Unfinished Business: The One with the Bad Hair Days

Sofi Oksanen, Norma (Finnish 2015, English 2017)

I’m in the middle of moving house, and I need good books to see me through this hectic time. Nothing difficult, nothing too challenging, nothing too slow, nothing too fast either (I’m exhausted and can’t follow). Something entertaining, something that takes me far away from cardboard boxes, movers, contractors, registration forms and bank statements.

I thought that magic realism would do the trick and borrowed Norma by Sofi Oksanen from the library, but I could not finish it. To be precise, I read a third of the book, then skimmed the rest. It was probably bad timing. I have read Purge and had liked it. It was not love at first sight but I appreciated Oksanen for pulling no punches and having a strong, original voice.

This novel is daring because it mixes magical realism and fantasy with a dark thriller. Without the magical realism part it would be very tough and chilling. When you add this weird ingredient, the recipe tastes different and confusing… but I’m not sure if it tastes better.

Norma’s mother, Anita, who works in a hair salon, has jumped in front of a metro in Helsinki. Norma can’t believe she committed suicide, and soon enough she discover things about her mother that she didn’t know. Those two lines would be so cliché, if Norma herself had not a very unique characteristic: her hair is growing continuously and intensely (requiring several cuts a day!). Even though the story kind of fell flat for me, I could not help but wonder how Oksanen had come up with such an idea.

Soon enough we are embarked into a plot where Norma’s very special hair has unwittingly taken part to an international traffic of hair extension. I could hear my eyes rolling. I could see Oksanen’s point of women’s body exploitation loud and clear but I couldn’t really muster the energy for caring and being outraged. It was just too weird and abrupt.

Now, I think I’m going to head back to comforting territories for my next read. An Agatha Christie or a Ann Cleeves mystery maybe…


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