Contains mild spoilers.
On page 56 of The Mine, Antti Tuomainen issues a challenge both to himself and his reader. The character Emil is reminiscing about the books of his youth: ‘Each book had come with its own unique message, always making a bold claim: love it is eternal; we will die for our freedom…’ Emil is not a particularly reliable critic and I hope that he doesn’t often speak for Tuomainen, but the question has been posed: what is the ‘big claim’ of The Mine?
For about 100 pages after that I think that the purpose is to give us a really good debate about corporate subsidy: the main plot touches on the way in which mining companies extract minerals but leave the taxpayer to clean up the environmental mess – a current hot topic. There is the beginning of a counter-argument to the green position, but the relationship between Janne and Pauliina also suddenly provide a tension between journalism and corporate communications and for a few pages I wonder whether the real meat of the novel will lie in the space between different types of truth.
By the end of the novel I’ve changed my mind again. This is a book the main plot points of which centre around relationships, but it is not really about relationships. (Pauliina, for example, is hardly developed as a character and we don’t really care about whether she and Janne’s failing marriage recovers.)
I’ve spent a bit of time talking about what the novel is not. I think it’s a strength of The Mine that it touches on these areas before bringing us to the point. (Or, of course, it could be a sign of my weakness as a reader…) Whatever. At its core, The Mine is about how choices make us what we are, and there are consequences arising from our actions. That’s true for Janne, true for Emil and also for several of the lesser characters. It’s consistent, too, with the narrative points about ecological degradation, where decisions can lead to irreparable damage.
That sounds a little full on but the stripped-down language (well translated by David Hackston) and taut pacing make reading the book a fairly light experience even if some of the violent episodes are perhaps a little more graphic than I’d like. The asides from Emil and Janne’s thought processes are also fairly amusing at times; mentions of twerking bring the LOLs. And curiously, although the cold weather and destriuctive winter are integral to the tale, the matter-of-fact way in which the elements are presented is refreshing.
I loved this book and I hope you will read it. And if you think I’ve got it wrong and it isn’t about choices and consequences, let me know, will you?
Thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy.