I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. This is an ambitious Finnish novel, with a semi-sci-fi twist. More than enough reasons to like it right there. There’s a lot of problems though…
The major problem is that Valtonen doesn’t like any of his characters. Do you remember the Oscar bait film Crash from 2004 by Paul Haggis? It was hailed as a masterpiece and major film about racism. The problem with that film was the same – Haggis despised his characters and most of the film was spent pointing out the various ways in which Haggis thought his characters should do differently. This reads like that film – Valtonen has written a bunch of characters and then spends hundreds of pages pointing out, how those characters are acting stupidly. He! Wrote! Them! It’s extremely hypocritical to then go about pointing out their stupidity.
Valtonen gets basic human behaviors wrong both on individual and demographic levels. This is accentuated by the first problem – pointing out, how his own characters are stupid, is even more awful, when his characters are psychologically unsound.
The only suspense in the book is held by telling things in a weird order. It kind of emulates the fragmentary way in which people remember things, but feels unnatural and is used way too much. When a character drops into a memory, there might be a few more further drops into further memories and we might resurface maybe 150 pages later to actually find out the meaning of these memories in this scene. Also, often there’s no meaning to be found for these specific memories in this specific scene, when we resurface – they are there apparently just because Valtonen likes the trick, and because he is seemingly incapable of revealing the mystery slowly any other way.
The problems are sad. The parts of the novel that work are so good, that this could’ve been a great novel. I wished it to get better all the way to the end, but the ending is just the last punch in Valtonen’s despise for his characters. Now it is an ambitious novel that has huge potential, most of which is wasted.
- Title: He eivät tiedä mitä tekevät
- Author: Jussi Valtonen
- Year: 2014
- Finished in: 24th Jun 2017