Book review: The Girl and the Rat, by Jari Järvelä

9 08 2017

Jari Järvelä is a Finnish novelist, playwright, and former teacher, whose work has received the Finnish State Prize for Literature and nominations for the Finlandia Prize and the Nordic Council Literature Prize.

TheGirlAndTheRat

The Girl and the Rat (Tyttö ja rotta, 2015, translated by Kristian London) is the second book in Järvelä’s ‘Metro’ trilogy of YA novels, whose chief protagonist is a young black graffiti artist (a ‘writer’). This book finds Metro and her fellow writers living in a semi-demolished squat in Berlin, as members of Verboten’s graffiti gang The Ice Rats. It’s a hand-to-mouth existence, and every day is a struggle, but they are at least doing what they love … and their squat holds a secret, an attic mural of an ice-skating rat carving its way across a surface strewn with banknotes. It’s this mural that gives the gang their name, and it’s their loose connection to graffiti royalty: the mural’s an early Banksy, and would be extremely valuable were its existence known of by society at large. The Banksy proves the Ice Rats’ undoing, since a brutal crane-assisted heist of the wall on which it’s painted sees two of the gang lose their lives, and Metro only survives because she’s at a medical centre, getting treatment after having badly injured her ankle in a fall from a billboard, at the time of the raid. Together with another surviving Ice Rat, the Russian fugitive Vorkuta, Metro hatches a plan to wreak retribution on the ruthless art dealer whose greed has led to the deaths of their two friends …

The book is brutal, and quite violent, and doesn’t paint Metro as a particularly sympathetic character—but then, she hasn’t exactly had much reason to trust other people in her existence thus far. What’s most appealing about the book is its grit and its authentic-seeming graffiti-scrawling detail, though some of the book’s action sequences strain credulity (the climactic conflict especially) and some of the violence seems gratuitous and overstretched. (I read The Girl and the Rat as an audiobook, which might have contributed to my sense that the action sequences were slow: it takes longer to read out loud.) All up, though I wasn’t entirely convinced of the merits of Metro’s vengeful acts in the book’s later chapters, the first half of the story, which focuses more on Metro’s quick-thinking survival on the streets and in the railyards of Berlin, is vivid and appealing.

Advertisements