The second novel to be translated into English by popular Finnish novelist Paasilinna; hopefully this sly tale of madness and conformity will generate for him a deservedly wider audience.
After serving in World War II and the later Lapland wars against the Soviet Union, our picaresque hero Gunnar Huttunen purchases an old mill in northern Finland. Spectacularly skilled and industrious, Gunnar soon has the millworks up and running, serving the village. Though he acknowledges he’s at times a bit odd, initially the village tolerates (even enjoys) Gunnar’s eccentricities: his rowdy stories, his impersonations, his mimicry of animals. Indeed, in a manic phase he’s the life of the party. He even finds love with the local 4H advisor, sexy Sanelma Käyrämö. But when depression hits, he bays at the moon, and this obvious lunacy the villagers will not tolerate. Impulsive and occasionally threatening, Gunnar is sent to an insane asylum where among the usual suspects he meets Happola, a draft-dodging businessman whose years of pretending to be crazy are almost over. He helps Gunnar escape (Happola has a set of keys to the asylum so he can conduct business in town), but the life Gunnar returns to is gone. Now an escapee, unable to live in or work his mill, Gunnar takes to the forest. He builds shelter and a comfortable enough existence—Sanelma and other friends bring him coffee and cigarettes, and thanks to the postman he even begins a business correspondence course—but he is a wanted man, rejected by society, forced to live like a hermit. As Gunnar goes to greater extremes to recapture what is rightfully his, he gradually becomes what he is accused of being—a danger to society (and Paasilinna has much fun in defining this bourgeois society, an ill, repressed culture in opposition to Gunnar’s heroic independence).
There is much to like here—wit, pathos and just enough of the extraordinary to transform the novel into a kind of modern fable.