TROLL by Johanna Sinisalo
I'm something of a latecomer to this dark, disturbing, and yet often delightful novel by one of Finland's foremost fantasists. It was first published in England under a different title, then in the United States early in 2004.
Mikael ("Angel") rescues a young troll from being beaten up by youths outside of his apartment. He takes the troll into his apartment and nurses it back to health. What results is unexpected, odd, and yet completely appropriate. The novel's point of view bounces back and forth between Angel and his various contacts, romantic and otherwise. It's difficult at first to differentiate between the different first person narrators, but once you settle into it, the effect of an ongoing dialogue between the voices is nicely done. In addition, Sinisalo intersperses the main narratives with articles, book excerpts, and other documentation about trolls. We learn that in the world of this novel trolls were discovered to be real in 1907. The most fanciful (in the best sense of the word) parts of Troll revolve around these snippets of information. Sinisalo skillfully doctors real entries to include trolls along with more "normal" predators, and creates some out of wholecloth. And, if at first these sections seem ancillary, their relevance becomes more and more obvious as the novel progresses.
I also like that Angel is gay and that the book doesn't mince words when describing his liaisons. In fact, these liaisons are key to the novel because Angel only hides the troll for as long as he does, and is able to care for it, by taking advantage of how many men want to get into his pants.
The troll itself is evocative, utterly alien and yet familiar--as good a portrayal of a wild creature as I can remember reading.
And, then, just when you think you might have some idea of where the book is going, it zags where it might have zigged, and thus manages to preserve the originality of what went before. When I started Troll, I thought I might enjoy it--it seemed like it might be lightweight but fun. By the end, I was experiencing something more complex than enjoyment: a mixture of being disturbed, electrified, and saddened.
I've now read two books by Finnish writers in the last month: Troll, and Leena Krohn's Tainaron. They couldn't be any more different, but they're both very original, and it makes me want to seek out more work from Finnish writers.
Thanks to Toni Jermann for telling me about the novel. If not for the prior publication in England in 2003, it would have made my year's best list for 2004.
(Helpful Monkey: "About your year's best list. Kelly Shaw mentioned Peter Straub's 2004 novel. Did you read it and not like it." Jeff: "Crap! It was on my list to read and I totally forgot--it's on Ann's pile of books to read for the International Horror Guild Award. Which explains why I forgot. It wasn't on the right pile. Oh well. Have to read it and blog about it." Helpful Monkey: "Yes, I guess you will, won't you...")