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Troll: a Love Story (thoughts)

April 15, 2010

I placed Troll: a Love Story by Johanna Sinisalo on my GLBT challenge list in large part because I’ve never read any Finnish literature. When Tiina saw it there, she encouraged me to read it (and it’s in her list of Finnish classics). And when I finally began reading, this book was nothing like I expected!

It’s written in pastiche style, which I happen to love. There are several narrators, who usually get very short (2-4 page) chapters, which gives it a moment-by-moment narrative feel. But there are also ‘academic’ sources woven in. You see, the book is set in a slightly alternate Finland, in which trolls have been discovered to be a real animal species. So throughout the book, there are (brief) excerpts from encyclopedias, websites, and more about trolls. In addition, there’s samples from fairy tales and stories dealing with trolls. The style worked perfectly for the story, and it was probably one of my favourite things about the book.

I should probably tell you a bit about the plot, right? Angel is a mildly successful photographer who comes home half drunk one night after unsuccessfully trying to seduce a guy he’s in love with to discover a young troll outside of his apartment. He takes it in, because it’s shivering and helpless and surrounded by teenage brats, and wakes up in the morning to realise he knows nothing about how to keep a troll alive! So he starts doing research and becomes more and more obsessed with the troll, who has a disturbing amount of human-ish features. Due to the troll, he connects with an ex-boyfriend and a guy who’s had a distant crush on him for quite awhile, as well as the Filipino child bride living in the apartment below his. And so the book’s about how their lives interact and change.

So here’s the thing…Sinsalo combines all of these different plots, and looks at all of these huge themes, in a style that’s at once literary and page-turning. Not to mention, it’s literally science fiction, since there are scientific analyses of trolls included in the text. It’s like a fable, thriller, meditation on sex and love and the morality of both, all stuffed into one slim book. I have no idea how she accomplishes all of this, and needless to say, it left me impressed.

Whenever I read international authors, I look for a sense of place, and Sinsalo definitely has it. She was born in Finnish Lapland, and although most of action takes place in Helsinki, I definitely felt a sense of the wild, northern places running through the story. (Which makes sense, since that’s where the trolls tend to live!) While the book was completely relatable for me in terms of characters and themes, it definitely didn’t feel like it was set in America. Which is a good thing!

Speaking of those themes, most of them revolve around the nature of sex and love. Since this is one of those central human questions, I loved Sinsalo’s exploration of it. She’s not afraid to look at the exploitative aspects of sex, like the creepy old Finnish guy who essentially bought a girl from the Philippines to be his sex slave/housekeeper to the more subtle questions of two consenting adults who are each using each other in some way. Oh, and then there’s the whole fact that Angel starts to become turned on by the troll as he gets older. But don’t worry, he’s horrified by that! Perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned it in the first place? Because I don’t want anyone to think “Ohh, that’s so gross, this isn’t a book for me.” Anyway, it’s interwoven with old fairytales about humans marrying trolls, which adds a fascinating dimension to it.

I think I’ve rambled on long enough, don’t you? The bottom line is this: as my first experience with Finnish lit, Troll: a Love Story makes me want to go read more right away. I’m beyond annoyed that Sinsalo’s other works haven’t been translated into English, because she’s an incredible writer. She had me completely caught up in the plot, turning pages as fast as possible to see what would happen, while at the same time making me think deeply about issues. This is a book that haunted me once I finished it, and that I wish I had a book group to discuss with. I think it’ll appeal to a broad range of readers, so consider this me highly recommending that you get your hands on a copy!

27 Comments leave one →
  1. April 15, 2010 12:03 pm

    I actually didn’t know this was GLBT literature! The reason why I wanted was the folk/fairy tale aspect. That makes it even more appealing of course. Argh! Must stay strong. The power of the ban compels me :P

    PS: The only Finnish author I’ve read was Tove Jansson, whose Summer Book I think you’d enjoy. It’s very quiet and subdued, but also full of moving moments and with an incredible sense of place.

  2. April 15, 2010 12:11 pm

    Yet again you have recommended a book I would never have found otherwise. I’m adding it to my list.

  3. April 15, 2010 12:13 pm

    I read Troll back in 2007 but it had a different title in the translation I read. It was called Not Before Sundown.

  4. April 15, 2010 12:15 pm

    I heard about this ages ago- the troll in the stairwell particularly piqued my interest. I had no idea there was a queer element to it! It sounds brilliant, and a Finnish author sounds like fun right about now. I’m adding it to my list. Thanks!

  5. April 15, 2010 12:29 pm

    This sounds like such an interesting book. All of the aspects of this book appeal to me. And wouldn’t you know, my little itsy bitsy library has it. Must reserve.

  6. April 15, 2010 12:29 pm

    Wow, sounds amazing! Putting it on my tbr list immediately!

