Transit by Johanna Sinisalo

finnish

I don’t know what they’re going to try and pin on me, but the only thing I can be charged with is destroying public property or something, not manslaughter. I’m not a murderer, definitely not that kind of murderer. I know you can’t make head or tail of what I’m saying, so there’s no reason I should start talking now either, but I’ve got to get it into your thick skulls that I’m not a fucking murderer. Everything was sweet right up to the end, every second of it.

I was very pleased to receive The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy as a Christmas present this year. Finnish fantasy is not something that was on my radar before, but this book, compiled by Johanna Sinisalo and translated by David Hackston, comprises more than 20 stories published between the end of the 19th Century and the present day.

I say Finnish fantasy has not been on my radar at all, but of course I’ve read (and loved) the Moomin books by Tove Jansson for ages, and Jansson features here too, with a post-apocalyptic short story for adults. It’s confusing because Jansson was Finnish and yet wrote in Swedish — I was fascinated by the introduction to the book which explained that Finnish secular literature has only existed for a little over 100 years, and before then most respectable Finnish writers wrote in Swedish.

The stories all feel rather Nordic — even the ones that don’t feature trolls and bears have a kind of sparse bleakness that you associate with countries that have a lot of darkness and snow. Some feature more overt mythological or folkloric elements, such as the first story — Wolf Bride, by Aino Kallas, in which a woman lives with her husband by day, but becomes a wolf at night. Others are more subtle — I particularly enjoyed The Golden Apple, by Sari Peltoniemi, where a women is trying to hide from an abusive ex-partner, in a village where every house has a mysterious statue of a bear in the garden., and all the children sleepwalk.

As with all collections of short stories, there were some I liked, and some I didn’t, and the one I liked the best was Transit, written by Sinisalo herself. The story is made up of two interviews, the first with drunken petty criminal Klaus Antero Viksten, standing trial for murder. The second is with Airi Kurkinen, whose job is round-the-clock care for an autistic teenager Nina. Although Airi maintains that Nina can’t speak, or even look after herself, it appears that she has managed to convince Klaus to help her kidnap some dolphins from the local aquarium and set them free. This was a strange, powerful story, with a brutal ending that haunted me long after I’d moved on to the other stories in the book.

Dedalus also publishes collections of Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Austrian, Greek and Flemish fantasy, and I’m looking forward to sampling these too.

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