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Source: (consider it) Thread: February Book Group: The Rabbit Back Literature Society
Fineline
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Hi - the February group read is The Rabbit Back Literary Society by Pasi Ilmari Jäaskeläinen.

I'm not quite sure how to describe it, as it is a rather odd book! It's translated from the Finnish, and the author been compared with Haruki Murakami. It's kind of surreal, about strange, sinister happenings in a small town, and kind of meta, dealing playfully with perceptions of literature and writers.

It's available from Amazon in paperback or Kindle or audiobook format: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00FIP8Y6O/

[Fixed title]

[ 19. February 2017, 18:39: Message edited by: jedijudy ]

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Sarasa
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I'm in and will start reading as soon as I've finished the Georgette Heyer I'm using to distract my mind from the chaos the world is in.

[ 01. February 2017, 09:24: Message edited by: Sarasa ]

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Previously Gussie.
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Jane R
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I'll be in if the public library doesn't let me down... just reserved it and I'm first in the queue <praying that the person who has it checked out is a fast reader>
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Not Too Bad
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i've just ordered from Amazon so will be ready to join in soon.

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Suppose we have only dreamed and made up these things like sun, sky, stars, and moon, and Aslan himself. In that case, it seems to me that the made-up things are a good deal better than the real ones

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Sarasa
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I've just finished it. Must say I'm looking forward to the discussion.

[ 12. February 2017, 08:52: Message edited by: Sarasa ]

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Previously Gussie.
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Ian Climacus

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Sounds interesting! Google Play has it and I have credit, so I will get it and start reading.
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Golden Key
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Have a copy now, so I'm in.

--------------------
Blessed Gator, pray for us!
--"Oh bat bladders, do you have to bring common sense into this?"--Dragon, "Jane & the Dragon"
--"I'm not giving up--and neither should you." --SNL

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Not Too Bad
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Even though I ordered it from Amazon, I got it from the library today (why did I not think of that before?!)
Will be starting it shortly...

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Suppose we have only dreamed and made up these things like sun, sky, stars, and moon, and Aslan himself. In that case, it seems to me that the made-up things are a good deal better than the real ones

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Fineline
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Oops - just realised I wrote the title wrong. 'Literature', not 'literary' - I was so focused on getting the author's name right that I totally missed that! Anyway, looks like people were able to find the book regardless. I'll be posting some questions tomorrow. I hope people found it an interesting read - I'll be interested to see what people made of it.
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jedijudy

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Changed the title for you, Fineline!

jj
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Jasmine, little cat with a big heart.

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Fineline
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Thanks jedijudy. [Smile]

Here are some discussion questions. Feel free to add anything you want to discuss which my questions don't cover.

1. There are very mixed reviews of this book - some criticise it for being 'twee' while others enjoy the quirkiness. What did you think? Did you enjoy it?

2. Did you find it helpful or disorientating to have the viewpoint change between characters?

3. Were there any characters you particularly liked or disliked?

4. The novel has been criticised for having lots of irrelevant information? Did you think this was a flaw or a strength of the book?

5. What did you make of the idea of 'spilling' being more accurate than telling things as a story - the idea that spilling is breaking open the stories and giving the truth as 'unformed essence'?

6. To what extent do you see this is a fantasy novel, and to what extent are the events simply figments of characters' imagination/dreams/hazy memories?

7. What did you make of the focus on Ella's 'beautifully curving lips' and 'defective ovaries'?

8. Could the concept of the 'unreliable narrator' be applied to this novel?

9. A lot of reviews compare this novel with other writers and novels. Did you find it reminded you of any other novels or writers?

10. What questions were you left with at the end of the novel? Did you find the ending satisfying or unsatisfying?

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Not Too Bad
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1. There are very mixed reviews of this book - some criticise it for being 'twee' while others enjoy the quirkiness. What did you think? Did you enjoy it?
I did enjoy it and I found it odd (which I enjoyed!)
It felt like a young adult novel in style although content removed it from that genre in part. His writing style (‘voice’) made it though. He was playful and irreverent and that made it bounce along.