  7. April 15, 2010 12:40 pm

    Not a book I would pick up from just looking at it but it sounds great! I definitely want to read this one :)

  8. April 15, 2010 1:32 pm

    Been loving for this book for ages, but just discovered it has a different title in England, Not Before Sundown – now I’ve discovered that I’ve reserved it at the library. According to amazon UK she has a new book being released in June this year, called Birdbrain

  9. April 15, 2010 1:48 pm

    I’m so happy you liked Troll! :) And your review is spot on! As Pussreboots mentions, the book was indeed first translated into English in Britain with the title Not Before Sundown, which is an almost literal translation of the original title. The title comes from a Finnish song, which tells about a sunbeam and a little troll. One night the last sunbeam is a bit late and a troll sees it. The troll falls in love with the sunbeam, but they can never have each other as the sunbeam would die in the dark and the troll can never be above ground before sundown. Here’s the song sung (in Finnish) by Tapio Rautavaara in 1965:

    I had the pleasure of meeting Johanna Sinisalo a few years ago. She came to speak about her work in the library where I worked at the time.

    I just checked from a Finnish website that her latest novel Linnunaivot (Birdbrains) will be translated into English. You might also want to take a look at The Dedalus book of Finnish Fantasy. It’s edited by Sinisalo and includes one story by her, plus quite a wide collection of both classic and newer stories.


  10. April 15, 2010 1:53 pm

    I read this one a while back (July 2007), and I agree that it is a very different book. I liked the interspersement of non-narrative elements like poetry and newspaper articles and thought they really added something interesting to the book.

  11. Kavitha Narayanan permalink
    April 15, 2010 2:10 pm

    Thanks, this looks like a interesting book to read. Adds on to my TBR list as well :)

  12. April 15, 2010 2:46 pm

    I found a copy of this one at HPB a while back and got it intending to count it towards the Once Upon a Time challenge. It sounds wild so hopefully I’ll get a chance to get to it for the challenge.

    By the way, I read a Finnish book last year, When I Forgot by Elina Hirvonen which was a bit hard to get through but interesting. Touched upon themes of memory, war, brother/sister relationships. Actually had quite a lot going for such a slim novel so maybe that’s why it didn’t quite work for me but you may like it.

  13. April 15, 2010 2:54 pm

    Wow, never heard of this one, but I’m putting it close to the top of my TBR list! Thanks for the review.

  14. April 15, 2010 4:16 pm

    I need this book. Sounds like fun to me. You know “troll” is a derogatory slang term for an unattractive old man in gay parlance. I wonder if the slang use translates to Finnish.

  15. April 15, 2010 6:43 pm

    Wow — I want to read this now for so many reasons. This is the first I’ve heard of this book and so I thank you for bringing to my attention. Very interesting about the slang meaning of troll (first I’ve heard that too — clearly I must be living under a rock).

  16. April 15, 2010 9:57 pm

    Damn this sounds really good!!! Uh…I think I need to get now :p

  17. April 16, 2010 2:05 am

    The title and the cover would’ve never persuaded me to read the book, but your review makes it look really interesting! I’m putting it on my TBR-list with a (trust Eva) behind it, to make sure I don’t just skip it because of the title when I go through my list.

  18. April 16, 2010 2:28 am

    I have now ordered this book, aren’t selling it, its only avaliable from used sellers. There is another translation but this seems harder to get hold off. Thanks for the review

  19. winstonsdad permalink
    April 16, 2010 5:05 am

    i read Tove Jansson earlier this year another finnish writer also did blog post on the nordic council lit prize which was won by a finnish -etonian writer this year

  20. April 16, 2010 6:44 am

    I want this book. I fell in love with Finland after reading A True Deceiver by Tove Jansson. I would definitely recommend venturing into Jansson’s work as it is beautiful.

  21. April 16, 2010 7:33 am

    I don’t know that I’ve ever read anything by a Finnish author before (nothing springs to mind anyway), but I love a pastichey set-up for a book – part of why I’m loving Mike Carey’s The Unwritten so much. It’s a graphic novel AND pastichey. Troll sounds amazing, I can’t wait to get my hands on it. My library even has it! Frabjous day!

    P.S. I used to live with a Finnish girl, who taught me loads of Finnish words, and I forgot most of them. But I have remembered the one that describes, essentially, a really really crappy day where everything is miserable, and it is my most favorite phrase in any foreign language: kankkarankka paiva. It’s pronounced as it’s spelled, KANK-a-RANK-a PAI-vuh, and when I use it to describe a crappy day, it makes the day that little bit better. :)

  22. April 16, 2010 1:42 pm

    This book sounds fascinating and fun to read. I’ve also had Tove Jansson on my TBR. Time to start reading those Fins!

  23. April 16, 2010 2:08 pm

    I’m so glad you listened to my request and wrote about this book, because it sounds really different. I definitely want to check it out! Thanks Eva. I’m not sure I’ve ever read any Finnish lit.


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