Secret Passages in a Hillside Town – Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

“Publisher Olli Suominen spent the rainy days of autumn buying umbrellas and forgetting them all around Jyväskylä. He also accidentally joined a film club.”

Olli Suominen is a middle-aged publisher with a loving wife and young son, whose biggest life woes are squint walls in his otherwise lovely house and a propensity for losing umbrellas, when his past makes a rather dramatic reappearance in his life. What happened all those summers when he was a child, memories he seems to have half-suppressed? Who is the girl in the pear-print dress? As his small Finnish town is caught up in the magic of a book about ‘living a cinematic life’, the author turns out to be someone rather surprising…

I absolutely loved The Rabbit Back Literature Society with its mix of magic and darkness, whimsy and nastiness. Grabbing this from NetGalley was therefore a no-brainer, although I did suspect it would struggle to live up to one of my favourite reads from last year – and I was right. Mostly I still very much enjoyed this book, but that hint of unpleasantness started to feel a little… misogynistic? Certainly, a middle-aged male publisher describing dreams about women offering themselves just felt icky.

That was a minor part of things, though, and mostly what carried me through this was the mystery of what Olli had gotten up to in his childhood summers. What are these secret passageways – childhood games, or something darker? What happened to split up the group, this ‘Finnish Famous Five’?

I was also quite intrigued by the book-within-the-book, the Cinematic Guide. I could easily see such a tome doing well in the real world, encouraging people to romanticise their day to day, pretend they’re in a movie – in fact, dressing like a movie star sounds appealing to me right now 😉

As things progress, I did half-guess a bit of the big twist. However, this occurs at the 75% mark, so there’s still a fair chunk of book to go and it does take yet another direction I didn’t expect. No spoilers, but tbh I wasn’t quite sure how ‘okay’ the whole concept was, really – back to that vague feeling of ‘ick’.

Still. High marks from me, although I totally get why this is a(nother) marmite book people either love or hate. I found it refreshingly different to most things I read, and I got real chills when the first revelation about the secret passages arrived. It’s a slow start, but worth sticking with.

NetGalley eARC: 416 pages / 55 chapters
First published: 2010 / 2017 in English translation
Series: none
Read from 21st-10th September 2018

My rating: 8/10

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