SECRET PAS­SAGES IN A HILL­SIDE TOWN

A Life In Pic­tures

SFX - - Contents -

Fin­nish au­thor Pasi Il­mari Jääskeläi­nen’s lat­est is a fives­tar­rer. Is that a spoiler?

Glo­ri­ously strange, witty and dis­turb­ing

re­leased 7 de­cem­ber 412 pages | Pa­per­back/ebook Au­thor Pasi Il­mari Jääskeläi­nen Pub­lisher Pushkin Press

So­cial me­dia can be ter­ri­ble for dredg­ing up the ghosts of the past, what with its po­ten­tial to re­con­nect you with old friends, ex-lovers and es­tranged rel­a­tives.

For Olli Suomi­nen, mar­ried fam­ily man and suc­cess­ful pub­lisher, it brings lost child­hood love Greta back into his life. In the years that they’ve been parted Greta has be­come a cel­e­brated au­thor, best known for her book A Guide To The Cin­e­matic Life (a faintly ir­ri­tat­ing tome on how to live your life as if it were a film, that has taken Fin­land by storm). The two agree to work to­gether on her next work, but it’s not long be­fore they’ve rekin­dled their ro­mance. Partly that’s out of long-buried de­sire on both their parts, but mainly it’s be­cause Olli’s wife and son have been ab­ducted and will be ex­e­cuted by their cap­tors if he fails to make Greta com­pletely happy by the end of the year…

How and why this is all hap­pen­ing has some­thing to do with Olli’s child­hood in and around Jyväskylä. As an adult he is slow and de­tached from the world (it’s sev­eral days be­fore he even notices that his fam­ily have van­ished) but as a young­ster he and his friends were ad­ven­tur­ers. They solved a crime and to­gether dis­cov­ered the secret pas­sages hid­den in the hills around the re­gion. Quite what these tun­nels ac­tu­ally are is never fully ex­plained, but they ap­pear to have strange tem­po­ral prop­er­ties, and peo­ple who en­ter them are never quite the same again – if they re­turn at all, that is.

First pub­lished in Fin­land in 2010 (which ex­plains the book’s fix­a­tion with the then still vogue-ish Face­book), Pasi Il­mari Jääskeläi­nen’s novel is glo­ri­ously strange, witty and dis­turb­ing. Be­gin­ning as a whim­si­cal ro­man­tic comedy, it soon slides dizzy­ingly into fan­tas­ti­cal hor­ror as Olli’s seem­ingly om­nipo­tent foes be­gin to tighten their grip on his life. The flash­backs to Olli’s youth, mean­while, are a sur­real and melan­choly riff on the Fa­mous Five. As his re­pressed me­mories rise back to the sur­face, Jääskeläi­nen me­thod­i­cally peels back the lay­ers of a meta­phys­i­cal mys­tery, lead­ing to a smart re­veal at the halfway point that changes the book en­tirely, in­vest­ing it with deeper mean­ing and not-a-lit­tle right­eous anger. Greta’s life, it turns out, has been a tremen­dously dif­fi­cult one, and her ob­ses­sion with cin­ema be­gins to feel like a cop­ing mech­a­nism as much as a pas­sion. The book is also blessed with a truly dis­qui­et­ing vil­lain, who emerges in the fi­nal act as both bene­fac­tor and cruel tor­men­tor.

Jääskeläi­nen’s prose is ex­quis­ite through­out. At first the heavy re­liance on dream se­quences feels like a dis­trac­tion from the meat of the story, but as the book pro­gresses it be­comes clear just how in­te­gral these se­quences are. This is a novel with a foot in sev­eral dif­fer­ent worlds, real and imag­i­nary, and – as with the films of David Lynch, one of the au­thor’s cited in­spi­ra­tions – the un­con­scious is ev­ery bit as im­por­tant as the char­ac­ters’ wak­ing ac­tions here. A tremen­dous, haunt­ing book, full of bit­ter pain and starry-eyed won­der. Will Salmon

The first book Jääskeläi­nen re­mem­bers read­ing was The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. “It had a huge im­pact on me.”

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