Söderströms, 2007. ISBN: 9789515224729
Reviewed by Eric Dickens in SBR 2008:2
In the prologue, the reader zooms in on a tomboy who plays football and is disappointed with her first period: instead of a glorious red, it is a mucky brown.
The book then proceeds in longer chapters written in the first person, alternating with very short ones written by God, who comments on this whole journey by the sixteen-year-old protagonist with mild irony. God has seen this all before. God cannot escape the events of the novel and stays faithful until the end.
Andrej Krapl, aka Fyodor Karil Konstantinovich, then appears. He teaches our heroine the art of knife-throwing. There is definitely something sexual between them. Whether Krapl actually exists or is a figment of her imagination matters little at this stage.
The rest of the book is taken up by almost dreamlike sequences that are nevertheless firmly rooted in small details from everyday life. The book is in effect one long journey from the Tokio Bar with ugly flashing blue and red neon lights, via a sojourn in an unnamed foreign city, back to the bar that is situated, we presume, in the home town of the protagonist.
The five knives become the leitmotif of the book. The whole of the narration centres on them, and what they cause and are witness to, who carries them, and who abandons them, and how. Knives are, of course, dangerous objects, and throughout the novel, you have a unpleasant feeling of foreboding on their account. One of these knives, which have ornately decorated handles, is carried in a rather unusual place: its blade is tucked into a hymn book which is, in turn, tucked down the back of the young woman’s trousers, causing abrasions on her back.
As well as being somewhat boyish, this young woman is athletic, does a lot of walking, hiking, carrying her bag on the long road away from, and back to, herself. She is restless, shy, cannot stay for any length of time with the people she would like to share her life with. Forces draw her both towards and away from everyone she meets. These people include the mysterious Andrej Krapl himself, her own mother, a chubby but attractive woman in the Tokio Bar, and above all a woman with a white fringe called Eve. Also an unpleasant, stalking, male character, called the Hunter.
Other leitmotifs are the small towns and villages with their slightly dead atmosphere, the general store, boarded up, and several nondescript but definitely ramshackle buildings. The seasons, rain, sleet and mud are much in evidence.
The novel is well crafted. While we can feel the tangible reality of the descriptions of the scenery and landscape and the movements within it, the narration as a whole carefully avoids specific geographical pointers. Past and present are cleverly mixed, and the characters and places merge and separate. At a micro-level, the reader knows exactly where they are; at a macro-level the reader is taken from scene to scene, person to person, with no sense of fixity.
This is Taivassalo’s first novel, and a remarkable achievement as such. The author, a Finland-Swede, works in the theatre and this can be seen. But above all the novel emanates a longing to belong.