Occasionally critics and readers agree, and that just happens to be the case with Kniven i ilden (“The knife in the fire”, not published in English). It’s easy to use words like “adventurous”, “grand” and “magical” for Arvola’s novel, because it’s something of a story that really ensnares us as readers. But behind all the drama, the narrative voice created by Arvola surprises, captivates and challenges us. In 1859, Brita Caisa, sole breadwinner for two children, leaves Finland for Norway with skis on her feet. Even whilst spinning the journey to the Norwegian coast as an epic love story, Arvola keeps a firm grip on Brita Caisa’s defining qualities: her belief in the supernatural and her ability to care for the sick. Reminiscent of Mikael Niemi’s Koke bjørn, Avola’s “Kniven i ilden” takes a close look at tradition and a candid approach to knowledge. The work is all the stronger thanks to its unbroken focus on Brita Caisa, allowing it to include those often left out when the story of Norway is told. In Kniven i ilden, Arvola gives voice to people convicted of fornication and compelled to stand trial in church, to nomads compelled to adapt to national laws and regulations, and to those who stayed behind and had to get everything ready for the men coming home from sea. This perspective not only gives the work originality, it also means it’s timely given the renewed interest in Sami culture and history.
Arvola also deserves praise for the way she’s put together Kniven i ilden, a novel that entertains without losing its literary integrity. A true wordsmith, she demonstrates that even dramatic stories benefit from good narration. In portraying Brita Caisa, Arvola draws on strange and supernatural observations and typical human obstinacy. We’re given a different way of looking at part of Norway and a world we thought we already knew about.