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Book Review: The Howling Miller by Arto Paasilinna

13/08/2012

When Gunnar Huttunen turns up in a small village to restore a dilapidated mill, its inhabitants are instinctively wary. He’s big. He’s a bit odd. And he’s a stranger. Everyone loves his brilliant animal impressions but these feelings soon sour when he starts to howl wildly at night.

And once the mean-spirited, small minded locals realise Gunnar won’t conform, they conclude he must be mad. Hounded from his mill and persecuted for being different, only the love of his life and the local drunk stand by him Can he survive? And how?

The Howling Miller is a Finnish novel, but translated to English through the French version. I wonder how much is lost from the original this way? Never the less – no matter how it is translated, I found this book to be well written and it had me chuckling throughout.

The book is set shortly after the second world war and Gunnar Huttenen has appeared in the small town to open the mill. He is a big hit with the villagers at first until he starts this business of howling in middle of the night for no apparent reason.

It is a simple story of how one man’s perceived oddity by not conforming to the town’s expectations, has him labelled insane. It does not matter that some of the towns’ people own behaviour might be considered odd, their oddness is of the acceptable kind.

In the backdrop, the towns people are making a lot of money through supplying timber to aid the Korean war, whilst still getting over the effects of the second world war where they were fighting the Russians. The historical context of this novel is probably more obvious if you are Finnish. All I knew was that they were fighting the Russians during the second world war.

The Howling Miller is described as a black comedy – not the kind that will have you rolling in your seats but the kind that will have you smiling and chuckling. It is light hearted but with something to say about society and how we treat others, whilst forgiving ourselves for perhaps more questionable behaviour.

I would love to read another book by Arto Paasilinna. I liked being in Finland and I like the author’s sense of humour. I rarely go for books that are labelled comedy or humorous because so often I don’t find them that funny. The only other one available in the English language is The Year of the Hare which sounds equally good and strange.

I wish there were more Scandinavian literature available in English other then crime novels, of which they are abundant.

I read for my face-to-face book group and I wouldn’t say it’s one I’d have gone for naturally – as I said I rarely go for books if they’re labelled humour, whatever kind. Ironically – The Dark Side of Love which was one I actually would have chosen and had shown an interest in even before it was selected as a group read, I ended up not liking and this one, which I wouldn’t have chosen, I did.

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This is yet another book that can count towards my ‘Books in Translation’ challenge – I think this might actually be one challenge I do finish this year. This is my 5th book for this challenge and only one more to go until I hit my mark. Woohoo! Double woohoo – I have never read a book set in Finland before or by a Finnish author.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. 14/08/2012 04:54

    Ever since you picked this book up, I’ve wanted to read it. I’m so glad you liked it. I definitely need to read a Finnish author at some point. I’ve already put this book on my wishlist based on your review!

  2. 14/08/2012 11:20

    I have read this book but can’t remember much about it. I certainly didn’t enjoy it as much as another book by this writer, The Suicide Trip, which I absolutely loved and I suggest your try that next. I’m not sure if it’s translated to English, maybe not, actually….

    • 14/08/2012 12:49

      I don’t think it is, which is entirely unfair. I’m going to have to learn another European language just to have access to more books. Maybe they will translate the rest of his catalogue now… have you read The Year of the Hare? That sounds good too.

      I reckon that publishers for the most part just can’t be bothered or won’t take the risk that we would read a book that came from another country. It’s like we don’t even get enough foreign TV because obviously we Brits are too dumb to read subtitles or be interested in something that has to be translated.

      Although thanks to out obsession with Forbrydelsen/The Killing we’ve been getting plenty of Danish and Swedish crime dramas lately. And there are loads of Scandi crime novels but that’s about it… you have to really hunt for the other stuff.

      • 14/08/2012 16:28

        I haven’t read The Year of the Hare. I think you’re right, publishers aren’t so likely to translate to English. We in the Netherlands are always surrounded by foreign books, films, etc. because our own country is so small. So, often we find Scandinavian books translated to Dutch when they are not translated to English even though that is potentially a much, much bigger market.

        Funny was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, that series…. I read all 3 books TWICE before the 3rd book was even translated to English! :-)

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