Review: Katoamispiste by Joel Haahtela (eng. The Vanishing Point)

OTAVA, 2010

Disclaimer: This book has, unfortunately, not been translated into English. Thus all the excerpts here have been translated by yours truly.

On the streets of Helsinki, a middle-aged doctor encounters a French woman, Magda Roux, who has traveled to Finland in search of her ex-husband who has disappeared. The only one lead that the womas has is the French translation of a Finnish novel written by Raija Siekkinen.

The doctor recognizes the author, and decides to aid the woman in her search. However, the next day Magda Roux disappeared from her hotel without leaving a word.

The doctor is puzzled by the case; What does he actually know about the woman, her ex-husband, or the author, Raija Siekkinen?

Joel Haahtela is a Finnish author and a doctor specialised in psychiatry. Scrolling through some Finnish book blogs, his name pops up from time to time and often in lieu of raving reviews. Thus when I saw this book on sale, I decided to give it a go. The book is a strange mixture of facts and fiction: the author, Raija Siekkinen, was in fact an established Finnish author who did die in a fire in 2004. Also, the main character in the book is a doctor (specialised in psychiatry) and an author – coincidence? This makes the book seem almost like an small autobiography but according to interviews, it is mostly fictitious.

The main character of the book is a 36-year-old, twice published author and also a recent divorcee. After struggling with writing, he has returned to his practice but something seems to be missing from his life. One day he encounters a French woman who is lost in the city of Helsinki. The doctor offers to walk her to her destination and soon hears the woman’s story. The book resembles a mystery novel in a sense that the man soon begins to pursue the missing Frenchman, travelling in his footsteps. In order to find out about the man, the doctor also starts to look into the history of the author, Raija Siekkinen, who seems to have been involved in the strange case.

For a short book (160 pages) it intertwines several small stories. The flashbacks from the doctor’s past marriage, the imagined scenes of Raija Siekkinen’s life, the chase of the Frenchman; In the end, I found that there were just too much going on. The project that Haahtela has taken with this book is ambitious, and I do applaud him for it. His writing style is beautiful, although rather melancholy. Nevertheless, reading the last pages of the book, I didn’t feel like the story ended. I guess I just wanted more closure, a hint of something final. Also, there were moments where the story just jumped from one scene straight to the next scene, without explaining how the previous had ended. I enjoyed reading this book, but either a) I didn’t really understand it or b) I saw the potential which it, however, did not reach.



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