Once upon a time not too long ago, in a faraway northland of pine, birch and pristine lake, there lived a blond angel of great beauty desired by many (but loved by none) until one day a strange creature of the forest--half-cat, half-ape, with glossy black fur and golden eyes--caught his eye and then his heart.
Parable, fable, erotic fairy-tale, Finnish fantasy writer, Johanna Sinisalo`s `Troll,` is all of these and more. A work beyond classification, it manages the near impossible: to be a highly entertaining dramatic thriller and a great creative work all at once.
Angel--flaxen-haired Adonis--talented photographer wants those things just beyond his reach--namely the rather straighter, handsome Martes. Yet, Angel could have love elsewhere. Suitors abound. There`s Ecke, the nerdy bespectacled bookseller who swoons at the very thought of Angel. And then there`s Angel`s old flame, Dr. Spiderman, who regrets not having grabbed perfection when he had the chance. And even Angel`s Tagalog speaking neighbor, Palomita, who sees him as her savior. But nothing snags Angel`s vain and elusive heart until IT shows up behind a dumpster, threatened by local thugs. Upon seeing it, it`s love at first sight for Angel. "It`s the most beautiful thing I`ve ever seen, `he declares.
And so Pessi, cat-eyed and ape-faced, enters Angel`s glittery emptiness and never leaves. The next two hundred pages flash along like a driverless troika across the steppes. The story jumps between each of the characters` perspectives as they all move closer to Angel and the secret hidden in his apartment.
This inventive structure makes `Troll` a quick-paced and gripping read. Having the story fleshed out from all points of view gives an intimacy and immediacy to the tale. These narratives have an urgency and realness about them that lends the story its lifelike feel. They read like emails or text messages, appropriate for our tech-drenched times. Terse and vivid, they convey the drama`s bare bones while letting your imagination paint the rest. "But when I get home, drunk with happiness, the door`s ajar and Pessi`s gone."
Sandwiched between these snippets, Sinisalo wedges tidbits of troll-lore salvaged from a myriad of sources, the Internet, Finnish folk-lore, the Kalevala, Finnish classics like Vaino Inna`s `Unknown Soldier` and more. The effect of all this is as dazzling as it is dizzying. `Troll` reads as a singularly original piece of fiction.
The story itself starts as a spring and ends as a torrent. Secrets never last and Angel`s is no exception. From the beginning, you sense this tale will end badly for somebody(s, but you don`t know just how badly until it smacks you upside the head.
With its page-flipping drama and suspenseful conclusion, `Troll` is a fantastic ride, but what is Sinisalo trying to communicate here? The answers to this are as varied as they are endless. This is why `Troll` deserves the accolades it has received. The central question is whether this is truly a love story? `Is Angel in love with Pessi? Completely? Sexually as well? That`s a tough one to answer. Personally, I don`t think the work`s main theme to be bestiality. That would be too easy, too pedestrian. I think Sinisalo`s message is far more subtle and provocative.
Yes, Pessi fills the emptiness in Angel`s emotionally vacant life. But he could have love should he desire it. Ecke, Spiderman, even Palomita all stand before his altar ready to offer sacrifice. Angel just doesn`t want what is easy. Like us all, he craves the hard to get, the forbidden...Martes...the wild mystery of Pessi`s `juniper-berry smell...(that) overpowers my nostrils."
`Troll` offers up a lot of fascinating and equally disturbing questions for us humans. What happens when we, like Angel, cold shoulder our fellow humans and seek succor in other species? What are the consequences when we embrace the `wild?` Moreover, when we attempt to control that which is wild as does Angel with Pessi, or Palomita`s abusive husband with her, what are the consequences? And why has Pessi and fellow troll-mates shown up in human areas? Are we humans so prideful to think our actions against other life on this planet bear no consequence?
If your fancy is a well-paced, imaginative thriller full of the fantastical and yet all-too-real, then `Troll` is a must read. And afterwards, keep this treasure, for it contains much to torment, taunt and ultimately teach you. For to paraphrase the Bard, there is much more to this earth than meets the eye. Read and believe!