Mihkel Mutt is considered one of the most provocative Estonian authors, a serious conservative full of playfulness, who unites in his work the English sense of humour and the core texts of Estonian culture. His novels, plays and short stories are characterized by a kind of snobbishness, powerful sarcasm, irony and arrogance à la Huxley. Mutt has been compared to Roland Barthes as studying society anthropologically, having a critical and re-evaluating interest in specific systems of the Great Narratives of his nation. He writes, balancing between the values of modernism and postmodernism, perceiving himself at the same time as a writer of myths and the myth itself, as a subject and an object.

Mihkel Mutt was born in 1953 in Tartu. His parents were teachers. He studied literature and journalism at the University of Tartu. Mutt began his prose career as the author of critical pieces and as an editor, after which he turned his attentions to the short story. He has also written and translated plays, written travel essays about New Zealand, Mongolia, Sweden and England, plus newspaper articles. He has published ca 40 books in all genres except poetry and long epic. From 1997 to 2007 he worked as editor-in-chief of Estonia's leading cultural weekly Sirp. From 2007 to 2016 he was the editor-in-chief of the cultural monthly Looming.

Mutt's fictional prose can be characterised by an English-style comedy of manners combined with biting irony and hyperbolic wit. In his satires he is often focused on the cultural world and that of journalism, analysing art and life in a way that is almost blasphemous vis-à-vis the sacred pastures of the cultural élite. Mutt's first novel, Hiired tuules (Mice in the Wind, 1982) is set in theatre circles and exposes artistic bohemianism by way of the characters of two eccentrics. The title suggests that artistic people are without ideals, sniffing out trends wherever they find them, like mice scurrying at the foot of the mountain of art. Symptomatic of the novel is the fact that the main protagonist, when searching for a definition of culture in an encyclopaedia, fails to find one. The novel immediately became a cult object in itself. Its sequel Progressiivsed hiired (Progressive Mice, 2001) is a savage satire on present-day journalism and the world of private art galleries and the artists exhibiting there.  

In Rahvusvaheline mees (International Man, 1994) Mutt describes the process leading up to the restoration of Estonian independence. The novel is based on Mutt's own short period of employment at the Estonian Foreign Ministry, and his attention focuses on diplomacy and international relations.

His irony is sometimes turned to describe the life of Estonian male intellectuals, e.g. in the dialogues of pub-crawling in Kõrtsikammija (The Pub Dweller, 2005), where the protagonist, fearing to die of an illness, wants to visit all the pubs and bars in Tallinn to say farewell. Engaged thus in a kind of socio-psychological monitoring, he is accompanied by a character called Rui, “just Rui“, who makes an appearance in other novels and short stories of the author as well. In the collection of short stories, Siseemigrant. Novellid Rui taevalike kommentaaridega (The Inner Immigrant: Short Stories, with Rui’s Heavenly Comments, 2007), Rui appears even as a co-author.

Mutt has chosen the genre of memoirs lately, mentioning also George Orwell`s Homage to Catalonia as an inspiration. Mutt`s attitude to life is as to a collecting process of the past, aiming to have something worth remembering in the future, as a kind of mental pension fund. Born two weeks before the death of Stalin, he asks for starters if something had then survived from the lost Estonian Republic, and answers that the indicators of the time unveiled themselves covertly, rather indicating something that was not there. The author has had an interesting and versatile life, prone to fascination and full of devotion, and to write it down is a kind of commitment – an urgent and old-fashioned need.

Both in fiction and non-fiction Mutt`s sharp pen exposes strange behaviour in a variety of social contexts. First the reviewer of theatre and later on of society (as Muti tabloid – Mutt`s Tabloid 1999), he is a columnist also interested in policy, without forgetting his playfulness even here. Resembling Mati Unt with his style and fondness of quoting, he writes an intellectual novel, sensing reality theatrically, at the same time highly appreciating privacy, even being himself the object of the chronicle. He has translated Tom Stoppard and Arnold Wesker among others, and is a versatile columnist on domestic and world politics.


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