What an odd little book! Of course, after reading Sinisalo’s ‘Troll,’ I was expecting some oddness.
This alternate-history gives us a Handmaid’s Tale/Brave New World-type mirror of modern-day Finland; one where an exceedingly restrictive social plan has been instituted, and women have been relegated to second-class citizens. The government calls this ‘new’ Finland a ‘eusistocracy, ‘ claiming that it values the happiness and well-being of its citizens above all else. Eugenics is being used to breed ‘proper’ citizens; those who don’t meet certain standards are sterilized. The decadence and decay of more-liberal countries is frequently emphasized in propaganda.
Part of that foreign decay is the production of food containing that dangerous and addictive drug, capsaicin. All spicy foods are banned, and there’s an underground drug trade in chili peppers.
Our main character, Vanna, has ‘passed’ as an eloi femiwoman her whole life, due to her attractive looks. However, she knows she’s really a morlock, and that if she shows curiosity, initiative or other ‘unfeminine’ traits, she’ll be doomed to a life of hard labor. Her life has been devoted to caring for her twin sister, who’s always been a model of eloi domestic passivity. he desire to provide for her helpless sister led her to drug dealing. But now, her twin is missing, presumed dead, Vanna suspects her brother-in-law of murder, and in her grief she has turned to dipping into her own stock – she’s become a chili pepper addict.
Vanna wants to escape repressive Finland with her dealer/partner Jare – but she also wants to find – or find justice for – her sister.
The tone of the book is a bit odd, teetering between silly satire and earnest social critique. I think it would’ve been more successful if it moved more wholeheartedly toward the satire end of things, partly because the ‘science’ here really doesn’t hold up, and partly because the social elements that are critiqued here have been critiqued before, oh so many times. The mix reminded me quite a lot of Atwood’s recent ‘The Heart Goes Last’ – I’d highly recommend this book to fans of that one.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.