Friday, 15 July 2011

Review: K.A. Laity, 'Vironsusi'

I'm suddenly aware that it's been a while since I recommended a good werewolf story. And given my interest in werewolves, that seems a little odd. So to put that right, today I recommend the short story 'Vironsusi' by K.A. Laity.

'Vironsusi' is found in Laity's 2009 collection, Unikirja: Dream Book (published by Aino Press). The stories in this collection draw on Finnish myth and legend, retelling old stories in a fresh and original way.

I won't go into too much detail about 'Vironsusi', as it is a short piece and to discuss the specifics would spoil it for first time readers. Rather, what I will say is that, as an English writer, researcher and reader of werewolves, it is all to easy to focus one's attention on the Western European (and North American) werewolf tradition. If you're not careful, it's easy to imagine the history of the werewolf as beginning in Latin literature, and moving steadily through medieval romance, early modern witchhunts and Victorian poetry, before arriving comfortably in Hollywood.

Amongst the many things that are lost, if one adheres to this neat little lycanthropic timeline, are the 'other' werewolf traditions - though perhaps 'werewolf' is not quite the right word here - the other rich traditions (from Scandinavia and the Baltic, for example) of human/wolf shapeshifters. And it is in some of these often over-looked legends that Laity's work is based.

'Vironsusi' is a charming example of the way in which Laity retells the old tales of Finland in Unikirja. It is, on the surface, a rather simple story of a... well, let's say 'werewolf' for the sake of brevity. Yet the story bubbles under the surface with unspoken desire, longing and sadness. There is something very sympathetic about the central character, though they are far removed from the 'sympathetic werewolf' of cinema and urban fantasy.

As I said, I'll not go into too many details and risk giving away too much. But I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and the particular take on shapeshifting it offered. It is a well-written and evocative story, based firmly in the fascinating folktales of Finland. I highly recommend 'Vironsusi' - and the other stories in the collection, of course!

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