2. Did you find it helpful or disorientating to have the viewpoint change between characters?
Helpful. I like this method of story telling

3. Were there any characters you particularly liked or disliked?
I liked the characterization in the novel. I thought that the author presented quirky, interesting characters some of whom I really got involved with. I liked the fact that young, slim Ella ends up in a sexual relationship with Martti who is a bit of a has-been and is morbidly obese. It was this kind of disregard for your stereotypical hero/heroine that I thought was clever.

4. The novel has been criticised for having lots of irrelevant information? Did you think this was a flaw or a strength of the book?
I liked it as it added mystery. For me the characters and the unexplained mysteries could add up to a sequel perhaps? I’d certainly read it.

5. What did you make of the idea of 'spilling' being more accurate than telling things as a story - the idea that spilling is breaking open the stories and giving the truth as 'unformed essence'?
I firstly thought “Well that would be easy, you would just open up’ but it became apparent that it was more akin to confession than just opening up about a few things. The exhaustion felt at the end of it sounded more like baring one’s soul. It felt invasive, almost violatory as the intention was mining for plot and character details to enhance their own novels/writings. This made it feel 'more adult' in my view.

6. To what extent do you see this is a fantasy novel, and to what extent are the events simply figments of characters' imagination/dreams/hazy memories?
I’d need you to give some examples here.
I took it all at face value. I thought it was a world similar but parallel to our own even if this stems from the events in this book being the things that tip it into another world.

7. What did you make of the focus on Ella's 'beautifully curving lips' and 'defective ovaries'?
I thought it was character establishment. The idea that beauty and imperfection go hand in hand together. That she was tempting but ultimately not the sort of life partner one might choose because she was infertile?
I’m wondering now if I missed something?

8. Could the concept of the 'unreliable narrator' be applied to this novel?
No I don’t think so. We saw completely what was happening. It just so happened that the things that were happening were odd.

9. A lot of reviews compare this novel with other writers and novels. Did you find it reminded you of any other novels or writers?
No I have never read anything similar.

10. What questions were you left with at the end of the novel? Did you find the ending satisfying or unsatisfying?
I’ll come back to this question.

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Suppose we have only dreamed and made up these things like sun, sky, stars, and moon, and Aslan himself. In that case, it seems to me that the made-up things are a good deal better than the real ones

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Not Too Bad
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I feel like I've killed the thread!
I liked the book because I liked the authorial voice. I also enjoyed its 'Scandinavian-ness'. The Creatureville characters reminded me of Moomins and an atmosphere of menace/horror lurked at the sidelines. I felt the author was very successful at building that menace, similar to Grim fairy tales.
There was no warmth in the characters so I didn't feel any empathy for Ella. There seemed to be a sort of detachment from emotion so her talk of 'defective ovaries' was purely informative but that to me 'feels' Scandinavian although I can't explain why. My husband watches and enjoys Scandinavian dramas and that practical, functionality seems to be key in those dramas too.
I thought there was skill in building the defective ovaries into so much of the fabric of the story that the pathos builds from the fact that it is a stated part of her persona and then has to be laid bare as part of the spilling process.
I would be very interested to hear other people's views on why Ella was chosen to be part of the Literature Society. And also your views on Oskar and what happened to Laura/who Laura was?

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Suppose we have only dreamed and made up these things like sun, sky, stars, and moon, and Aslan himself. In that case, it seems to me that the made-up things are a good deal better than the real ones

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Sarasa
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1. There are very mixed reviews of this book - some criticise it for being 'twee' while others enjoy the quirkiness. What did you think? Did you enjoy it?
I rather enjoyed the quirkiness, but although ‘twee’ was not quite the word I would use some of the characterization was a bit shallow. What I did like was that it was a story about being a writer and having the ‘writer’s icy heart’ where you look at any given situation however tragic it is as material for your next story

2. Did you find it helpful or disorientating to have the viewpoint change between characters?
I enjoyed this, though it was a little random

3. Were there any characters you particularly liked or disliked?
Although I’m not sure I got a total grip on her character I liked the way Ingrid Katz compartmentalized herself as a librarian or a writer depending on the situation.

