Dominic Cavendish on literature

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The Independent Online

"The Finnish language is the most beautiful language in the world," Rosa Liksom informs the small crowd gathered together in a remote nook of the Royal Festival Hall. The audience laughs. It's the sort of thing that is expected of a Finnish writer/performance artist on tour when they find themselves sharing their London billing with a certain Euro 96 semi- final. Then Liksom (below) laughs too, and everyone realises that she was actually being serious. It's a short show, this one, just herself and the poet Jyrki Kiiskinen reading original and translated extracts, but it is filled with extraordinary moments of false recognition. Both writers see themselves as part of a generation whose identity is bound up as much with a postmodern, urban experience as with their country's legendary natural landscape. But contemporary reference points that should seem familiar can suddenly twist away into stranger constellations. Many of the stories from Liksom's best known work, One Night Stands - some of which are read here - are set in violent, dark, cold cityscapes, but judging by the coarse, dispassionate style (exacerbated by the American translation) and Liksom's own interjections, the intended response is a wry smile. A woman decides to get rid of a depressed lover ("The fucker Velcroed himself to me on the basis of one night"), saying "I thought I had got me a real man" - "What a mistake!" Liksom adds cheerfully.

Kiiskinen, editor of Finland's best known literary magazine, Books from Finland, also takes on troubled male/female relations. His use of a conventional genre (detective fiction) briefly allows you to think that you're getting the measure of them. Then Liksom goes and shows some 8mm movies she made with friends. Drag queens in dark glasses cavort and pout to American pop standards. Everything is green and orange. Liksom giggles throughout. Is it nervousness or pride? It's impossible to say - which is just what you expected, really.

Tonight, 8pm, The Shed, Malton, N Yorks (01653 668494) pounds 7.50