Secret Passages in a Hillside Town, by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

36623661Do not be fooled by the cover of Secret Passages in a Hillside Town. Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen’s novel, skillfully translated by Lola Rogers, is a lot deeper than the lightness of the cover implies. At the start of the book, Olli Souminen is a middle-aged man with a middle-aged life. He works for a small publisher in Jyväskylä, Finland. His wife is a teacher. His son is a quiet boy. Things only start to change when old friends from his childhood reach out on Facebook—then the memories come slipping back and Olli gets another chance at the life he might have had.

Secret Passages in a Hillside Town is a complicated book. In one plot, we have Olli navigating his reconnection to his old love Greta Kara and the members of the Tourula Five, a group of friends who solve a case like a Finnish version of the Famous Five. In another, there are Olli’s dreams about a girl in a pear-print dress, who reawakens his libido. In yet another, we see Olli’s memories about his summers with the Tourula Five. My first impressions of all three were as deceptive as the book’s cover. The more I learned about Olli and his past, the more sinister things became.

Throughout the book, there are excerpts from Greta’s books. Both of them advocate a “cinematic life.” Instead of living a life of inertia, of what she calls the “slow continuum,” a cinematic life means being spontaneous, seizing unique moments to make new relationships or trying something out of the ordinary. Greta also believes that there are places where its easier to live a cinematic life. As she and Olli get to know each other again, they seek out these places and start seizing moments—even though Olli is married and he is being pressured to be friendly with Greta. Olli’s memories reveal that his childhood with the Tourula Five were not as idyllic as he’d come to believe. But when forces start to conspire to rewrite Olli’s life, he (and I) has to wonder if it’s possible to have a guilt-free, consequence-free second chance.

I can’t say much more about what happens in Secret Passages without ruining it. What I can say is that I enjoyed the book the more I read. The translation helped. Rogers did brilliant work in keeping the story’s secrets until they needed to be revealed. When the bombs went off, I was left with an astonishing tale of second chances and the possibilities of a cinematic life.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration. This book will be released 18 September 2018.

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