I don’t hate Esko, but I do find him distasteful. I don’t like his relationship with Katerina, because she’s just not there — as a character, she simply can’t support Esko’s obsession. Esko’s story is told in close, close third person, but all Rayner can do is repeat endlessly how fascinated by Katerina Esko is. But she has no particular quality of any kind that really seems interesting enough. And given the back story Rayner offers? It seems somewhat obscene. I should care about her, for that very reason. I hope that isn’t why she has such a back story, all for the plot point.
Is it because Rayner wants to show the horror of war? Just how bad things got? It feels unreal, though, it feels like a device. Katerina doesn’t really show any signs of being effected, or at least Esko can’t see them.
Perhaps that’s what the story is about. Creepy-stalker Esko’s obsesson with a woman who is ultimately shallow. Or whatever her true story, Esko can’t isn’t seeing her, he’s seeing this fantasy of wealth that he built as a poor abandoned child. Still, I’the text hasn’t really given me any reason to truly belive that, and I can’t quite figure out why.
It’s a ‘telling’ sort of book though, because Esko is a thoughtful, analytic guy, or I assume he must be, because that’s all he does: think at the audience and analysis every little thing unless he comes to an actual insight that might actually move the plot, such as it is, too soon. Esko’s narration also feels terribly passive, and yet he is a driving force in his own life. As reactive as his thoughts are, it reads like things happen to him instead.
Needless to say, I find this a very disappointing novel.
And I’m not sure architecture works in-text. On paper, in two dimensions, all that’s left is the visual, and at least Rayner doesn’t start giving dimensions. But there’s only so many ways to talk about buildings, and none of them are particularly visual, unless you are already familiar with the architecture. It might be easier for these digressions to be from the perspective of a character who doesn’t know architecture, because he or she could offer concrete detail, not knowing the jargon. But Esko only talks in jargon, and reminds the audience again and again about how awesome modern architecture is, but I don’t see it and I don’t care.
Rayner has also failed at giving me any particularly strong impression of early 1900s Finland, or 1920s New York. Sure there are props as he talks about the atmosphere, I can’t feel it, or sense it. Because when the character is just telling the reader how he feels, as opposed to what’s there giving him those feelings, it’s hard for a reader to get the same impression.
Still, I hope there’s something to tie all this together at the end. I’m okay with protagonists I don’t like, though usually because there is at least a side character who’s interesting: Esko has several, though Rayner keeps killing them off. But I love the idea behind this novel, Finnish history, architecture, even a character growing beyond obsessions. But it seems to be a story about fate, and a narrator too genre-savvy to even make the journey interesting.