Tõnu Õnnepalu (Anton Nigov, Emil Tode)

Princess (as Emil Tode, novel)



Princess (Novels, Estonian)
Published by Täht, 1997, pp. 138

Princess is Emil Tode’s third novel, after the explosively successful debut Border State and Price, which was published under the writer’s actual name Tõnu Õnnepalu. Original to this novel, which again contains homoerotic allusions, is the point of view the author has chosen: formally, Princess is a first person narrative by Anna, the female main character, of the things happening to her and around her. Tode is a lyricist in prose, his text flows quietly and is full of different nuances, here and there impressionistically dispersing, like outlines on some painting by Claude Monet. The dialogue of characters has been given through Anna’s memory, sometimes it is in the language which was actually used at a particular moment (Russian, English, French).

Tode’s novels are usually located "somewhere in Europe", Princess, for instance, is set in a pension in South Germany, where the snowy peaks of the Alps can be seen from the window. Anna and her companion Taaniel feel themselves to be fugitives, as in Estonia they accidentally ran over an annoying drunk and then concealed their crime. They left the body lying in a village church, which had only a short time before had its altarpiece stolen. But nobody follows them and nobody seems to be interested in the crime, so the novel, in its essence, is not so much a crime novel, but a psychological one. In its centre there is an unanswered existential question, which lends tension to the whole work, about unpunished offences and living with a crime on one’s conscience. All the rest is linked to this crucial point.

The minor characters of the novel are a Russian priest Father Aleksander and his sister Marfa, who suffers from TB. The priest also gives the readers the impression of having a criminal background and of the dubious origin of his money. Tode does not tell a straightforward story, but only hints, that Anna’s erotic affection is directed at both of them, at the same time Father Alexander is interested also in Taaniel. In the end Taaniel leaves, and probably returns to Estonia, but it does not seem much to concern Anna. She remains with the strangers, realising the inevitable imperfection of life, and wearing the sad look of a person who leaves the others behind.

In an interview published after the appearance of the novel, the author has said that Princess indicated to the opportunities for freedom at a social, sexual, religious and metaphysical level, and through their relations with each other the characters approach their own essential being. Besides, Princess is also a book of contrasts, intriguingly tender and enjoyable in its seeming simplicity.

Text by Janika Kronberg and Rutt Hinrikus

First published in the Estonian Literary Magazine

Copyright © Estonian Literature Centre. Designed by Asko Künnap. Software by Sepeks