5. What did you make of the idea of 'spilling' being more accurate than telling things as a story - the idea that spilling is breaking open the stories and giving the truth as 'unformed essence'?
I found everything about ‘the Game’ rather disturbing and these were my least favourite bits of the book. I didn’t find ‘spilling’ really added to the story.

6. To what extent do you see this is a fantasy novel, and to what extent are the events simply figments of characters' imagination/dreams/hazy memories?
I thought it was firmly grounded in the magic realism tradition. I assumed everything was happening as told, including Laura White being a nixie and there being gnomes in Ella’s garden.

7. What did you make of the focus on Ella's 'beautifully curving lips' and 'defective ovaries'?
I thought it was the sort of line an author would come up with when first imagining their characters. I didn’t think it really added anything one way or another.

8. Could the concept of the 'unreliable narrator' be applied to this novel?
As I said above, I took it that everything was happening, so the narration was reliable. The ther ten members of the society all remembered Oscar wrongly, but that was more to do with childhood and not understanding his autism

9. A lot of reviews compare this novel with other writers and novels. Did you find it reminded you of any other novels or writers?
It did remind me of the Murakami’s Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki that we read with the book group a while back. Some of that was set in Finland, and there were lots of mentions of Japanese tourists in this book. This made me wonder if the two nations have similar myths and writers that write in similar ways. I’ve never read a book by a Finnish author before, it was good to read something set somewhere different.

10. What questions were you left with at the end of the novel? Did you find the ending satisfying or unsatisfying?
The whole who was Laura White thing was left a bit unresolved. Was she a nixie, the ghost of a drowned author or what? Still the book seemed to end in more or less the right place. I was a bit perplexed by the best selling Creatureville books. It didn't really sound like it would be a goer as a children's book series.

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Previously Gussie.
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Jane R
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Here are my comments, FWIW.

1. There are very mixed reviews of this book - some criticise it for being 'twee' while others enjoy the quirkiness. What did you think? Did you enjoy it?

I'd categorise it as literary fiction rather than fantasy or mystery. I don't read much literary fiction because I don't like the 'look at all these Beautiful People standing around being eccentric at each other' type of book...

Having said that, I did enjoy this one more than I expected to when I started. I thought it improved once the heroine started trying to work out the history of the society.

2. Did you find it helpful or disorientating to have the viewpoint change between characters?

Shared narration is currently fashionable (in the kind of books I usually read) so it was quite easy to cope with.

3. Were there any characters you particularly liked or disliked?

There were times when I wanted to smack all their heads together, but nobody really stood out as particularly annoying or especially loveable. Except for Laura White. I really didn't like her.

4. The novel has been criticised for having lots of irrelevant information? Did you think this was a flaw or a strength of the book?

That begs the question of 'what's irrelevant', doesn't it. I could have done with less description of food.

5. What did you make of the idea of 'spilling' being more accurate than telling things as a story - the idea that spilling is breaking open the stories and giving the truth as 'unformed essence'?

They sounded remarkably story-like still, to me. That's how people recount anecdotal experiences; they do jump ahead of themselves, and miss things out and have to go back and explain, but generally they do try for coherence. And what they give isn't The Truth, as is made clear at the end of the story when we find out that the boy genius was actually autistic and was merely repeating extracts from the classics without understanding them; what they give is merely their own view of events.

6. To what extent do you see this is a fantasy novel, and to what extent are the events simply figments of characters' imagination/dreams/hazy memories?

I suppose Sarasa is right and it qualifies as magical realism, but as I said earlier I'd describe it as literary fiction.

