Johana Sinisalo - Not Before Sundown 
Wednesday, 03 .May, 2006, 05:10 - English Entries, Finland, Literature

Not Before Sundown Trolls are creatures of the Northern mythology and Scandinavian legends. They are walking upright and therefore look somehow like humans, but their fur-coat and claws remind us of their animal nature. Trolls are said to love the night, to be able to turn to stone and sometimes some of them were seen - if we believe what the murmured stories of older days tell us - as changelings, replacing human children in their cradles.

In her book "Not Before Sundown" Johanna Sinisalo translates the legends of the trolls into a modern novel. After a night of drinking and disappointment, Mikael saves a young Troll from the violence of a gang of youngsters. Mikael reacts without further thinking and takes the wounded troll into his home and life.

Sinisalos story needed the first hundred pages to get up to speed. In the beginning the troll is ill and Mikael, who is homosexual, has problems to hide his new subtenant from his boy friends. But when Pessi, the troll, finally gets well and starts causing further confusion, the book becomes funny and entertaining.

In-between the mostly short chapters Sinisalo informs about the role of the Troll in Finnish literature and history by putting abstracts from all kinds of sources - poems, extractions from novels, scientific and popular scientific articles - into the book. As an uneducated reader I was rather surprised of same of the "facts" that are elaborated in these insertions. The authors’ humor, in some cases, reaches over the borders of the novel and the reader should be careful in choosing what to believe and what not.

Towards the end we are facing more and more the wild and darker nature of the troll. Although the final chapters might seem tragic, the book never leaves is light and humorous style.

There is also the story of a desperate Philippine girl who was married by a Finnish thug out of a catolog. This character is simply not needed for the book and described in a completly cliche way. It seems that Sinisalo wanted to introduce a more serious side-story in the novel, but to my eyes failed completly with it.

In the end the book left me disappointed. The language is too clean (at least in the translation) and offers no inspiration, the characters are predictable and the intended criticism of society is not convincing.

But most of all the fantastic element - the troll - does not develop into a mystic creature and the few secrets around it taste rather constructed. By citing so many other sources Sinisalo makes clear where she got her inspiration from, but she is not able to reproduce them in a way that would deepen the understanding of the legends. She avoids carefully any chance to let the fear and fascination of the old tales shine through her story.

"Not Before Sundown" is an entertaining and humoristic novel which gives an introduction to some parts of Finnish mythology. It does not go further than that and for me did not hold as an example for contemporary Finnish literature.
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