Sunday, March 29, 2015

He eivät tiedä mitä tekevät by Jussi Valtonen

I don't usually review books that I haven't actually finished. Sorry Moby Dick, Trainspotting and The Anthology of British Poetry. But I will make an exception this time, for what is essentially a brilliant work by Finnish writer Jussi Valtonen. "He eivät tiedä mitä tekevät" roughly translates to "They don't know what they're doing" and I wouldn't fault you for expecting a narrative doused in post-millennium hubris and technology paranoia. Many have compared it to Jonathan Franzen's Freedom and I can see why. The similarities are mostly in the way that the subject matter is discussed, not so much the actual content. However, there are a few parallels such as both protagonists involvement in environmental issues.

Although I'm fairly certain that there are under 10 people in the world that have read both, I will go ahead and indulge myself in a few further comparisons. The biggest difference, I felt, was that after almost 500 pages into Valtonen's work, I still couldn't identify with any of the main cast. I found myself hoping for any positive developments, anything that could lift the tone of the novel from somber. But Valtonen gives us nothing to work with. I always felt depressed after reading this book, and however well written, I couldn't force myself to continue.

Perhaps these are not faults, at least in the literary criticism sense. There are redeeming factors aplenty, however. Valtonen's work is ambitious and mostly succeeds with displaying the ills of modern society. The topics range from the effect of technology on our lives to the way that we fool ourselves into believing in a certain world view. It's clever, intelligent and exceptionally thought-provoking. Valtonen has an engaging way of looking into the thoughts and emotions of his main characters, however dark or brooding they may be. I imagine one day "He eivät tiedä mitä tekevät" will be translated to English and when that day comes, I hope fans of Jonathan Franzen will look up and smile; they are not alone.

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