In eight days I will be traveling to London where I will get to meet so many cool people and be on the BBC and oh my! 2016 is certainly off to a running start. I will blog more about the upcoming trip later in the week.
Published at 12:01AM, December 26 2015
Think Powell and Pressburger’s Black Narcissus crossed with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and you have a taste of this unusual book from a respected Helsinki writer — the first in the “Red Abbey” series around which there is more buzz than an apiary.
The premise is strong: Maresi, our heroine, is a novice who lives in the remote Red Abbey on the island of Menos. She left home for the women-only sanctuary after her younger sister died of starvation during the “hunger winter” (so far, so feminist dystopia).
The First Sisters arrived on the island many years before and created its architecture: the Knowledge House, Sister House and the Temple of the Rose, controlled by a beautiful goddess. The nuns’ survival is partly dependent on a colony of blood snails (still with me?) who produce a precious red dye when scared. Fable has it that a curse will befall any man who sets foot on the island.
This myth is tested when Maresi, the Mother, the Sisters and fellow novices are joined by Jai, a blonde in distress, who arrives on a boat having escaped her cruel father who buried her sister alive. After the Moon Dance (absolutely nothing to do with Van Morrison) the koan birds bring a warning. Jai’s worst fear about her pa (“He will have his revenge on everyone who sheltered me. Everyone”) is about to be realised.
It’s hard not to be impressed with Turtschaninoff’s magical world — with its brave women and fauna — but anyone used to pacey dystopian thrillers might find this story action-lite. Like the first episode of many a TV box-set drama, the story is bogged down with set-ups. I longed for more jeopardy throughout and when the suspense does arrive two thirds of the way through, the resolution is too speedy to satisfy.