Troll, by Johanna Sinisalo (22/107)

In brief: weird little book, very fast read, interesting ideas but I don’t think I particularly liked it.

Set in Finland, the main character is a gay photographer called Angel (real name Mikael) who comes across an injured troll cub being picked on by some teenage hooligans. He is immediately taken with the troll, and after the hooligans have been chased off, takes it back to his apartment even though this is self-evidently a Very Bad Idea. Trolls, in this world, are a species of wild animal in Scandinavia, reclusive and rare but well-documented as fact, so the greater question is what the hell was it doing in the city. Angel names the troll Pessi and becomes increasingly obsessed with it, layered heavily with sexual overtones even though it’s very young and an animal, and it all ends badly.

Troll lost me with the characters, really, because I could have been onboard for much weirder if I’d liked the people in it. Unfortunately all of Sinisalo’s characters fall into one of two categories: actively unlikable, or just pathetic. I see that in general fiction a lot, as if authors think that dreary characters will make their work more ~realistic~ when really they just make it tedious. Angel is a manipulative narcissist; the guy he has a crush on is the same, only worse; the guys who have a crush on Angel are pathetic; Angel’s Filipina neighbor is irrelevant to the story and also pathetic. And maybe that’s realistic, but it set up a narrative distance that kept me from becoming the slightest bit invested in anyone, and from giving any sort of fuck about what happens to them.

Which is a shame, because I wanted to like this book — I like Finland (my father’s side of the family is Finnish) and I really like the “monsters as love interests” trope. But Pessi is not a love interest or even a character, he’s more like a really weird feral cat that the main character gets an inexplicable hard-on for. If Pessi had been slightly more human in his intelligence, then it could have been about the two of them, the human trying to relate to the alien and vice versa; as it stands, it’s all about Angel, and Pessi is interchangeable with anything else that Angel could project his obsession onto.

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