I’m a sucker for anything Scandi these days – I blame BBC4 – which is why I was attracted to Rebecca Dinerstein’s idiosyncratic first novel. I wasn’t at all sure about it at first – I thought it might be a little too whimsical and that cover is enough to send me scrabbling for something else to read – but it turned out to be an enjoyable piece of entertainment which steers well clear of sentimentality. Set in New York and on a Norwegian island in the far north on the edge of the Arctic Circle, it’s about Frances and Yasha, brought together in the most unlikely circumstances.
The novel begins with twenty-two-year-old Frances thrown into a quandary by her breakup with the boyfriend she thought she’d be spending the summer with in Japan. Having turned down her place at the Leknes Artists’ Colony, apprenticed to an artist who only paints in yellow, she’s not at all sure that they’ll reconsider her. Luckily, there’s still a vacancy. Relieved to escape her parents’ tiny apartment and their constant carping, she takes herself off to Norway where it soon becomes apparent that the Artists’ Colony is a colony of one. Meanwhile seventeen-year-old Yasha works in his father’s New York bakery where they’ve been since leaving Moscow ten years ago, wishing for a girlfriend and serving the guitar-toting man they’ve christened Dostoevsky every Friday, until his father decides to return to Moscow to look for his wife who failed to join them despite her first-class ticket. These two are clearly destined to meet and so they do, far away from home in a Viking Museum at the ‘top of the world’.
The Sunlit Night is neatly packaged for the holiday reading market but it’s a little more off the wall than your usual run-of-the-mill summer romance. Dinerstein has a nice line in eccentric humour and her characters are endearingly awkward at times. Her descriptions of the Nordic midsummer are strikingly vivid – they made me want to go there although perhaps the enjoyment is best kept vicarious: the prospect of a day lasting three weeks is enough to make anyone bedeviled by poor sleep break down and weep. Dinerstein chose to spend a year-long writing fellowship in the Lofoten archipelago where her novel is set. Clearly, she has memories of ‘brown cheese’, and I’m not sure they’re good ones: it comes up a lot. Altogether an enjoyable read, then – just the ticket if you’re in the mood for a quirky bit of escapism.