Troll: A Love Story by Johanna Sinisalo caught me off guard. The premise — a gay photographer named Angel rescues a troll cub from brutal teenagers and all that follows — blurs the line of real and make believe. Blending both, Sinisalo mixes doses of encyclopedia entries, newspaper articles and books, and Angel’s point of view, all focused on the one implausible piece: that trolls exist, and most particularly, this troll, whom Angel names Pessi. On the outskirts of this event are the people who surround Angel — an ex-lover, an unrequited love, a wannabe lover, and an abused mail-order wife who lives downstairs. Each becomes aware of the troll’s existence as Angel exploits them for what they can give, nor does Angel draw the line at manipulating humans for what he needs.
Still, Angel loves Pessi. And Pessi, it turns out, loves Angel.
Based on all the information we’re given about trolls thoughout the novel, it’s a given that no troll/human love story will end happily. This is a fairytale in the spirit of the Grimm Brothers, rather than a Disney-modified version. The dark is always with us, from Angel’s discovery of Pessi to the required journey through the forest and into self-knowledge. While trolls have always been regarded as the monsters, this book makes us wonder just who is the real monster. The answer is neither resolved nor undisturbing.
Despite all the wonder, there are some faults. I had no idea Angel was male initially, so the discovery that he was surprised me. I remain unconvinced that Sinisalo did this accidentally — it served the purpose of getting me off balance and the rest of the tale continued along that path. It took me a while to adjust to the point of view switches between the various characters. (Hint: Pay attention to the scene headers.) I also would have preferred less of the nonfiction-styled entries. I was far more intrigued in the relationship between troll and human and wanted to see more interaction between them, rather than skimming the articles, pointed or not. However, Ms. Sinisalo did not consult my preferences, and even with the lapse in judgement, she’s done a darn fine job.
Troll: A Love Story won the Finlandia prize for best fiction published in Finland, and deservedly so. I’ll be on the lookout for more of her fiction, and if you haven’t read this one yet, it’s well worth the money for the trade paperback.