Saturday, November 04, 2017

Finland: The Winter War, by Philip Teir

After I brought this home from the library, I wondered at my choice when I saw Philip Teir described as a "Finland Swede" on the dust jacket. But it turns out that he was indeed born in Finland and grew up there - there is a considerable Swedish speaking community in parts of western Finland, something that I had not previously realised (but which makes perfect sense, given the proximity of the two countries).

The first sentence is attention grabbing: "The first mistake that Max and Katriina made that winter - and they would make many mistakes before their divorce - was to deep-freeze their grandchildren's hamster." The book then jumps back in time a few months, and chronicles the lives of Max and Katriina, their daughters Helen and Eva, and other family members. Eva is an art student trying to find her way at art school in London. Eva is married to Christian and has two children. Max's mother is elderly and frail. Max is a sociology professor writing a book which has been a long time coming to fruition. He meets one of his former students, Laura, in a chance encounter and invites her to his sixtieth birthday part where his publisher suggest she help Max with his book. This leads to his having an affair with her.

Actually I'm not sure that it should be called an affair. It doesn't seem to mean all that much to Laura, more just casual sex than a real relationship. By the time I finished the book I didn't really have a lot of sympathy for Max, who seemed to be the author of his own downfall. It's a genre of book that I don't read much - stories of modern life with not much of the weird or unusual about it (despite the opening sentence) but it was well written enough that I found it more absorbing than I expected. The epigraph is a quote by August Stridberg: "And yet those trivial matters were not without significance in life, because life consists of trivial matters", which seemed a very apposite choice, after reading the book.

The Winter War was translated from Swedish by Tiina Nunnally and published by Serpent's Tail, an imprint of Profile Books Ltd (London) in 2015.

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