Reviewed by Dominic Hinde in SBR 2014:1
Review Section: Fiction, Light-Hearted and More Serious
Den röda drömmen is marketed as a gift for the literary connoisseur, presenting itself as an exploration of the totality of contemporary literature.
In some ways an attempt to show Pirinen’s versatility as writer, each of the genres receives a novella. The stories are subtitled with their nominal style: Pirinen satirises horror, erotica, the thriller and nature writing, among others. The thing about each of the tiny exercises in form, however, is the twisted nature of what emerges.
The erotica is horrifying and disturbing in the extreme. The nature reading is surreal and dreamlike, and the fairy story set in a bizarre reality of people with gigantism leading a very ordinary existence. Several of the stories exhibit a macabre sexual fascination and, in others, the form itself becomes an all-consuming theme. Each of them is a window on the soul, more specifically the unique and complex soul of Joakim Pirinen.
Pirinen’s work is in some ways symptomatic of a book market with nowhere left to go, though wilfully self-aware at the same time. When writers kick out the shadows of great modernist masterpieces and crime writers unintentionally write pastiches of the very novels they are trying to emulate, they do so without the absurdity Pirinen manages to inject into his various experiments. One of the short stories, ‘From 100 to 51’, is created by ‘literally’ writing by numbers as Pirinen counts, then recounts statistics and historical events, but amounts to more than someone just taking on a challenge.
Known widely for his work as an illustrator and graphic novelist, much of it equally dark, Pirinen takes Den röda drömmen as an opportunity to explore a different medium with slightly different ends. In the surreal world he creates, the only certainty is that nothing adds up to the pretence of a coffee book table for the literati. There’s an unspoken truth buried in Den röda drömmen: however we try to write and dress up our work, the same familiar themes creep in.
If he stuck to crime writing, Pirinen could be the next Stieg Larsson but, even when expressing himself in words rather than pictures, he very much remains Joakim Pirinen.