cover image Norma


Sofi Oksanen, trans. from Finnish by Owen F. Witesman. Knopf, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-451-49352-1

At the center of Oksanen’s ambitious contemporary fantasy novel is the strange hair of a woman named Norma. It grows peculiarly quickly and sometimes uncontrollably, moves in ways that reflect Norma’s emotions, and grants her far-ranging abilities to detect other people’s physical and mental states. Norma’s mother, Anita, spent her life guarding Norma from the world; the two of them have apartments in the same building in Helsinki and are each other’s sole confidants. When Anita dies in an apparent suicide, Norma needs to understand her death and begins investigating it even as she is suddenly overwhelmed by the weight of everything her mother kept away from her. Oksanen (When the Doves Disappeared) creates intricate characters and imagery, and the hair plays well as a multifaceted metaphor for various forms of the patriarchal exploitation of female bodies. However, the characters are insufficiently three-dimensional for the conceit to read as more than a metaphor, albeit a well-chosen one. (Sept.)