The Winter War
When you think of modern literature, the difference between literary and commercial, you are bound to consider Jane Austen whose romantic comedies exemplify individual traits. So too Tolstoy. When either wrote it was by virtue of characterisation that the overall story arc was formed. It is no different with The Winter War by Philip Teir
There is Max and there is Katriina. They are husband and wife having been married since the seventies when they were as cool as the times within which they met. Fact is they typify all of that decade’s left-wing soft centred liberalisation. He a Finland-Swede whose first language is Swedish whilst she, a city snob as far as Max’s father Vidar is concerned, speaks straight Finnish. They have two daughters, Helen and Eva, of whom they are both very proud with two grandchildren by the former. They all live respectable middle-class lives. He a sociologist who found fame some twenty-five years ago with a series of publications, she with her degrees and a capacity for health care that sees her globe-trotting when needs arise. Helen is married and teaches. Eva, two years younger at twenty-nine than her sibling, lives the life of an art student in cosmopolitan London. Max is all set to celebrate his sixtieth birthday an event overseen by Katriina. All that can be right with the world is. Then former student, now journalist, Laura Lampella asks to interview Max in the Helsingin Sanomat. Life sometimes throws a mean curve ball.
It is from this platform of respectability, from the comfy, cushioned but failing family, dysfunctional at its core, that the tale is told.
Imagine if you will the ocean lapping at the shore. Four pebbles plop into the ebb and flow, the rise and fall of the incoming tide. As each subsequent swell delivers its undercurrent of silt which builds another shelf so the pebbles rise up surrounded by a growth of additional sea shaped life. In this way Teir forms his characters. This is a book defined in the telling by the shading of its characterisation, by the rich manner in which the author creates narrative around nature, the flaws and short comings of its fictional people.
Language is structured well. Sentences flow direct without embellishment. Translator Tiina Nunnally should be commended. There is no sentimentality within the telling, nor any sense of the obvious even if that is the outcome. As debut novels go this is a stunner.