Finnish writer Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen has written a creepily seductive, thought provoking, alluring and wickedly mischievous book, which might have special appeal for writers, since writers, aspiring and world famous, and the nature of fiction itself, is the subject matter.
Books have started to mysteriously change in Rabbit Back, a small town in Finland. Rabbit Back is also home to a world famous children's writer, Laura White, who writes children's' books about a dark and mysteriously peopled world. Inevitably, being a world famous Finnish children's' author writing about invented, strange creatures which have a fascination for adults as well as children, there are obvious possible parallels that Tove Jansson may have been the initial inspiration for Jaaskelainen.
Laura White, it transpires, gathered around her a group of children, with the aim of grooming them into becoming writers. All are now grown, and famous authors in their own right.
However...there was a dark mystery behind Laura White's creation of the Rabbit Back Literature Society, and its small, select recruited members. And the group also have an arcane, and somewhat deadly practice - The Game, which has evolved over the years, and exists for a set purpose of furthering the craft, practice and ritual of writing itself.
The membership of the society has been restricted to 9, for many decades. Until a young teacher, with a recently published story, is invited by White to become the tenth member. Ella Milana, as well as becoming the newest member of the Society, is a keen literary researcher, and has discovered the strange changes appearing in classic texts.
Milana has agendas of her own to pursue when something cataclysmic happens at the party which secretive, revered, Laura White gives, to introduce Milana as the tenth member, to the other nine, and to the wider, glittering celebrity world who accord White some kind of literary goddess status.
And this is Finland, where a belief in dark elementals may be more widespread. Snow, and the Far North, do weird and wonderful things to imagination
So, we have some strange conglomerate of a David Lynch Twin Peaks type clever weirdness, a crime investigation, an arcane, cultish group of highly intelligent, ruthlessly ambitious-in-the-pursuit-of-their-craft writers, Folkloric background, and a wonderful, wickedly dark and playful imagination. Not to mention a clear love of literature, and its power, and many reflections on just why writers write, who they are, how they do it, and how and why we read.
"Everybody comes to the library naked. That's why they come here-to dress themselves in books"
It's a joy. It's a gem. It's dark, spooky, not completely explained by reason. And I want more from Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen. There seem to be a couple of short stories translated into English, but not, at the moment, any second novel. Keep writing Pasi Ilmari, keep writing.
The translation must also be commended (I assume, not knowing Finnish!) because I had no sense of the clunky, as happens when translation is done by those who are too literal, and miss some kind of `writerly sensibilities. So I hope Lola M. Rogers is also making sure that Pasi Ilmari is steadily working on another book, which she will translate
"Reality was a game board for all of humanity to play on, formed from all human interaction. You could in principle make it up out of anything you wished, provided you all agreed on it. But it was easiest if everyone used square pieces, because they would all fit together and form a seamless whole"