The Pelican’s New Clothes – Leena Krohn


Part Six of my real-time review of

Foreword by Jeff VanderMeer

Part Five (DATURA, Or A Figment Seen By Everyone) of my review of this book HERE.

When I review THE PELICAN’S NEW CLOTHES, my comments will be found in the thought stream below or by clicking on this post’s title.

28 thoughts on “The Pelican’s New Clothes – Leena Krohn

    A story from the city

    Translated by Bethany Fox

    The Paving Stones


    “He liked macaroni more, but that Thursday they only had shepherd’s pie.”

    The story of the boy called Emil (a name that I first mistook as ‘Email’), and the routines such as eating and the money worries of his pyjama-folder of a Mother in the city they have just moved to, while the routines that usually fill out any boy’s world as important and significant are suddenly outweighed by a man in the cafe reading a newspaper that is upside down – but Emil’s message to himself is that it is not the man with a double chin who lives in the same block as he and his Mum, indeed not a man at all, Emil is convinced, but a pelican…
    (Some fine detail here unworthy to be consigned to anyone’s junk folder.)


    “…the relief of nothingness was so easily forgotten.”

    Poignant account of Emil’s dreams of his time with him Mum and Dad at Brook Farm, and now he is in the city block with just his Mum, Nights, slumber, dreams, and nothingness. Like turning off a computer today in 2016, 40 years after this novel was written?
    Emil’s pyjamas are presumably folded, too?


    This is becoming highly delightful, as Emil meets the pelican that everyone else among us seems to see as a normal man. An engaging tutelary relationship seems to impend conversationally between them. The pelican is currently learning his alphabet, just like another pelican, Mr Ramsay in Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse.
    By the way, in the UK, a zebra crossing is one with black and white stripes while a pelican one is controlled by a flashing man plus red and green lights.


    “He didn’t just imitate the train’s whistle, he was the train’s whistle,…”

    Emil visits Henderson the Pelican who lives in the boy’s own city block of flats, and helps with the alphabet etc. There is the promise of the Pelican telling him tales from the Pelican’s point of view to fill in the background of such a state of affairs?
    I like literature that promises things, even if they are never delivered, but here I am confident they will be delivered with more certainty than a Mailer Daemon is these days. Codes use the alphabet, and vice versa?


    “I can speak the dialect of gulls fluently, and can even exchange a few words with cormorants. But the language of humans is the most charming of any that I know.”

    A charming would-be classic now for the English language from that of Finns? Yes, this is an enchanting, Swiftian fable as the pelican that everyone except Emil sees as a man tells Emil of his initial experience in the world of the human, and then his meeting another rich language: music: by attendance at a performance of The Magic Flute… And his problems when seen as a migrant, where ‘abroad’ and ‘inland’ as opposites are wrongly inferred by him.

    “…between the walls of the stone houses.”


    “…I wished to hear the sound of the magic flute, which called me to adventures in the world of humans, and assured me of its musty and richness.”

    I don’t think anyone will forget this self-history of the pelican when attempting to earn money for his fish provender by trying to become a nanny looking after very young children, this transcending the gender-role prejudices of the era – as well as the hidden or instinctive prejudices against birds-as-humans of a parallel era? Nor will be forgotten his showing off his flying to a gob-smacked child on the way to school.


    “I have heard people talk about ‘the great symphony of nature’, but it is not a symphony at all’ because it has no beginning, no end and no direction, it just is, always and forever.”

    A delightful, yet existential-as-pelican-and-man, self-examination by ‘Henderson’, as he becomes a ticket-tearer at the opera house and a would-be member of the choir.
    This is classic stuff.


    “I am a bad bird, keeping you awake in this way.”

    The pelican eventually sings his ‘Little Night Song’ to Emil. It is exquisite in rhyming English; the translator, perhaps, has made it even better than it was in the language of Finns.

  9. Glass and Diamonds


    “‘But don’t you ever have a pain here?’ and the bird pressed his wing against his chest. ‘Don’t you ever feel as if there was some kind of fishhook there that was pulling you back to where you came from?'”

    The bird and Emil go off to a fair where it turns out to be trade fair selling paper shredders. Presumably, these days, shredders are in entropy because of emails and other on-linery?
    Another touching interchange between these two characters.
    You are a fool if you never read this novel.


    “And it came only now, when July was already almost over…”

    That couldn’t be a more appropriate description for today’s date!
    Surprised to see a rare typo in this section: “…who he had never seen before.” And that makes me think that I can never really judge whether this is an accurate translation from the pelican or gullible or cormorantic languages….
    Meanwhile, Emil goes ‘home’ to the countryside to visit his father and others from his childhood, but now he is leaving the city with mixed feelings until he can return to visit the pelican again. A telling tension of relationships.


