Philip Teir – The Winter War (3 stars)

Despondent portrait of a divorce, with excellent comic moments

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Philip Teir – The Winter War

Translated from the original Swedish by Tiina Nunnally, this family drama opens with an acknowledgement of divorce before jumping back to explore the causes. The chapters alternate between the perspectives of four Helsinki family members: fiftysomething couple Max and Katriina and their two adult daughters.

The characters are consciously aware of how performative their lives are, both professionally and as a family unit. They play their parts but display little genuine emotion or affection. Each is isolated in a comfortable but unfulfilled life.

The novel has no catalyst or dramatic climax. Instead, Philip Teir uses clever layering of trivial matters and subtle characterisation to demonstrate their quiet dissatisfaction. With the exception of Katriina, each character is so well-developed that their perspective could be a standalone story.

Despite the bleak outlook on modern life there are excellent comic moments, including a cursing child and the undignified demise of a family pet. These flashes of humour coupled with the youngest daughter’s discovery of self-expression go unnoticed by the family, exposing that the despondent tone of the work derives from their own self-absorption.

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