When a young Finnish student Kaisa is invited to the British Embassy cocktail party in Helsinki to celebrate a Royal Navy visit to Finland, she’s not looking for romance. After all, her future has been carefully planned: she’s to complete her degree, marry her respectable, well-to-do Finnish fiancé Matti, and live happily ever after.
Enter the dashing Peter, a newly qualified naval officer. Like a moth to a flame, Kaisa falls head over heels in love with the handsome Englishman. The young lovers steal passionate kisses in the chilly Esplanade Park and promise to meet again.
Kaisa and Peter embark on a long-distance relationship, but at the height of the Cold War, while the Englishman chases Russian submarines, Kaisa is stuck in Finland, a country friendly with the Soviet Union.
Kaisa lives for the Englishman’s passionate letters and infrequent long-distance phone calls, but her jealous ex-fiancé doesn’t want to let go, and her old-fashioned father hates foreigners. Can Kaisa trust the gregarious Englishman? Wouldn’t she be better off going back to her faithful fiancé?
While Kaisa struggles to keep up faith in the relationship, a war breaks out in the faraway Falkland Islands…
Having visited the Baltic this year for the first time, this was a perfect read for me. As well as being fascinated and intrigued by the central love story, I loved the detail about Finnish daily life, and it had never really struck me how – as recently as the 80s – Finland was seen as inextricably linked with the Soviet Union. The author is excellent at the detail of daily life, and we see everything vividly through the simple retelling by the naive heroine, filled with the minutiae of food and clothing, but imbued with all the emotion of a young girl in the middle of a love affair that she must fight to sustain. Although the author maintains that the characters and story are fictitious, it has the style of a personal memoir and seems firmly grounded in some of her own experiences. The novel started life as a series of blog posts called How I Came to Be In England, but the author has unquestionably produced a piece of fiction that wholly engages as a novel. Quite fascinating, and I look forward to reading more by Helena – in fact, Coffee and Vodka is already waiting on my Kindle.
My thanks to the author for providing me with an e-copy in exchange for an honest review. The Englishman was published by Newhurst Press in August 2012, is already available for Kindle (at the bargain price of £1.91 at the time of writing) and will also be available in paperback at the end of December.
Helena Halme grew up in Tampere, central Finland, and moved to the UK at the age of 22 via Stockholm and Helsinki. She spent the first ten years in Britain working as journalist and translator for the BBC. In 2004 Helena took a MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University having at last realised that she needs to take writing seriously.
Helena has written three full length novels, The Englishman, Coffee and Vodka, and TheRed King of Helsinki. Helena lives in North London and can often be seen out and about in town, walking her Border Terrier.