7. What did you make of the focus on Ella's 'beautifully curving lips' and 'defective ovaries'?

I found it very annoying and borderline offensive, as if ovaries are the only thing that matter in a woman and if yours don't work properly you are not a real person. I hadn't actually noticed the author was male until he started blethering on about ovaries, but that made it obvious.

And why, for God's sake, did we have to do 'attractive, intelligent woman in her 20s finds unattractive man in his 40s irresistible'? Sorry, Not Too Bad, but it IS a cliche. If the heroine had been morbidly obese and 20 years older than the hero, *that* would have been a daring reversal of stereotypes. If they had decided to remain Just Good Friends and not bothered having sex at all, that would also have been daring - though completely out of the question in the modern novel.

8. Could the concept of the 'unreliable narrator' be applied to this novel?

All narrators are unreliable. Except for me of course [Two face]

9. A lot of reviews compare this novel with other writers and novels. Did you find it reminded you of any other novels or writers?

*Obviously* Laura White (who may or may not have been a water nixie) was meant to be Tove Jansson and the Creatureville books were supposed to be the Moomin books. I didn't bother going any further into the question than that, because I don't really care for the Moomin books (my husband likes them, but I can't understand why).

10. What questions were you left with at the end of the novel? Did you find the ending satisfying or unsatisfying?

The main mystery (what happened to the boy and his notebook) was solved. And the dogs got to go home, which was nice. But the questions of what happened to Laura White, why there was a Thing in her pond, whether Ella ever finished her research and if so, whether that shifty professor of hers took all the credit for it - were all left unresolved.

I do wonder whether part of the reason why I didn't get on with this book is simply that I don't know much about Finnish culture. I've read the Moomin books (well, some of them) but I've never been to Finland or read any other Finnish authors. So perhaps I'm just missing the jokes, or not appreciating them properly? It's obviously meant to be funny, and some of the jokes I do understand but don't find amusing (A librarian burning books. Ha ha ha. Hilarious.)

[ 22. February 2017, 20:22: Message edited by: Jane R ]

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Golden Key
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Thanks for this book, Fineline. A strange read, but interesting.


1. There are very mixed reviews of this book - some criticise it for being 'twee' while others enjoy the quirkiness. What did you think? Did you enjoy it?

Mixed feelings. Story felt icy, distant, bare. Few adjectives. I finally got into it about ½-2/3 of the way through. Not sure why. Maybe that was where it started moving more deliberately towards what was going on.


2. Did you find it helpful or disorientating to have the viewpoint change between characters?

The way it was done felt awkward. Dorothea Benton Frank and whoever wrote “Your Oasis On Flame Lake” do separate chapters for each character’s perspective. The author of *this* book kept it all in one chapter, and changed to italics mid-sentence. (Though maybe that was the publisher.)


3. Were there any characters you particularly liked or disliked?

Mostly, I didn’t find most of the main characters particularly likable.

--Ella: She seemed a brat. All the members did, to one extent or another.

--Ella’s mom: She showed signs of being a full character, but wasn’t allowed to progress.

--Ella's dad: I liked him. And I figured that, if he had to be stuck with Alzheimer’s, watching Nature wasn’t such a horrible way to spend the day.

--Oskar: I kind of liked him. He also needs a lot of help.

--Laura: Ugh. I’m sympathetic for her winding up under the ice, and recovering from that. But she used those kids. And then there’s the butterfly incident. I wonder if someone/something other than Laura came back from drowning? Maybe her soul moved on, and someone else moved in? Or took her form? That would be a possible explanation for why her mind lost everything, and had to relearn.


4. The novel has been criticised for having lots of irrelevant information? Did you think this was a flaw or a strength of the book?

Huh? For me, there wasn’t nearly enough info nor description. And there were few adjectives. The writing seemed cold, distant, and dispassionate. More like the skeleton of a story. Maybe that’s normal for Finnish writing. I read up a little on Finnish culture, and Finns do tend to be rather diffident. They’re known for it.

