Happy Pub Day to Emmi Itäranta! Emmi’s new novel, The Weaver, tells the story of Eliana, a model citizen of the island and a weaver in the prestigious House of Webs, who has a secret: she can dream–an ability that’s strictly forbidden. When a young girl is found unconscious with her tongue cut out, the only clue to her identity is tattooed in invisible ink across her palm: Eliana. What links the weaver to this girl? How many secrets are there to uncover? And how much must be destroyed to uncover the truth?
A novel on exposing secrets and revealing corruption, The Weaver is a eco-science fiction at its most memorable.
To celebrate its publication day, we’ve a Q&A with Emmi about major themes and characters in The Weaver. Read on for more!
Compared to Memory of Water, The Weaver has the opposite problem with water: there’s too much of it, at times, for the island and its inhabitants. Why was it important for you to include eco-disaster in a really rich eco-sci-fi novel?
EI: Whichever genre I am writing, my natural instinct is to include reflections on real world issues in my stories because I see fiction as a continuation of reality, rather than something isolated from it. We are currently watching not just one, but many interconnected eco-disasters unfold in our world: climate change, the rapid decline of the Great Barrier Reef, numerous species going extinct at an unprecedented rate. These developments are linked to economic interests and existing power structures. Since power structures are one of the main themes of The Weaver, including an ecological point of view seemed to follow organically from that.
The kind of transvestitism that the character Moth/Ila undergoes was one of the intriguing parts of the novel for me. Ila is a character whose difference, if uncovered, would be met with violence. His secret is a different kind of layer in a novel that deals a lot in unreadable texts: the codex, faces, even, as in the case of Ila, bodies. How do you see unreadable, or limitedly accessible, texts as significant parts of The Weaver?
EI: Unreadable texts and invisible histories are central to The Weaver, because they reflect Eliana’s growing understanding of her innate traits and abilities as something that she has been conditioned to reject, when they are actually her greatest resource. This happens repeatedly to marginalized groups and individuals in our world. What Ila’s character goes through echoes this. The norms and taboos of any society define which stories can be granted visibility, and which must remain hidden – and every society has invisible stories.
I feel that as a writer, one of my jobs is to try to make the invisible visible for the reader. In Ila, I chose to include an intersex character whose very existence goes against what his society deems acceptable or even understandable, partly because this is not an identity I have seen portrayed in fantasy literature (or any literature, for that matter) often. It also connects with the theme of power: Who gets to define us? How do we navigate an existence outside the norm? For me, any fantasy world that does not make a sincere attempt to reflect the diversity of the real world falls short, so I try to do that in my own writing where possible and learn from any mistakes I might make along the way.
For the power structure in place in The Weaver, dreams, and those who can dream, are considered dangerous and even threatening. But the power of dreams, for Eliana, once realized, is an act of agency and empowerment. Out of all the ways to disrupt the dystopian environment, why was it important to you to choose the imaginative realm of dreams?
EI: I chose dreams because anything is possible in them. There are no limitations. I cannot think of a bigger freedom than that, or a bigger loss of freedom than dreams being taken away. And freedom is what The Weaver is ultimately about. Being able to dream something is the first step in making it a reality, and that is why those holding the power in Eliana’s island world are afraid of this ability, trying to root it out before it can threaten their position and the established order of things. Dreams are potent because they are equal to imagination. I also think they make for a metaphor that reaches in many directions and can be interpreted in a number of ways.
It also seems that another way power structures are disrupted is by the relationship that Eliana and Valeria develop. Though it’s a romantic relationship that is revealed slowly and not often overtly spoken of, the characters that seem to piece it together don’t make a big deal of it. Was choosing to make it a normal, unremarked upon aspect of the novel a conscious decision on your part?
EI: Absolutely. As with Ila’s intersex character, with Eliana and Valeria’s relationship I was trying to make the invisible visible. Traditionally, fantasy as a genre is very heteronormative and cisgendered, so I asked myself a lot of questions about how I wanted to approach it: how to acknowledge the existing conventions and where to deliberately go against them. Including a same-sex love story seemed like a natural choice to me, especially in a novel that explores identity in an oppressive society. Yet despite the difficulties Eliana and Valeria face, I did not wish to make their relationship a source of tragedy – because it should not be. I wanted these two women to have a chance at finding happiness together, and feeling that there was nothing wrong with their love for each other. Their relationship, like Eliana’s ability to dream, ultimately becomes a source of empowerment for both of them.