Friday, 19 October 2012

The Human Part by Kari Hotakainen

The Human Part is an abstract and quite one-sided view of modern Helsinki (and Finland), but as long as you remember this fact, Hotakainen's quirky novel is a joy to read.

The format of the novel is refreshingly different. The story starts with the narrative of the subject of the book, Salme Sinikka Malmikunnas, a a retired haberdashery shop owner. Salme meets an author with writer's block, and for a vast sum of money, agrees to sell her life story to him. (I wonder if authors are wealthier in Finland?) But soon they disagree on the truthfulness of the end product. Salme does not like 'made-up books', but the author cannot help himself, and turns Salme's colourful life into fiction.

Or does he?

A major tragedy 'a certain very sad thing' looms large over the telling of Salme's story. But because Salme is adamant it's not going to be included in her life story, we are left guessing what has happened. All we know is that Salme's husband, Paavo 'is temporarily mute' because of it. But there are further sad things in Salme's life which she herself seems oblivious to. Her three children who all live in and around Helsinki, are not how they appear either. Or has the author invented their other lives, the problems their mother doesn't know about?

As you can see this book is a complicated read, one which I would have enjoyed so much more, had the writer not constantly force-fed a his ideology (capitalism is bad) down my throat. Political theory is much more complicated than that, as is real life.

The Human Part is a good read, and it is especially interesting to fellow author. How would we like it, if while writing our novels, we came face to face with our main character, insisting we are doing a bad job of it? Scary thought...

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