Book review: Tainaron (Mail from Another City), by Leena Krohn

24 09 2017

Leena Krohn is a prolific Finnish speculative fiction writer, and one of the pioneers of the ‘Finnish Weird’ subgenre, whose work has been shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award and the International Horror Guild Award; she’s also the recipient of the Finlandia Prize. I’ve previously reviewed her (high recommended) pittoresque novel Datura (or a delusion we all see) here.

Tainaron

Tainaron: Mail from Another City (Tainaron. Postia toisesta kaupungista, 1985, translated by Hildi Hawkins) is an epistolary novel exploring the strange city of Tainaron and the unnamed narrator’s solitude as he / she composes a series of letters to a former lover who opts not to respond.

Tainaron’s inhabitants are insects—many of them recognisable, some of them mysterious—who have shaped a society that is in places individualistic, in places anarchistic, and in places strictly hierarchical, with rites and rules enforcing an often-inflexible social structure. The narrator (whom one presumes to be human, though this is never explicit) frequently falls afoul of the city’s numerous taboos and idiosyncracies, much to the chagrin of his / her long-suffering local guide Longhorn. The book is thronged with fantastical invention and description, but there’s an underlying coldness to it that makes it a difficult work with which to engage; considerably more so than Krohn’s similarly-episodic though more wryly whimsical Datura. There are a few places in which the fancy truly takes flight, and the prose is beautiful (as is much of the imagery) but it seemed to me that too much of the book is given over to an extended societal metaphor with few points of obvious human connection.

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