Tag Archives: The Sunlit Night

Travels From My Sofa: Scandinavia

If 2020 had gone according to plan I’d have posted about our four-day break in the lovely city of Ghent in March and we’d be enjoying ourselves in Northern Italy right now. So strange are the times we’re living in that I’m just relieved that everyone I know is safe rather than disappointed but I can’t help missing the joys of travel so I’ve decided to revisit a few holidays, throwing in links to books I’ve reviewed, some from countries I’ve visited, others I‘d like to visit. If you fancy a change of scene, you’re welcome to join me. This time we’re off to Scandinavia beginning with Sweden.

If memory serves me right, and it often doesn’t these days, our Swedish road trip was in 2004 or thereabouts, beginning with a flight to Copenhagen. We started off in Skåne having crossed the bridge which would become so famliar to us from Saturday nights watching Saga Noren solving cimes in her own inimitable way. It’s a lovely area but what I most remember is our wonderfully eccentric B&B landlady, often to be found in her kitchen with one of her parrots on her head. She also had two gorgeous dogs who liked to sprawl in the sun. From there we headed to Gothenburg, a very pleasant city Feskekorka (Gothenburg)memorable for its fish restaurants one of which is housed in Feskekôrka, a smart modern market whose Swedish name translates as the fish church telling you all you need to know about the importance of fish to the town. The rest of the holiday was spent touring the Bohuslän archipelago with its pretty coastal villages, one famous for its inhabitants wearing their dressing gowns around town, before heading south. Our last stop was Malmö, slick and modern in comparison to picturesque Ystad, a stone’s throw away and home to Inspector Waliander, where I remember having tea in a lovely book-lined café before heading back to Copenhagen and home.

Swedish travels from my sofa: Astrid and Veronika, Wilful Disregard, In Every Moment We Are Alive, A Summer with Kim Novak

Louisiana (Copenhagen)Apart from briefly passing through on our way to Sweden, we’ve visited Denmark twice, each time a winter break in Copenhagen, both of which included a visit to the wonderful Louisiana, a beautifully designed modern gallery, crammed with all manner of treats. Given that both trips were in February, there wasn’t much chance of exploring the sculpture park which makes me want to add a summer trip to our travel list. Much of the rest of our time was spent hanging out in cafes and strolling around the much-gentrified harbour area, although I do remember a trip to a gallery exhibiting exquisite Persian miniatures and a visit to Christiana, a large commune established in 1971. Despite the city’s best efforts to shut it down, Christiana’s residents finally managed to gain a legal foothold in 2012.Cover image

Danish travels from my sofa: Often I Am Happy, This Should Be Written in the Present Tense, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal,

I fell in love with the laid-back elegance of Helsinki while taking advantage of a free hotel room courtesy of a conference H attended in 2006. It was August, a lovely time to explore the city where, oddly enough, I saw my first red squirrel in the botanical gardens. I remember spending a great deal of time in Alvar Aalto’s beautifully designed bookshop, opened in 1969, which on that visit was fantastically well-stocked but sadly depleted nine years later when we revisited the city at the end of our trip around the Baltics. We enjoyed it just as much the second time around, marvelling at the Friday night cavalcade of vintage American cars on our last evening’s walk and wondering if it was a regular event.

Cover imageFinnish travels from my sofa: Letters From Klara, The Winter War, The Summer House

I’ve yet to go to Norway, although I hope I will some day. The gorgeous scenery shots in the Scandi crime TV series Twin and Wisting have whetted my appetite and I’ve long fancied a few nights in Bergen. I have visited it from my sofa, though, thanks to several memorable novels set there: Love, The Waiter, Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes, The Sunlit Night, Echoes of the City

Remembering holidays may be as close as I get to having one in 2020 but if that’s the worst thing that happens during this strange year we’re living through I’ll count myself lucky.

Any vicarious travels you’d like to share?

The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein: An endearing bit of eccentricity

The Sunlit NightI’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.