The topic of a recent discussion over at the Weird Tradition group at LibraryThing.
Review: “Tainaron: Mail from Another City”, Leena Krohn, trans. Hilda Hawkins, 2005.
This story is long enough that the anthology’s introdctory blurb calls it a short novel. It is narrated, seemingly, by a woman given that we have a dream with a rapist and mention of a dress she wishes she had.
The 30 letters of varying lengths are addressed to someone, seemingly in Europe, who never answers back. They seem to be to an old lover.
The story is long on strange elements and short on dialogue and a conventional plot except in the sequence of events mentioned in the letters.
Tianaron is a city full of what seems like a variety of sentient, insectoid life. No explanation is given as to how it came to be. Indeed, the narrator reached it by ship though she can’t remember exactly how. There is no mention of the city being on another planet other than on Earth.
There are many oddities the narrator, sometimes accompanieed by local native guide Longhorn, encounters.
The dead of the city are taken to subterranean rooms where they are consumed, except for some part of their body taken as a token by loved ones, by what seems the young of the city, beetles basically.
There is a prince long ignored who know who sees no one for years on end.
There are enormous birthing aliens a bit like queen ants.
There is the metamorphosis of the natives – usually with different forms, personalities, and memories emerging with the new body.
There is the suicide funeral pyre of some natives which disgusts Longhorn.
There is the odd parade of something like a living conveyor that moves through the city once a year for seeming no reason and that leaves a trail of slime.
There is the strange pit (rather like an ant-lion’s trap) the narrator visits on the outskirts of the city.
The food is mostly like human food but odd on occasion.
There is the upstairs neighbor of the narrator. Her strange, noctural movements, as if furniture is being moved, eventually drive the narrator to a different place.
There are the large flowers the aliens seem to have a sort of sex with.
There is the custom of some natives to constrict themselves within portable buildings they move from place to place with (in effective, living within nested buildings).
There is the mimic native who assumes the form of different elements of the landscape.
There is a surveyor who literally, as a measuring device, uses his own body. Given that he comes from a line of such surveyors which, as he notes, had different sized bodies, that results in the measurements of the city varying through time. As Longhorn shows the narrator, the city is constantly changing to the extent that no one has undertaken the pointless task of mapping it.
There is Queen Bee, Guardian of the Oddfellows, destitute natives that she feeds – in exchange for some of their happy memories.
(Spoilers ahead – as much as this story builds to anything like a climax)
That the narrator likes her and gives up one of her one memories foreshadows the last letter titled “The Pupal Cell of My Home” in which she says states her intention to, like the natives, undergo a transformation of her own.
Given the hints of her alienation from her previous life and lack of a clear memory of how she arrived or why, it’s not surprising the story ends that way. In effect, she kind of goes native in as much as human biology (and we don’t know really know if she can do it) will allow.
I couldn’t detect any real allegories in the story.
I’m not sure if I liked the story, but I wasn’t sorry I took the time to read it, and it is certainly a uniquely odd story.