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on 29 February 2008
Funnily enough, this book is about a howling miller. The miller in question is Gunnar Huttunen. The time is just after the 2nd World War and the place is northern Finland. Gunnar's mill and wife have been burnt to the ground and so he moves to a new town, buys a new mill.

At first the town's people like Gunnar; he can impersonate animals, tell stories, gets up to wild antics and entertains the children. But when Gunnar sinks into melancholy and starts howling all through the night things change. The villagers start to despise him. They want to get him sent to the lunatic asylum. There is no place for people like Gunnar in their village.

Although it may not sound it, the book is a comedy. It is written in a deadpan style and there are some great scenes. Gunnar falls in love with the local 4H woman. She says come and see him, anytime, so at 4am marches off to the farm where she is lodging and wakes the whole household. The wife of her landlady hides outside the door to hear what Gunnar might say and when Gunnar comes out of the room she gets hit by the door handle and rolls down the stairs. After this, she declares herself paralysed and takes to bed, only getting up when curiousity takes her - and then has to drag herself back to her bed, looking as paralysed as possible.

It is also a compulsive read. It brims with plot, events, happenings and wonderful characters.

It also has a nice cover.
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on 4 February 2010
Not sure if it lost something (or gained something?) by being translated from Finnish to French to English, but the story is great. It's one of those books where you ask yourself "what was the story about?" because it mostly revolves around the charachters in one small village. Gentle but the charachters evolve slowly and the tale changes so often that you can't really see where it's going and then, suddenly, you can't put the book down.
The author paints such evocative pictures but leaves a little to the imagination so you would never quite guess how the tale ends.
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on 11 October 2011
I was expecting good things from this read as I absolutely loved The Year of the Hare. Unfortunately, while I found The Year of the Hare to be a funny, heartwarming tale about the choices we make in life and where they can lead - found The Howling Miller to be a little flat. The story centres around Gunnar Huttunen, a Finnish miller who moves into a small town. The townspeople find his strange habit of howling a little disconcerting and the tale follows him over a number of months as his relationship with them all breaks down. I found that the characters were under developed and the plot a little flat. The constant persecution of Huttunen is frustrating, as is his rather ridiculous behaviour and explanation for it. In short, I didn't come to identify with any of the characters and therefore didn't really care what happened to them.

If you've never read any Arto Paasilinna, I would urge you to try The Year of the Hare first.
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on 1 September 2007
I've just finished reading 'The Howling Miller', and have to say it is one of the most stunning books I've ever read. It touched me deeply, and I found, in Huttunen, a character with whom I really identified. Every character, every person in the village, comes across in brilliant technicolour, and there is not one wasted sentence in the whole book. The translation is excellent, in that sometimes translations can be somewhat dry, yet this one is as fresh as the vegetables in the miller's garden. I laughed, I rooted for the main character, and I found myself being taken on an effortless journey by a great writer. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, as it struck me as being perfect in every possible respect.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 9 October 2013
I picked up this book quite by chance, but the premise sounded intriguing.

Gunnar Huttunen buys a small mill at Suukoski in Northern Finland shortly after the end of the Second World War. He says he is a widower making a fresh start. However, the small community find him very strange; apt to swift mood changes, and a figure of fascination to the youngsters when he howls and imitates animals and other community members. His behaviour over time makes him fewer friends and more enemies, and eventually he finds himself being locked up for insanity. The early part of the book is almost comic; but from here the comic takes a back step and there is a sinister edge to the action as it unfolds. Can Gunnar save himself, and how?

The writing in this book is simplistic, and fresh. The characters are drawn from their actions and unique behaviours - Mrs Siponen who falls down some stairs and takes to her bed declaring herself paralysed so she can take advantage of her laziness, the hospital doctor who has a nervous habit of always polishing his glasses, Doctor Ervinen who regales Gunnar with his tales of hunting but cannot bear Gunnar's reciprocating imitations of wildlife. The characters are all sharply drawn as much by what we are not told as by what we are of their ways of life and habits. We do not need to know their backgrounds for them to become `real' to us. Can Gunnar remain true to his own self, or does he have to conform in order to survive?

This is a great book; funny, sad, poignant, witty, clever; all at once. The writing is fresh and clever. Great stuff.
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on 13 January 2013
I so wanted to finish this Finnish novel I read it virtually in one sitting.

