On the one hand, this is a beautifully written story that deals with some fascinating issues. And trolls are real.
On the other hand, I was uncomfortable with the implications of some of the relationships.
So, the first hand: it is lovely, and made all the more impressive by the fact that it’s translated – that can never be an easy task. I love the fact that it alternates story with ‘non-fiction’ grabs from pseudo-websites, dusty old tomes, poems and mythology – some of those are real, I’m pretty sure – and newspaper reports. I know that some people find this annoying; don’t read the book if that’s you. And I know that sometimes it really doesn’t work. But here I lay claim that it adds wonderfully to the depth surrounding the central idea of trolls being a real animal, known to science for the last century or so, and that this story is seeking to add to what humanity knows about Felipithecus trollius. Additionally, although there is a central narrator – Angel – as the story proceeds more of the incidental characters get to add their own perspectives, also in the first person. I know some people have found this changing around to be irritating or confusing, but at least in my edition each chapter clearly labels who is speaking, so rather than confusing I found that it added to the richness of the novel.
Sinisalo raises a diverse range of issues in her story, some more central than others. Trust and love and manipulation; ethics in art and journalism and business; the relationship between humanity and the natural world; mail-order brides, sex as power, desire as all-consuming. Angel, the central narrator, finds a wounded young troll and decides to care for it… which leads to encounters with a neighbour, an ex-lover, a would-be lover, and an object of his affection. Plus a business opportunity.
Which leads me to the other hand. And from this point on, SPOILERS.
Firstly, I know Angel ended up feeling ashamed of taking advantage of the troll, but it was still an unpleasant thing to do – taking advantage of Pessi’s trust in him for entirely mercantile purposes. Given how much Sinisalo works to make Pessi seem if not human then certainly above the animal, I really didn’t like it. Again, I’m sure that was the point, but it doesn’t matter; I still read it, and felt uncomfortable.
And then there’s the implications of the relationship between Pessi and Angel. Perhaps it’s prudish but I was very uncomfortable by Angel’s sexual reaction to Pessi. This is partly because Pessi is coded as being quite young, so the power differential of age exists; partly that Pessi is clearly in a submissive position with regard to Angel in tribal terms, so again the power differential; partly, hello different species – where Pessi is <i>not</i>, especially at first, coded as being as capable/sentient as a human. I know that Sinisalo is trying to problematise issues of desire and sexuality – Palomita’s experience as a mail-order bride is certainly not meant to be endorsed but is still far more socially acceptable – but… it was a problem for me.
Lastly, the ending. I knew it was coming – that Sinisalo was working up to the idea that trolls were either evolving, and catching up with humanity, or that they had always been that clever and were now coming out of the forest and starting to demonstrate it. I really liked it, and but for the sexual relationship stuff I really liked the ambiguity of what was going to happen to Angel, too.
I think, on balance, that I really liked this book. Sinisalo is certainly doing intriguing things, and she does write beautifully.
You can get Troll from Fishpond.