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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, May 9, 2004

Finnish 'love story' so droll with the troll

 •  The life of Brian quizzically funny

By Ellen Emery Heltzel
USA Today

Troll: A Love Story By Johanna Sinisalo; Grove Press, hardback, $12

"Troll: A Love Story" might be described as a punk version of "The Hobbit." No Bilbo Baggins sightings here, though. The cast includes a gay photographer, his gay consorts and a small, feline-like creature that fills the title role.

Need something to tide you over until the deluxe edition of the "Return of the King" DVD? "Troll" might do the trick.

The novel by Finnish fantasy writer Johanna Sinisalo was a dark-horse winner of the Finlandia Prize, awarded each year for the best novel published in Finland. Although this book exploits the conventions of the fantasy genre, it transcends them.

Trolls are central to Nordic mythology. Both Richard Wagner, who composed the opera cycle "The Ring of the Nibelung," and J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings," appropriated these myths and the beasts that went with them.

Sinisalo cleverly taps this fabled legacy while ditching the fairy-tale tone you might expect. Her book unfolds in short chapters in which the point of view shifts but is dominated by the photographer Angel, who rescues a baby troll from a gang of thugs.

At first, Angel can't believe what he has found. But after searching the Internet, folklore and old newspaper clippings, he stands convinced. It turns out that trolls are a recognized species, Felipithecus trollius.

Angel names his new acquisition Pessi and hides him from the neighbors in his apartment building. But a mail-order bride from the Philippines who lives one floor down figures out his secret. So does the predatory Dr. Spiderman, a vet who helps him bring the troll back to health. Meanwhile, Pessi's presence generates pheremones that make Angel an object of desire among men who once jilted him.

The story hits its peak when Angel recruits Pessi for an ad campaign he has been hired to photograph. Stuffing the unsuspecting troll into a pair of denims, he shoots even as the raging Pessi break-dances across the room. As Pessi angrily tears at the pants, the novel's exploitation theme bursts forth. Pessi struggles, but Angel cares only about the ad he's creating. He has no reaction to the troll's anger and pain. The scene underscores how our ad-driven culture and its images permeate our lives.

This smart, droll novel points out the absurdity of consumerism and arrived on these shores with its own fitting promotional gimmick. Googling of "trolls" locates a Web site for "Evorg Citnalta, the Finnish Institute of Arctic Zoology."

It takes a minute to figure out that it's a publicity gambit: Evorg Citnalta spelled backward is Grove Atlantic, the book's American publisher.