Maybe the whole thing is a strange dream? Laura’s? Ella’s? The folklore creatures’?


5. What did you make of the idea of 'spilling' being more accurate than telling things as a story - the idea that spilling is breaking open the stories and giving the truth as 'unformed essence'?

Well, I think taking yellow/scopalamine so often is probably bad for people, physically, and might possibly affect minds and memories in unexpected ways. I also think it’s unwise, dangerous, and stupid to mandatorily spill your guts when anyone in the group challenges you. Not to mention being allowed to harm a reluctant person.

However, I also wonder if someone, somewhere, is stealing people’s memories and stories. There’s a *lot* about memories. And then there’s Ella’s father’s Alzheimer’s, and the possible attacks on him.


6. To what extent do you see this is a fantasy novel, and to what extent are the events simply figments of characters' imagination/dreams/hazy memories?

I think it’s real, within the story. The various folk creatures, AIUI, are still very much a part of the culture in Finland and other parts of Scandinavia. Whether they expect, on some level, to actually run into them, I don’t know. (That’s not poking at those cultures. Some people believe in those sorts of creatures. They’re in my “don’t know” bag—with just about everything else!)


7. What did you make of the focus on Ella's 'beautifully curving lips' and 'defective ovaries'?

I figured that was the way she thought of herself. I wish her character had been more developed. She took to the darkest aspects of the Game too readily. Why? Because her own life was rather stuck? And I think there was a comment, early in her time in the society, about her wanting to use the challenges to answer the ultimate questions. But she never seemed to do that.


8. Could the concept of the 'unreliable narrator' be applied to this novel?

Not sure.


9. A lot of reviews compare this novel with other writers and novels. Did you find it reminded you of any other novels or writers?

They all involve a sort of real-life game.

--“The Eight”, by Katherine Neville. (Well done, but haunting. You might want to read the sequel soon after. It came out several years after “The Eight”, and readers had to wait for certain things all that time.)

--“The Rule Of Four”, by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason.

--“Chasing Vermeer”, by Blue Balliett. For kids and up, but very enjoyable for adults. Lots of fun, and strange happenings, and codes. There are 2 or 3 sequels.


10. What questions were you left with at the end of the novel? Did you find the ending satisfying or unsatisfying?

The epilogue break came too early. The letter was a good ending. But what happened to Laura? Was she somehow snatched into another reality? And what attacked Ella’s father? What about the legend of five kids drowning—any truth to it? Are the Finnish folk creatures real? Are they somehow connected to all the statuary? How does Ella’s floating dream at the store relate to Laura’s floating, just before she disappeared? What all is in the rule book? Are there secrets about Laura’s house? Was Ella’s mother aware of what was going on? There were times when she hurriedly changed the subject, in response to something Ella said. And how are the people who aren’t working surviving financially? Is everyone rich? Or do they get a basic income from the gov’t?

And will there be a sequel? I read that the author has a new book coming out in the fall, but don’t know if it’s related.

ADDENDUM:

I checked the author’s site to find out if there’s a sequel. He mentions a book coming out this fall, tentatively titled "Secret Passages in a Hillside Town". There’s no mention of whether it’s related to RBLS.

There’s also an article called "TIPS TO UNLOCK THE SECRETS OF THE RABBIT BACK LITERATURE SOCIETY".. He says it’s a “literary riddle, and can (mostly) be solved”. It’s going to take some work. He mostly gives page references to look up—and there are many. I haven’t checked any of them, yet. I’m doing a second reading, skimming, this time. Then I’ll try the references.

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Blessed Gator, pray for us!
--"Oh bat bladders, do you have to bring common sense into this?"--Dragon, "Jane & the Dragon"
--"I'm not giving up--and neither should you." --SNL

Posts: 16758 | From: Chilling out in an undisclosed, sincere pumpkin patch. | Registered: Oct 2001  |  IP: Logged
Golden Key
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Another thought:

What if the story is all happening in Ella's dad's mind? That would explain the emphasis on memories, and trying to retrieve them, and the contents of books getting jumbled.