    A fascinating glimpse at the naivety of the pelican as he wonders at and beautifully describe the need for humans to have more than one world, for example a book he recently experienced (having learnt to read fully now himself while Emil was absent) and what appears on the white screen or through the window of a movie cinema, as he tells Emil on Emil’s return to the city. His deadpan incomprehension at the deviousness of humanity. The pelican’s Asperger’s made charming and incisive about us humans.


    “Once, when he was visiting the pelican’s bathroom, Emil noticed that there was a framed photograph hanging above the bathtub. It was a whole-body picture of a girl dressed in a cloud of white tulle and ballet shoes,”

    “The most beautiful thing about human women is their ears,”

    A touching account by the pelican to Emil about his ballerina friend…
    And a Proustian poem about cake and tea…

    “Reality to dreams is just
    As gleaming diamond is to glass.”

    Perfect. And a perfect synchronicity here a few minutes ago.

  13. ELSA

    A girl in the same block as Emil and the pelican becomes part of the group, but she only senses a birdish strangeness about ‘Henderson’. The latter has befriended Mr Wildgoose at the opera, or vice versa? I think Mr W is a real man, though. I love uncertainty. Only real-time reviews as a dreamcatching or hawling process provide such constructive uncertainty, paradoxically a new certainty of forthcoming gestalt…


    “This sort of thing doesn’t happen.”

    But it does.
    Messrs Henderson and Wildgoose, Elsa and Emil, an outing for a picnic and an outing of themselves, charming, naive, sexy. This is a novel that is its own outing, too, a discovery for anyone who wants to discover it and to take off their own various layers of self as part of the process.


    “When I was a bird,” he said, “I never thought about time.”

    Sibelius was a bird in the last 32 years of his life, I propound.
    And Angels have both hands and wings – like ‘Henderson’?


    “‘It is either lying,’ the pelican said, ‘or then, even worse, it is telling the truth.'”

    A devastating little section where humans are seen as capable of creating both the magic flute and missiles.
    This novel is either lying or telling the truth? Fiction does both, I say.


    “It became clear that there was a dead man in the box, who[m] he referred to in his speech from time to time.”

    And this speech by the pelican to Emil is literally a bird’s eye view of his first encounter with a church and its accoutrements. An eye-opener, indeed, for any who have taken religion and death for granted.
    Pelican as spiritual Gulliver?
    Interesting that in UK during my lifetime, Penguin books (orange) were fiction, whilst Pelican (blue, like this Complete Fiction of Leena Krohn) were non-fiction.


    “You have short beaks compared to us pelicans, but you have managed to poke them into all places.”

    Emil sees Henderson in a library carrel, intent on learning – to become a Renaissance Man?


    “…the pelican was particularly enamoured of violin concertos.”

    I wonder if his favourite violin concerto is that of Sibelius? And I admire the idealistic potential that the pelican beNieves about us humans….
    But I can’t also help visualising his miming of the conducting of Sibelius 32 year silence…

  20. MOTHER

    “It wasn’t good to know about all sorts of things.”

    Hair air balloons. The pelican’s sadness over books he reads. Emil trying to get into adult cinema. But then…
    A very touching portrait of Emil’s mother through his eyes. Bitter-sweet. It as if he sees her for the first time. Really sees her.

    “He cried a little, and the tears flowed into his ears.”


    “He didn’t believe me at first either, but I told him to look at Mr. Henderson’s hands and feet.”

    I almost cried at that.
    The inevitable happens. Episodic, still, but with smooth suspense. Is a zoo a prison, I ask?


    Emil and the pelican in his zoo cage exchange hopeful escaper proposals.
    Highly poignant poem about freedom.
    Studying this section makes me think more of my own Zoo trope in ‘Nemonymous Night’.


    Emil and the pelican in his zoo cage exchange hopeful escape proposals.
    Highly poignant poem about freedom.
    Studying this section makes me think more of my own Zoo trope in ‘Nemonymous Night’.

  24. FLIGHT

    “…the rarity of goodness.”

    Emil and his pincers for freeing the pelican from his cage. A moving scene as they prepare to travel to the coast. Why is coast a magnet? It was in Agra Aska. And a comfortless dream for Emil, in the land of the Black Elephant.
    This is all literary iconic stuff, believe me, for people of any age who can read, and all animals who can read Finnish, and now English.

  25. The Sands of the Shore


    “Animals are immortal because they do not know that they will die. Only humans are truly immortal.”

    So says the pelican. And only a creature such as he who has been both will know whether this is true. Somehow, that creature is any reader of this book… A glorious revelation or a horrific one? I know it is a glorious revelation having now been all three, this classic novel’s holy trinity of generic human, generic non-human and a specific reader that is you.
    Poignancy incarnated miraculously by words, as one reads this farewell scene between Emil and the pelican. Only in English does pelican rhyme with man. One created by a woman. Only now is the crystallisation complete, I suggest.
    This novel would make a lovely cinema film, I also suggest. With music by Sibelius. Including new symphonies as if conjured from his silent period? Not forgetting The Magic Flute.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s