Maresi, The Red Abbey Chronicles, is one of the most feminist books I’ve read. It’s perhaps not surprising, as Maria Turtschaninoff – despite the name – is a Swedish speaking Finn. I don’t think you could easily publish a book in the UK with some of the content you find in Maresi.
I’d heard about it before it appeared in English translation, and I’d had this irrational thought I wouldn’t read the Pushkin Press version, but go for the original instead. And then, of course, I didn’t.
The Red Abbey is a kind of nunnery, on an island, somewhere. Most of the character names and all the place names are made up ones, so it’s hard to place the abbey geographically, but I sort of imagine it in the Baltic. Contrary to so many set-ups in fiction where you have adults teaching younger ones, and it tends to be a cruel place with much punishment, as well as bad feeling between the ‘children.’
Not here. It seems to be an ideal place in what is a strange world, where the women teach the girls how to become like them; wise and strong. You hardly ever get that in books.
12-year-old Maresi is the narrator, and she tells of their island from when Jai turns up one day. Jai has escaped a bad past, and unfortunately she brings her past to the island, as they are invaded by a group of bad men. (This is all surprisingly anti-men, even though they acknowledge that some men are all right.)
You suspect the worst, but matters go in a different way from what you’d think, and the women’s strength grows and impresses.
In a way, this isn’t the kind of story I tend to go for, but once started I couldn’t leave it. Very interesting. And there are more to come.