--------------------
Blessed Gator, pray for us!
--"Oh bat bladders, do you have to bring common sense into this?"--Dragon, "Jane & the Dragon"
--"I'm not giving up--and neither should you." --SNL

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Marama
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1 There are very mixed reviews of this book - some criticise it for being 'twee' while others enjoy the quirkiness. What did you think? Did you enjoy it?
Yes I did enjoy it, strange, quirky though it undoubtedly is, which is fun at least occasionally. I can see however that it wouldn’t appeal to everyone.

2. Did you find it helpful or disorientating to have the viewpoint change between characters?
It’s pretty common in fiction, and not a problem.

3. Were there any characters you particularly liked or disliked?
I found Ella reasonably sympathetic, but would agree with those who have described the characterisation as weak, and most of the characters as rather cold. I couldn’t see the attraction between Ella and Martti, and I found Martti prretty unsympathetic.

5. What did you make of the idea of 'spilling' being more accurate than telling things as a story - the idea that spilling is breaking open the stories and giving the truth as 'unformed essence'?
Clearly the idea is that ‘spilling’ gives data rather than interpretation, but it wasn’t really clear from the examples of ‘spilling’ that that was actually the case. Anyway, what is the truth? It is inevitable even if just giving pieces of data that there are choices made about which pieces are included – and as a historian I am very well aware of this issue. But there is something pretty sinister about ‘the Game’.

6. To what extent do you see this is a fantasy novel, and to what extent are the events simply figments of characters' imagination/dreams/hazy memories?
Well yes, this is the crux of the novel, isn’t it? I’m still not sure what happened to Laura White, whether she was dead in the snowstorm or earlier – or not at all. I guess I would plump for deams/memories, but I’m not sure. But nor does it worry me. I was just prepared to go along on the ride.

8. Could the concept of the 'unreliable narrator' be applied to this novel?
Not really. It’s not that there is information missing or deliberately distorted, it’s rather that it’s hard to know how to interprete what we are told.

9. A lot of reviews compare this novel with other writers and novels. Did you find it reminded you of any other novels or writers?
At the beginning I thought of the Jasper Fford novels (Thursday Next), with the altered plots and missing characters. But although there are some similarities, the tone is quite different, more mystical, dreamlike, other worldly, less action – or perhaps more Finnish.

10. What questions were you left with at the end of the novel? Did you find the ending satisfying or unsatisfying?
I found the ending quite satisfying. It explained why the children had their reactions to Oskar, and how they were mistaken.

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Sarasa
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Golden Key said:
quote:
What if the story is all happening in Ella's dad's mind? That would explain the emphasis on memories, and trying to retrieve them, and the contents of books getting jumbled.

I like this idea. I thought that a lot of the book was going to be about her father's decline and then he just died without anything really being developed.
In a way this seemed to be a mash up of a few different genres. there was magic realism but then it could also have been a straightforward mystery story about whether a group of children had killed another child in the past.
Do you think it matters that we don't know exactly what Laura was?

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Previously Gussie.
Newt fancier turned goldfish

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Golden Key
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Correction to my earlier responses:

I got Oskar and Martti mixed up. M is the one I meant when I said I sort of liked him, but he needed help.

If Oskar really couldn't read or write, as his mom wrote in the letter, then how was he able to quote long passages from books he never read? Did someone read to him, or play recorded readings? Or is this where the eerie creeps in again?

I need to reread the sections about his notebook; but there was a comment that his supposedly meaningless designs looked like runes, at first glance. Maybe the book was magical, and really did have 1000 stories in it.

Is Oskar somehow one of Laura's creations? Or a folk creature, like she may have become after her drowning? Is his autism and savant memory part of whatever's going on with memories in that town? Did he somehow pick up Ella's dad's memories?

And Ella can remember very little of her own childhood.

Maybe people's minds and memories are being re-formed, as the book plague does with the books?