It's often said that recognising one's own madness is a sign of sanity: the miller of the title has a propensity to howl at night, but otherwise appears no more and no less sane than his neighbours, who fail to recognise their own idiosyncrasies and eccentricities while never losing an opportunity to put him down as insane.

This is a tale of crossed wires and cut lines, of madness masquerading as sanity and sanity under the guise of madness as our hero doggedly remains true to himself in the teeth of overwhelming odds. It can be read as a simple tale of an outsider who isn't accepted by society, or something much deeper: he meets the prophet who was without honour in his own country. I sort of guessed at the ending - if you've read the Finnish national epic the Kalevala, you'll know where I'm coming from, but it was an absolute pleasure to get there and meet the characters along the way.

I'm not quite so sure that the book was necessarily that well-served by its translation - it was translated into English from French as an intermediary, rather than directly from the Finnish source. There's always a problem of whether to preserve foreignisms or whether to translate them directly into the target language. In this case the word "canton" is used to convey an administrative district, which immediately makes me think of Swiss cantons rather than Finnish "communes" and so evokes the wrong place, in my view! I'd suggest that the commune is sufficiently well-known as a Scandinavian administrative unit to make sense to an English-language reader, but still preserves the sense of place in the book's setting (Finnish districts are called "kommune" by their Swedish-language minority.)

I was also startled to read that Keeshonds were said to have taken part in a bear hunt in Finland before the 2nd World War. To me it doesn't seem plausible that medium-sized Dutch dogs would have taken part in a bear hunt - for which specialist native breeds were developed in Finland. What they do have in common is that they are both Spitz-type dogs, and though I'm guessing, I'd think that one or both translators have had a stab at identifying an unfamiliar breed, and nearly, but not quite, got there.

The nearest parallel I can come to in English is the work of Magnus Mills - a very similar world-view and ambiguity rooted in something deeper than the outward plot.
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on 26 July 2010
A stranger buys a run-down mill in a small Finnish town. He refurbishes it and repairs it. Meanwhile, the townspeople notice that he is a little strange. Soon enough, they start to persecute him.

The howling miller is a fairly easy novel to read. The Finnish names do add an element of quirkiness purely on account of being Finnish, but the novel itself, a fable/parable is reasonably interesting. Throughout the book, the hero turns out to be not much more crazy, or perhaps even rather less so, than his contemporaries. At the same time, they look at him with different eyes. Perhaps it is because they don't have mirrors and cannot see themselves.

Some things in the story are a bit baffling. The passing of time is often poorly indicated - he must have lived in the village for several months between the first and second chapters etc. - which can be a bit confusing. Some of the characters seem to be there for a purpose that is not their own. The love interest seems little more than windowdressing - she exists only because the story needs her, not because she is ever a convincing character in her own right.

In other words, this book is not flawless. It did, however, hold my attention, and it was a reasonably enjoyable read. The final chapter seems a little rushed (and I would have ended the story differently), but on the whole, it's worth a read.
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on 21 September 2014
I was going to say that all I can do now is leave lots of stars because I can't add any more to the review left by Olly M.
However, I would like to add that it isn't just a humorous and endearing story but an intelligent one regarding the way that the miller is treated by the villagers in relation to his mental health problems. The story brings depth and awareness to the difficulties faced by people with unusual behavioural quirks which are usually misunderstood and vilified by so called respectable persons, such as some of the villagers and when they behave in very similar ways, they are totally oblivious to the fact and only want to highlight the millers 'madness' and punish him for it and his hurt and confusion over this just makes his character all the more endearing in my eyes. I just loved this story and made my insomnia worse by staying awake reading it until the wee small hours.
I've finished it now and miss the characters already. Just brilliant and I think I'll read it again tonight.
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on 28 January 2008
Fun - not as good as the Year of the Hare by the same author, nor Rytkonen long, Life Short (which you can get in French and other translations, but not English), both of which are masterworks, but still, any Paasilinna is worth it.
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on 6 October 2011
Miller Gunnar Huttunen's short fuse and odd behaviour (including howling and animal mimicry) prompt local Finnish officials to apply sanctions...but Gunnar is sustained by his survival skills and hopes of a better life with the girl of his dreams. Excellent storytelling with likeable central characters and a good ending.
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