At the Fluctuating Reality Club

30 March 2007 | Authors, Reviews

Leena Krohn. Photo: Mikael Böök / Teos

Leena Krohn. Photo: Mikael Böök / Teos

For Leena Krohn, compromise doesn’t seem to be an option. Although the novel Mehiläispaviljonki (‘The bee pavilion. A story about swarms’, Teos, 2006) is her 26th book, her uncompromising approach doesn’t show the slightest sign of relaxing.

Once again, Krohn (born 1947) spreads before the reader an array of fragments of reported realities, which crisscross the boundaries of imagination and challenge the whole traditional conception of the world.

Since the short-story collection Donna Quijote ja muita kaupunkilaisia (1983; English translation: Dona Quixote and Other Citizens, 1995), Krohn has moved more towards the role of thinker and polemicist than ordinary storyteller. In her work in the 1980s and 1990s, she developed a unique, highly personal hybrid literary form, which combines the elements of fiction and essay. Krohn’s attention has focussed on human consciousness, ecology and moral and social questions. Her work has been translated into 12 languages; she received the Finlandia Prize for Literature for her work Matemaattisia olioita tai jaettuja unia (‘Mathematical beings or shared dreams’, 1992).

Compared to Krohn’s previous work, Mehiläispaviljonki is even more demanding and merciless, although it paradoxically weighs in at less than 200 pages. As with much of her other work, the moniker ‘novel’, as applied to Mehiläispaviljonki, is only suggestive. The book consists of short tales, which are often only distantly related to each other; connecting them is largely left up to the reader.

The stories begin with a disused former mental hospital where strange societies begin to assemble. Some of them espouse voluntary poverty, others finance a lavish lifestyle through theft, some oppose new technology, and still another claims to be a club for non-human persons.

The book’s narrator joins the Fluctuating Reality Club; its members gather to tell each other about their experiences with weird, paranormal phenomena like a train that vanished into thin air or a physical being born from imagination.

There are many characters in the book – 15 to 20 of them, depending on how you calculate them. Only fragments are offered about each of them, and no one’s psychology is delved into deeper than the surface. Some are named only by their characteristics: Footless, Ripper, Paranoid. But each one still plays a carefully calculated role in terms of the composition.

In Krohn’s world, the abstract comes first and so nothing is permanently set in stone. A character called the Immunologist is strongly of the opinion that a individual is composed mostly of bacteria. Another of Mehiläispaviljonki‘s characters, the Emeritus Professor, on the other hand, believes that crime is the dynamo of society.

The allegory of the insect world – Krohn’s breakthrough novel Tainaron (1989; available online in English: www.kaapeli.fi/krohn/tainaron/english) is entirely such an allegory –  underlines the chaotic nature of the human world. In the beehive, each denizen has his or her own precise place and purpose. In the modern world of slurred meanings – sick/healthy, criminal/just – man is once again lost and bereft of the ability to see the world in toto. Only fragments and chance observations are left, perhaps traces of a story once told.

Mehiläispaviljonki demands much of the reader. Every story fragment puts its own tentacles into the mix, and they crisscross randomly. It is not uncommon to return after many pages to a character, object or even word that was mentioned only in passing. The book contains at least a dozen openings for a novel or short story, some of which are explored more and some less so.

It is entirely in harmony with the concept of the book that its final story (‘Kolme buddhaa’, ‘The three Buddhas’) is one such possible opening.

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