Troll, by Johanna Sinisalo, translated by Herbert Lomas

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Grove Press, 278 pp, $16.95, softcover.

Finnish science-fiction veteran Johanna Sinisalo certainly puts the fairy back in fairy tale with the sure-footed Troll: A Love Story. A seven-time recipient of Finland's top SF/fantasy prize, Sinisalo made the switch to literary fiction in 2000 with the Finlandia Award ­winning Ennen Pí¤iví¤nlaskua Ei Voi, released in Great Britain last year as Not Before Sundown.

Trolls are uncommon but real in Sinisalo's Finland, presented through the point of view of Angel, a Helsinki photographer and a hottie, at least according to the nerdy student Ecke: "It's as if a Finland-Film stud--a lumberjack, balanced on a log in his turned-up boots--were maneuvering the log-jam away with his boat-hook, his curly fair forelock flopping over his stern eyes and his upper torso shining with sweat." Ecke is pining for Angel, particularly since Angel started smelling all spicy and coming into the bars with this wild light in his eyes...

There's a reason Angel is so in touch with his animal side, and it's not long before half of gay Helsinki knows something unusual is going on in his designer apartment. The troll cub that Angel discovers in the opening pages comes to embody his physical desires, and as he nurses it back to health, each finds his particular hunger swelling.

The men in Troll display an astonishing variety of hungers, and Sinisalo makes clever use of juxtaposition between Angel's point of view and others' to criticize humanity's self-serving morality. Angel lusts after an ad exec who seems less noble than savage Pessi, and a mail-order bride who lives in a suite downstairs is as exotic and powerless as the captive troll.

Throughout, Sinisalo bounces between the modern story--told through Angel and others--and historical/scientific texts of a convincingly wooden nature. Contrast and a dry humour are the foundation for the novel, and their weird commingling only contributes to the book's haunting spell.

John Burns is coauthor of The Urban Picnic (Arsenal Pulp Press, $24.95).