Anu Holopainen’s Sub-Dermals is a dystopian vision of a world where body modifications are the new norm and people without any modifications are excluded and despised. The more artificial and unnatural you have become, the better you are as a person. What matters the most is how you look, not who you are.
The book is a compilation of different types of texts: blog posts, direct narration, news items and transcriptions of TV-shows. The writing style suits the world of the novel and makes reading a new and exciting experience. The main plot handles the struggles of Jara, a 17-year-old natural boy, anxiously waiting to turn 18, become adult and enter the world of modifications. Jara is sick of being natural, of seeing in his body all the faults he would love to rid himself of.
Jara’s situation gets worse when his parents divorce and he is forced to live in two homes, acting as a negotiator between them. All the while, he is trying to find his true identity. Visiting his dad and his new partner in Helsinki, Jara meets some young people who oppose modifications and prefer themselves as more natural, just the way they are. They dance at a club called Ecoclub, which is some kind of a gentlemen’s club for those who want to enjoy the sight of unmodified bodies. Jara cannot understand why someone would not want to fix the obvious faults in their body and he talks about it repeatedly with his new friends.
The other plot weaved throughout the book is the story of a girl who hides behind the nickname PlastikPrincess. She is underage and already collecting funds for her future modifications. Not all her methods are morally sound. The reader follows the story of PlastikPrincess by reading her blog. The fate of the girl who is interested only in her looks is anything but beautiful. Your looks can buy you company and interest, but it the price you have to pay may yield catastrophic results.
Sub-Dermals is a nuanced critique of our world: an outlook like this is plausible. The beauty standards we follow today are leading us to the point where aesthetic surgery (or as the book calls them, modifications) will increase because people are longing after perfection and a way to control their lives by controlling their looks. This is scary and worrisome. There is some talk about the ethical sides and problems of plastic surgery and also about its possible side effects. This is a very good and necessary book, which provokes the reader to think and makes them wonder what things in life are meaningful and where the world is heading.
Suvi Oksanen, 11/2016
Also by Anu Holopainen:
Kristallien valtakunta (Karisto 1996)
Boreaksen lapset (Karisto 1998)
Welman tytöt (Karisto 2003)