The Bystander

Rights sold:

WORLD ENGLISH: HarperCollins

CROATIA: Planetopia
ESTONIA: Rahva Raamat
FINLAND: Gummerus
FRANCE: Editions Leduc.s

Original title: Sivuhenkilö

Author: Saara Turunen

Illustrator: Saara Turunen

Published: 2018

Publisher: Tammi

Class/genre: Literary

Pages: 233 pp.

Reading material

English sample & synopsis
German sample

Finnish edition

Download reading materials

A witty and honest artist’s novel about a year in the life of a debut author.

The Bystander is a journey of one year in a life of its writer. When the narrator’s debut novel is published, she feels like everything has changed. Strangely enough no one else seems to notice this. Thus begins an intensive year of esteemed literary prizes, ambivalent reviews, strange interview questions and awkward marketing activities. All the while the narrator ponders the meaning of it all. Why are we here? What is behind the space? What if you are lonely? And its’s spring, and you had just written a book and everything was meant to be great, but people just had their partners and high-quality sofas, and ‘we gotta go’ they said? What if you were expecting something else, but there was just silence everywhere?

* * *

The Bystander is a sharp story of a woman with a looming fear of being invisible, need to achieve, relentless chase for being heard. In addition to pointing out the problems of the art criticism and literary world itself, the novel speaks about the loneliness and being a bystander in 21st century. It asks urgent questions about identity and family, but refuses to give any simple answers.

At the same time ironic and earnest, the novel burrows into the issues of existence, social norms and unconventional choices. The text glows in the depiction of everyday details: watering the house plants, riding a bike and cooking noodles. It shifts between fiction and reality, mixing shame and self-contemptuous humour with sharp narration.

Chillingly ironic, crunching depiction of the today’s world and the female position on it. Talentedly constructed artist novel with lean and precise sentences and an autobiographical voice that turns many times into essay-like narration.

The Bystander is Saara Turunen’s second novel. Her first, Love/Monster (2015), was awarded with a prestigious Helsingin Sanomat Literary prize.

Rights sold:

FINLAND: Tammi (orig.)
SWEDEN: Wahlström & Widstrand


Foreign covers

Review links


”(…) a wonderfully funny and sharp reckoning with society, where one is supposed to keep as quiet as possible, whereas others – men! – in all silence exercise their power by creating feelings of shame amongst those who are to be restrained.”

– Ingrid Elam, literary critic SVT Swedish public television broadcaster


“Saara Turunen writes in a funny and bittersweet way about how it feels to reveal one’s heart and soul but not get much in exchange. Not many people master writing everyday thoughts and happenings while keeping in interesting throughout, but Saara Turunen succeeds. Exceptionally.”

ICA-kuriren magazine


Turunen shines a spotlight over normality, and she expresses clearly details that carry different emotions or indifference. It makes the reader see things beyond the narrator, and makes us participate in the novel’s story.

Ulrika Milles, Dagens Nyheter newspaper


”Saara Turunen has written a sharp contemporary reflection on the artistry and the identity, the role of the self in making art, on loneliness and belonging, but also feminism. She has an ability to capture the little moments and yet manages to make something bigger out of it. It is outstanding!”
– Maria Såthe, Literary director, Wahlström & Widstrand

The Bystander is an important contemporary depiction of the structures of patriarchy, of how difficult it still is for a young woman to choose otherwise, to take control of one’s own life. […] The narration of The Bystander glows in the depiction of everyday details.” – Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, Finland

The Bystander deserves praise. It’s a frank, funny and unconventionally laconically told story about a year in a life of its protagonist, a debut author.” – Me Naiset magazine, Finland

The Bystander is a chillingly ironic, crunching depiction of art and publicity in the 21st century.” – Aamulehti newspaper, Finland

”A feminist bullseye!” – Turun Sanomat newspaper, Finland

“The novel is harrowing, emotional, fresh, original, fun and thought-provoking. Oh boy it’s good!” – Ilta-Sanomat newspaper

“Perceptive and fresh” – Keskipohjanmaa newspaper

The Bystander works as a vindication of one’s own voice.” – Keskisuomalainen newspaper

“In addition to the fact that the work starts a discussion of the problems of the art world and criticism, it also impressively opens up the demeaning side of loneliness and being an outsider. – – Rewarding!” – Länsi-Savo newspaper

Saara Turunen

Saara Turunen is an internationally acclaimed award-winning author, playwright and director. She is known for her bold and direct style and much of her work examines the themes of identity and social norms. Her forthcoming novel Irrational Things (Spring 2021) is a story of love, death and life between two countries.

Turunen has previously authored two highly acclaimed novels, Love/Monster 2015 and The Bystander 2018. Her debut novel Love/Monster won the Helsingin Sanomat Literature Prize in 2015. In addition to her work as a novelist, Turunen is also known for her plays. They have been translated into 13 languages and performed all around the world. Turunen was granted with the Finland Prize in 2016, a high profile award given by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, and with the City of Helsinki’s The Artist of the Year Award in 2018.


Author photo (c) Ilkka Saastamoinen


Saara Turunen


2015, Literary

Saara Turunen

Irrational Things

2021, Literary

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