Monday 13 July 2015

#CBR7 Book 72: "Populærmusikk fra Vittula"(Popular Music from Vittula) by Mikael Niemi

Page count: 224 pages
Rating: 2 stars

Matti grows up in a tiny town in the remote north of Sweden in the 1960s and 70s. The chapters in this book are more like little short stories about different aspects of his childhood and adolescence, chronicled with humour and the occasional forays into strange, magical realism-inspired fantasy sequences. The inhabitants of his town and the surrounding areas seem to be either deeply puritanically religious or Communists, not caring for the trappings of religion at all. The gruff and peculiar inhabitants are set in their ways and far too prone to alcoholism.

There's the story of Matti's near-mute best friend Niila, whose father, a lapsed preacher, is so domineering and abusive that neither of the many children of the family speak much, and Niila first learns to speak in Esperanto, through lessons he overhears on the radio in Matti's house. We hear about Matti and Niila's childhood discoveries of rock music, with the hits of Elvis Presley and the Beatles making a huge impact on their lives, inspiring them to form a band. There's the friendly rivalry of adolescent boys, and the organised warfare with airguns that the teens orchestrate in the neighbourhood. There's the summer when Matti is trying to make enough money for a guitar of his own, and engages in devious and gory rat extermination to keep the cabin of a visiting German author vermin free.

Because the book is occasionally a straight-forward coming of age narrative about boys in a rural area in the 60s and 70s, but then all of a sudden veers into some dreamlike sequence where a boy gets trapped in a furnace for a winter and starts growing roots, or there is a cross-dressing witch in the woods who can exorcise ghosts, it's hard to pinpoint what the book is actually trying to be. As such, I found the book more frustrating than satisfying. The jumps in narrative, where the story will in one chapter talk about Matti's childhood, then his teens, then back again to earlier in his life, in very strange, seemingly unconnected episodes (all with the common denomination that they're set in Vittula, where he comes from) made the book confusing and while I appreciate the writer's skill, this book just didn't really work for me.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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