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Blessed Gator, pray for us!
--"Oh bat bladders, do you have to bring common sense into this?"--Dragon, "Jane & the Dragon"
--"I'm not giving up--and neither should you." --SNL

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Golden Key
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Sarasa--will try to answer your post tomorrow.

-----

I found something that might have sparked aspects of the book. [Smile]

I first found "The folklore activities of the Finnish Literature Society"

and the actual society:
"Finnish Literature Society"

and they collect oral histories!

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Blessed Gator, pray for us!
--"Oh bat bladders, do you have to bring common sense into this?"--Dragon, "Jane & the Dragon"
--"I'm not giving up--and neither should you." --SNL

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Sarasa
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Golden Key said:
quote:
If Oskar really couldn't read or write, as his mom wrote in the letter, then how was he able to quote long passages from books he never read?
Wasn't this explained in the letter from his mother in which she said that as Oskar's father was blind she read the classics (Melville etc) to him, which is what Oskar was quoting. I suppose something could be made of the idea that Laura either didn't recognise that this wasn't Oskar's own work or she did and wanted to either spur the other children on or dishearten them. I'm not sure I eally got the whole bit about the notebook. Did the other children really go and look at it and did it speak to them in someway. Did it come 'alive' in Marttii's garen after he'd had sex with a woman outside and they'd somehow fertilised it?

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Previously Gussie.
Newt fancier turned goldfish

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Golden Key
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Sarasa--

quote:
Originally posted by Sarasa:
Golden Key said:
quote:
What if the story is all happening in Ella's dad's mind? That would explain the emphasis on memories, and trying to retrieve them, and the contents of books getting jumbled.

I like this idea. I thought that a lot of the book was going to be about her father's decline and then he just died without anything really being developed.
In a way this seemed to be a mash up of a few different genres. there was magic realism but then it could also have been a straightforward mystery story about whether a group of children had killed another child in the past.
Do you think it matters that we don't know exactly what Laura was?

Re magical realism:

I think it was writer Isabel Allende who said she doesn't think of it as magical realism, just reality. I've heard similar elsewhere. So I think that maybe Finland's strong mythology/folklore is just part of life, even now. Whether many Finns actually see these creatures, or expect to, I don't know. Maybe they feel the creatures are another level of reality.

If the author has made a puzzle story and really wants readers to work it out (see my "Tips" post above), then it matters what Laura was. If you're comfortable with RBLS as simply an unusual story, then it may not matter.

I do think that the Laura who went into the water isn't the one who came back out.

--------------------
Blessed Gator, pray for us!
--"Oh bat bladders, do you have to bring common sense into this?"--Dragon, "Jane & the Dragon"
--"I'm not giving up--and neither should you." --SNL

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Golden Key
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(Missed the edit window.)

Isabel Allende was talking about her own and others work being labeled "magical realism", not about this book.

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Blessed Gator, pray for us!
--"Oh bat bladders, do you have to bring common sense into this?"--Dragon, "Jane & the Dragon"
--"I'm not giving up--and neither should you." --SNL

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Fineline
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I'm glad people found it interesting. I did too, and didn't know quite what to make of it - I felt it was deliberately ambiguous - that the author was having fun exploding our expectations!


1. There are very mixed reviews of this book - some criticise it for being 'twee' while others enjoy the quirkiness. What did you think? Did you enjoy it?

I enjoyed it. I didn't see 'twee' as quite the right word - I found it quite disturbing in oarts, particularly the spilling game. Also very odd that the characters were so courteous to each other while doing this weird form of ... well, torture, almost! I think that is what made some people see it as twee, but I felt it kind of added to the creepiness.

2. Did you find it helpful or disorientating to have the viewpoint change between characters?

A little disorientating, the way it was done, but then in a way the entire book was a bit disorientating, so I just saw that as part of the weirdness.

3. Were there any characters you particularly liked or disliked?

I found the characters interesting, but I don't think I really liked any of the, - wouldn't have tristed them as friends, for instance!

