A Suit

Short stories

Ülikond

A Suit (Short stories, Estonian)
Published by Menu, 2013, pp. 160

Mehis Heinsaar (b. 1973) is one of the most original figures in modern Estonian literature: he is a bohemian who has illegally occupied the flats he has been residing in, he communicates with people in semi-mystical art-related salons, he roams as a vagabond through dusky streets or escapes to thick forests in northern Latvia to walk around as a solitary hiker, and he sits in cafés and, in an old-fashioned way, uses a pencil to write in his notebook. All in all, he gives off the aura of a pure type of writer in the classical sense. He is a cult writer whose works were discussed at a special literary conference when he was only 35 years old, and he was given a prestigious literary award even before he had published his first book. Heinsaar has published six books of prose and a collection of poetry and he is mostly appreciated as a master of the genre of short stories, having been showered with recognition and given several literary awards. 

Heinsaar has been characterised as a writer who traces the rhythm of being: his characters move in a dream-like way, sometimes coming to a point and achieving something, but in other cases only aimlessly wandering in the rhythm of being. The main idea of his stories is the discovery and sharing of a variety of matters and moments of the world, conveyed in a supple and poetic style. His language creates sensational experiences, his choice of adjectives is more than creative, and his sentences support and carry on the same cosy and magical atmosphere that is found in his plots. 

The collection of short stories Ülikond contains 14 stories, written in 2003-2013, which are of entirely different tonality than his previous book Ebatavaline ja ähvardav loodus (The Weird and Scary Nature) (2010), where, compared with the rest of Heinsaar’s works, the author seemed to have got lost in a gruesomely grotesque thicket of the erotic, entirely alien to the Heinsaar we are accustomed to. A Suit, however, shows the characteristics of the Heinsaar long established in our literary canon: these are stories of dusk and twilight, where the characters are carried by a fairy-tale-like breath and landscapes, and magical interiors are described in great detail and clarity. Heinsaar has stated that the inspiration and impulse behind his stories usually stem from very definite geographical locations: his short stories are always geographically very specifically grounded, but time in these stories departs from reality and vaguely floats, or has even stopped.  

The fictional worlds of Heinsaar’s stories vibrate between the realistic and fantastic; everyday life is inseparable from the fabulous, magical realism and surrealism. But compared with Heinsaar’s earlier works, the fantastic element has been greatly reduced and now his stories are primarily existential. In the best cases, existentialism is expressed by the overcoming of angst and mental barriers in emotional or spiritual life, and not all of his stories, despite their fabulous nature, have happy endings. His stories can be quite dark and pessimistic, illustrated by this passage: “There will still come a time when you suddenly discover that your best friends have betrayed you, your wife has a lover, your organism has been penetrated by an unknown virus that looks like it’s going to cause long-time, unpleasant and tiring after-effects, your work proves to be a disappointment to you and you will never achieve the things that you were once hoping for and looking forward to. There will come a time when all the wide and inviting roads that were in front of you prove to be dead ends, so that one day you find yourself scowling at the world like a wounded animal, surrounded by lies and only able to grind your teeth in powerless rage and sadness.” 

Ülikond, with its “hours of dreaming”, depression, internal and surrounding darkness and torturing memories, is in a strange kind of accord with Heinsaar’s only collection of poetry, Sügaval elu hämaras (Deep in the Dimness of Life) (2009), which expresses loneliness, fear, pain, angst and human suffering. Still, the magical worlds of this collection of stories not only contain darkness, but also offer us mischievous adventures and even some tips on how to outwit Old Age. 

Text by Brita Melts

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