Films, lies and videotape. Audiovisual media culture and intermediality in Lars Sund’s historical novel trilogy

4/2008

Marita Hietasaari

Lars Sund’s historical novels Colorado Avenue (Colorado Avenue 1991), Puodinpitäjän poika (Lanthandlerskans son, 1997) and Erikin kirja (Eriks bok, 2003) relate the history of Finland from the end of the 19th century to the 1950s. The narrator Carl-Johan Holm investigates his own family history by using different kinds of documents, like newspapers and letters, but also visual material like paintings, photographs and audiovisual media. Sund’s novels can be defined as postmodern historical novels (cf. Linda Hutcheon 1988 and Elisabeth Wesseling 1991), which reflect upon the relation between fiction and history, and the epistemological and political grounds of historical knowledge. The main question of the article is how audiovisual media – television, film and video – is used in Sund’s novels to represent the past.

According to Werner Wolf’s (1999) typology the intermediality of Sund’s novels is covert: a media (in this case the audiovisual media) is present only indirectly in another media, that is to say Sund’s text represents films and TV programmes merely through writing. Audiovisual media culture is manifested in Sund’s novels from production to reception: the narrator comments on the documentary films, which he views from the film projector, he admires the wonders of media technology, and the fate of Ed Ness, one of the characters, is told as if his story were a manuscript to be filmed.

Ekphrasistic descriptions of films and TV programmes tempt to cross the boundaries of the ontological levels. These metaleptic scenes in turn accentuate the metafictionality of the novels, and lead the reader to regard with suspicion the way past is depicted in historiography and in media. The narrator’s way to use audiovisual media to mediate his story underlines the fact that we know the past only through its traces and those traces are always processed and interpreted.