized the village of Mr Darwin and its inhabitants and their various perspectives on religion in the end of 1870s, when Mr Darwin’s writings on evolution were already well known. A prominent position is given to Mr Darwin’s gardener, who’s had more than his share of the bad luck in life and perhaps for this reason, is not very highly regarded in his village.

Kristina Carlson: Herra Darwinin puutarhuri

Author: Kristina Carlson
Publisher: Otava 2009
Category: Fiction
Original language: Finnish
Rating: 3/5

Helmet Reading Challenge 2017, number 43: A book that you have planned to read for a long time.

I came across this book in the Helmet Literature Challenge Facebook group and the title got me intrigued. I just had to read it, no matter what the actual content. There was absolutely no rational reason for this, so it must be that the title just was exactly right for me. Whoever invented it, made a good job!

The novel is mostly a collection of thoughts – of Thomas Davies, the gardener, and of the people of the village. These thoughts are foremost gloomy. The structure makes it at times very difficult to follow whose thoughts are at hand. However, it was very difficult to put down this book. It kept me in its hold. Right from the beginning the story seems to build up to something sinister, a twist, in the end… but that never materializes.

Carlson is a very skilled writer in her own style. The sentences are often long and missing punctuation, as they are the flow of thought of the characters. But they also feel quite authentic. It doesn’t really matter if one is not able to follow who’s thinking. In the end, it is not important. What is important is the big picture, the petty, narrow-minded pattern of thought that seems to prevail in the village.

Kristina Carlson is an acclaimed Finnish author. She knows her craft. Thus, it is even more concerning that she joins in this book the plentiful crowd of contemporary Finnish authors, whose stories are basically infinite dwelling in misery. The villagers in Mr Darwin’s Gardener have no single happy or even friendly thought. Perhaps that’s why the aftertaste of the novel is bland. Without ups, the downs don’t feel like anything. Is happiness considered too “light”, naive or downright commercial to be included in serious literature? When was the last time a humorous novel won one of the better literature awards?

Susan

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