The Bystander

Reading material

English sample & synopsis
Finnish edition

Original title: Sivuhenkilö

Published: 2018

Publisher: Tammi

Class/genre: Literary

Pages: 233 pp.

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

When the narrator of the novel receives the hot-off-the-press copies of her debut novel, 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. Does it matter whether you have three or three thousand readers? Do only great men create great art, or has ‘great art’ been defined by men, to begin with? Is a life outside the norms of society the price you pay for of making art – and more importantly, can it be a happy life?

The Bystander is a new kind of a artist’s novel. At the same time ironic and earnest, it addresses the issues of making art in a world that has changed, when the romantic ideal of the great male artist has not: the novel follows in the footsteps of Virginia Woolf and Jean Rhys, still finding its own way. The text shifts between fiction and reality, mixing shame and self-contemptuous humor with sharp narration.

A must-read for anyone who has ever felt like a bystander in their own life.

Rights sold:

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

”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 and award-winning author, playwright and director. She is known for her bold and direct style and much of her work examines the themes of art, identity and social norms. Turunen has authored two higly 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 The Bunny Girl, The Broken Heart Story and The Phantom of Normality. They have garnered brilliant reviews and been translated into 13 languages and performed all around the world. Turunen was granted with Finland prize in 2016, a high profile award given annually by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture.


Saara Turunen


2015, Literary

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