If you want to read a book that really captures the austerity zeitgeist . . . If you want to read a book about the economic crisis that isn’t a) set in London b) filled with knowing archetypes — the banker, the tube driver, the Premiership footballer, etc . . . If you want to read a book about the downturn that is actually pretty bloody funny, then go ahead and find yourself a copy of The Human Part by Kari Hotakainen.
The Human Part is set in Finland, a country that has always had a particularly volatile economy, highly exposed to world markets, and sensitive to global shocks. In the early 1990s they endured an economic crisis that was even more severe than that of the 1930s, and the global recession has affected them pretty badly too, as has the fall from grace of Nokia, their biggest corporation
Hotakainen approaches this context of economic uncertainty from a delightfully oblique angle. A old woman meets a writer with writer’s block at a book fair and is persuaded to sell him her life story. When it comes to talking about her children, she tells him what she knows, or what she thinks she knows. But the two come into conflict when the writer does a little research and discovers that the children have not been telling her the whole truth.
Little does she know that one of her children has resorted to crashing funerals to grab a square meal, another has been forced to attend career counselling sessions at her upmarket creative agency and third is reduced to queuing up for food parcels after both she and her husband walk out on their jobs.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, of course. The Human Part is a razor-sharp satire on modern life and the way we work, the lies we tell and the truths we hide. And it’s not just me that thinks so. The first mainstream review, in Time Out recently, gave it a rapturous five stars:
“This is a beautifully crafted tale of bereavement, intimate human suffering and the curious specks of reparation that death can bring … From the whimsical illustrations on the cover, to the title, to the flawed but exquisitely written characters and the cleverly themed chapter titles, this is a simply stunning book. Fans of Mark Haddon and Haruki Murakami will be enraptured”
As you can see, the reviewer’s summation of the book is completely different from anything written above. That’s how wide-ranging and multi-faceted this novel is.