Schildts & Söderströms, 2013.
Reviewed by Željka Černok in SBR 2013:2
Review Section: Fiction: The Present
Philip Teir is well known as the culture editor of the Finland-Swedish daily newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet and also as a literary editor and writer with books of short stories and poetry under his belt. Vinterkriget is his first novel.
It is a story about the sociologist Max and his family. Max’s sixtieth birthday is approaching and his wife Katriina wants to throw a party for him (or possibly herself). They have been married for a long time and both have very fixed roles within the family dynamics – Max is the thinker, a university professor unhappy with the progress he is making on his new book, Katriina the doer, a passionate business woman who seems to have everything under control. They have two daughters: Eva who has just left for London to study art and her older sister Helen who is a school teacher and a mother of two, married to the level-headed man she met during her studies. Max is interviewed for a newspaper about his work by his ex-student, a young woman obviously interested in him, which throws him out of balance as he catches himself longing for an affair with her and even consulting his friend, a yoga enthusiast, on how to improve his sexual stamina while his wife is on a business trip. The chance is there, but could it be that he is ‘simply a good person’ and not ‘the cheating kind’?
Meanwhile we follow the lives of his daughters: Helen is dedicated to her family and doing everything right, and Eva is struggling to feel at home in London’s arty circles and ends up getting pregnant by her charismatic teacher. She will return home to Helsinki for her father’s birthday to have an abortion. She will get a surprising visit by her fellow student who will confess his love to her. By the end of the winter both her life and her father’s will change.
The novel is dealing with the possibility of love, which occasionally seems just as scary as the possibility of an affair. People are coping with various roles that modern life has to offer and with all of the small misunderstandings and annoyances that make up everyday human interactions. Teir is very good at depicting this and the reader cannot help but chuckle and nod with recognition at the scenes of middle-class dinners with successful friends or at the arty world where someone will inevitably call their work: ‘Reasons why my girlfriend doesn’t want to fuck me’.
I wish, though, that he would occasionally step away from the clichés; maybe he intended the story to be funnier than it actually is. He obviously has an eye for the little absurdities of life: for instance the episode when Helen invites her new work colleague to dinner hoping to pair him up with her friend, but her intentions are thwarted by her own husband getting too enchanted with the guy. That chapter on its own would have made a hilarious short story.
If Teir’s intention was to paint us a true picture of the modern world – of how people deal with relationship problems nowadays – I would say he completely succeeded. However, instead of the war the title promised we get the world that ends ‘not with a bang, but a whimper’.