- Life Writing Genres on the MoveThe Year in Finland
In the years since I began writing these reviews, Finnish life writing has flourished, and it is now moving into a range of hybrid genres. Biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, correspondences, biofiction, and autofiction are being published by all the major publishing houses, and in growing numbers.
In autumn 2019 three journalists asked me why biographies are so popular at the moment. Although the development has been quite visible for many years, there is something new in the air now. Finland seems to follow international trends in life writing that gained momentum during the 2010s following, for example, the success and visibility of Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgaard's autobiographical book series My Struggle. Biographies have always had a strong hold in Finnish literary fields, but now the traditional genre of historical biography is on the move as various genres overlap in current biographical writing. One important factor for the growing number of lifewriting publications is certainly the impact of social media and the various forms of digital life writing and selfie-culture that make it possible to present one's life to others in a constant flow. Perhaps this also extends the interest in reading autobiographical literature and biographies.
Silent Sportsmen and Masculine Sexuality
From August 2018 to December 2018 the best-selling nonfiction book in Finland was the biography of a Finnish Formula 1 driver, Kimi Räikkönen, probably the most internationally recognized Finnish person. It became a huge success, since the "silent Kimi Räikkönen" had opened his mouth and told about his life to one of the most popular and beloved Finnish novelists, Kari Hotakainen. Tuntematon Kimi Räikkönen has been one of the biggest literary successes in Finland over the past few years; the rights of the book have been sold to twelve countries and the rights for the English version were sold to Simon & Schuster for a record price. It has been compared to the international success of the autobiography of the Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Anderson). [End Page 63]
The biography of Kimi Räikkönen falls into the genre of "as-told-to" celebrity biographies, which very often deal with successful and popular men, including high-profile athletes. Yet this biography has some unusual characteristics, the most important being the author of the book, Kari Hotakainen. Hotakainen has been one of the most read and successful male novelists of the past twenty years in Finland, and many of his books have been made into films. A melancholy, laconic, and satirical tone is characteristic of his writing style; in this respect, Hotakainen shares the aesthetic sensibility of the Finnish film director Aki Kaurismäki. This style is especially effective in conveying Räikkönen's personality, as the driver is famously reluctant to speak in public, in part because of his poor command of English, and often gives one-word responses to questions from journalists.
Spurred by the success of Räikkönen's biography, publishing houses in Finland have started asking famous novelists to write biographies of other famous people. Several of them are still in development, but another book of this kind appeared in September 2019. It was written by the prominent novelist and public figure Jari Tervo, and the subject of the biography is one of Finland's most beloved actors, the comedian and singer Vesa-Matti Loiri, born in 1945. The book called Loiri was one of the most discussed books in autumn 2019, since both the writer and the subject were such well-known people. Loiri is seen as a kind of national treasure, particularly in the field of Finnish comedy of the 1970s and 1980s; as a singer, he is the fifth best-selling male solo artist in Finland. Since the 1960s, the Finnish public has avidly followed Loiri's career, his alcoholism, illnesses, and the other ups and downs of his life. His several marriages and relationships have also kept him in the headlines. A biography of Loiri was certainly something that people had been waiting for, particularly since it was advertised as telling "the truth" about all parts of his...