Book review: Pet Shop Girls, by Anja Snellman

23 09 2017

Anja Snellman is a Finnish journalist, poet, and novelist with over twenty books to her name. Though some of these have been translated into several languages, to date only one of her novels has been translated into English. She was awarded the Pro Finlandia Medal (a civic honour bestowed upon distinguished Finnish artists and writers) in 2007.

PetShopGirls

Pet Shop Girls (Lemmikkikaupan tytöt, 2007, translated by Scott Kaukonen and Helena Halmari) concerns the disappearance of teenagers Jasmin Martin and Linda Rossi, Jasmin’s mother Sara’s quest to come to grips with her daughter’s ongoing absence (especially after Linda’s body is discovered, some months later, in the remains of a warehouse following a fire), and pathways into prostitution and sexual slavery. It’s a mosaic novel comprising the adult Jasmin’s reflections on events leading up to the death, fifteen years after her abduction, of her wealthy ‘owner’; extracts from the book Monday, written by Sara and exploring her experiences as a suddenly-childless mother; and a recounting of the developing involvement of immigrant Randi Suraweera in, first, the titular ‘pet shop’ and, later, the underage-prostitution racket (the ‘Wet Pet Club’) for which the pet shop serves as a front business. The content at the book’s core is undeniably confronting (and, I suspect, triggering for some), though the writing is far from lurid: the focus is predominantly on the emotional journey of daughter and mother and their sometimes-inexplicable inability to connect as each copes in her own way with the circumstances of Jasmin’s abduction and its lingering aftermath. Shorn of its specifics (and the text is consistently careful never to identify its locations), it’s a book more about loss, hazard, and quiet fury than about anything else. And although it’s presented as a ‘crime’ novel (by a publisher specialising in English translations of Finnish crime fiction), it’s really more a novel of injustice.

The book’s scrapbook composition and fifteen-year span doesn’t permit as much tension (nor, it seems, as many answered questions) as might be expected from the subject matter, but the characterisation of Jasmin and Sara is a strength, and a lengthy historical epilogue provides a context that, in some measure, is lacking from the novel’s sometimes-disjointed narrative fragments.

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