The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy


The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy
Edited by Johanna Sinisalo
Dedalus – £9.99

To generalise slightly, one could say that Finish literature is dominated by the tradition of realism. In Finland realism is widely seen as the correct way to write, whilst other genres are deviations from this norm – some would claim that these deviations do not represent ‘respectable’ literature. All too often one hears the Finnish reader shun works including elements of fantasy on the basis that such things are ‘not true.’ The overwhelming strength of the realist canon has made some readers forget the fact that even realistic literature is made up; that it is every bit as fictitious as the most unbridled fantasy literature.

Absolutely, one need only read a menagerie of British tabloid newspapers to surmise realism is indeed dominated by a veritable tsunami of fantasy induced reportage; the sort(s) of which is just as equally depressing as it is mightily dangerous.

Not to mention sanctimonious to the degree that fantasy has, throughout 2016, become the accepted norm.

So when Johanna Sinisalo writes: ”The overwhelming strength of the realist canon has made some readers forget the fact that even realistic literature is made up; that it is every bit as fictitious as the most unbridled fantasy literature,” she is most certainly – albeit unknowingly – pin-pointing a most acute, yet wretched state of current affairs amid world politics.

After all , where does fantasy end and realism truly begin?

That social media (fundamentally responsible for so much current, fantastical, social ire), is risible in the promotion of fraught fantasy and nigh hallucinatory hatred, should come as absolutely no surprise. Likewise, the degree to which The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy will undoubtedly trigger thoughts and feelings that are diverse, challenging, reflective and on occasion, partially sinister.

Feelings, that at this particular time of year, we could perhaps well do with.

Where else for instance, would one stumble upon Juhani Peltonen’s gritty, Daliesque writing in such a story as ‘The Slave Breeder,’ during which he recounts: ”As time went by the cage filled with slaves, none of whom remotely resembled ordinary humans. ‘No matter,’ thought Werner. ‘A slave’s a slave’s a slave.’ As he whipped them he would comment wittily to himself on their appearance. Some of them were even missing essential body parts; their sensory organs had arbitrarily swapped places with each other; they all expressed themselves in terms of grim individual ailments (one warbled like a broken unmelodious flute another hissed like a stove); and one of them (whose most striking feature was a set of dead, sunken eyes) had a hand on the end of its leg; another had a pencil-thin tail metres long. Any attempt to classify their gender was pure guesswork. Werner split them at random into two groups and lashed them together, so that the number of slaves would not drop.”

Suffice to say, much of the writing amid these 337 pages enables the reader to travel unto another place. A place perhaps, not too dissimilar to that which our own psychological parameters will just about permit.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

As Matt Warman in The Daily Telegraph writes: ”Johanna Sinisalo defines her anthology’s terms broadly, and the result is intriguing and eye-opening. It’s a passage from the first Finnish novel, Seven Brothers by Aleksis Kivi, that sets the tone. Rooted in the myths and legends found in the Nordic sagas, it’s very alive to the modern world, too” (my italics).

Indeed, almost each of these terrific, twenty stories, resonate in such a way as to defy the ever-thinning line between much of today’s fact and fiction. For realist clarification, one need look no further than ones’ ever-widening TV screens.

David Marx


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