4. The novel has been criticised for having lots of irrelevant information? Did you think this was a flaw or a strength of the book?

There was a lot of stuff mentioned that I expected to be revisted and elaborated on - I felt it must be being mentioned for a reason, but then nothing came of it. For instance, Ella's ovaries - I though it might recurr as a theme or be symbolic of something.

5. What did you make of the idea of 'spilling' being more accurate than telling things as a story - the idea that spilling is breaking open the stories and giving the truth as 'unformed essence'?

I found it a really odd concept - the idea that once the person stopped trying to tell things as a narrative, then the 'truth' came out. I found it odd because I think a lot of truth does come out when people tell stories, and also because the apparent truth that came out during the spillings often turned out not to be the truth at all, but children's misunderstandings of a situation, and adults' hazy memories. The whole thing seemed to hinge on spilled memories of the dead tenth member, who had been a sort of magically gifted boy they all resented and may have magically killed - and then at the end you discover he was simply an autistic boy who was reciting some passages from memory. And Martti's confession about having stolen his ideas seems based on misunderstanding and hazy memory (similar to quite a few novels where people remember things wrongly from their childhood - thinking also of 'We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves') - as there was no writing in the book they all assigned so much significance to.

6. To what extent do you see this is a fantasy novel, and to what extent are the events simply figments of characters' imagination/dreams/hazy memories?

For the kind of reasons I just said, the novel seems to me to be playing with the idea of oddities and inaccuracies of people's perceptions, and a lot of very natural different types of brain difference/disability/states are involved. The dad with dementia - dementia will give a different perception of reality. Mental illness, stroke, and mind altering drugs (yellow) are all part of the characters' experiences. And Ella's grief at her dad's death - the weird dream she had about the talking cat was during the time when she was quite unsettled about that. And dreams are a huge part of the novel - dreams are a natural thing and are often very strange. And kids' perceptions of things are often magical. Natural that kids would be having nightmares about Laura White. All those sort of things seemed like they could be quite natural, so it made me wonder (especially after the twist at the end) how much we were to take as magic and how much human perception. (I should clarify that when I said 'fantasy' I wasn't meaning that genre of novel - I would also classify is as magical realism - but more curious the extent to which people take the events as magical things that really happened, or a result of perception.)

7. What did you make of the focus on Ella's 'beautifully curving lips' and 'defective ovaries'?

My reaction to this was similar to Jane R's, especially as the author is a man. I found it an irritating way to describe a woman, and also that Ella pretty much saw herself as defective as a woman because of her ovaries, and the way this made her all vulnerable with Martti. I also thought the idea of a pretty but vulnerable woman with an older, unattractive has-been was a bit of a stereotype - never happens the other way round!

8. Could the concept of the 'unreliable narrator' be applied to this novel?

I think so, in an odd sort of way, and not the conventional way - but everyone who 'spills' is a narrator, and what they spill does turn out to be unreliable.

9. A lot of reviews compare this novel with other writers and novels. Did you find it reminded you of any other novels or writers?

I did find it similar to some magical realism type novels.

10. What questions were you left with at the end of the novel? Did you find the ending satisfying or unsatisfying?

I wanted to reread it in the light of what had been revealed at the end, as I figured it would be a very different reading experience and not so magical. I was also confused about exactly what the dog thing was all about - was it exaggerated due to Martti having a phobia of dogs?

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Not Too Bad
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I feel she was a not-especially-beautiful woman with good self esteem and positive body image. The reference to her lips was her (possibly) one redeeming feature. I see what people mean about her hooking up with an older guy but he was described as being virtually asexual, using food as a means to pleasure as opposed to sex.
I read it as a meeting of equals. She had no reason to want to sleep with him because of his prowess or the fact that he was predatory as he wasn't.

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Suppose we have only dreamed and made up these things like sun, sky, stars, and moon, and Aslan himself. In that case, it seems to me that the made-up things are a good deal better than the real ones

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