Kjell Westö, The Wednesday Club, tr. from Swedish by Neil Smith (MacLehose, 2016 ). A 2017 Petrona Award entry.
First line: When Mrs. Wiik failed to turn up for work that morning, at first he felt irritated.
This excellent, multilayered crime novel won the Nordic Council Award in 2014. Set in 1938 Helsinki, it focuses on the members of ‘The Wednesday Club’ – a group of six Swedish-Finnish friends who meet regularly for drinks and conversation – as well as other individuals who are linked to them in various ways.
The novel is the story of how and why a crime is committed rather than a traditional murder mystery. The crime in question – triggered by a chance meeting – can be viewed as a tragic individual story, but also takes on larger symbolic dimensions, as historical crimes of the past, present and future are a major theme. These include the crimes committed at the end of the Finnish Civil War (when socialist ‘Red’ Finns were interned in prison camps), the rise of German and Finnish fascism in the present, as well as National Socialist crimes to come (euthanasia and the persecution of the Jews). Another closely linked theme is that of trauma, which is handled with great sensitivity via the figures of Matilda Wiik and Jary.
Reading The Wednesday Club has taught me a lot about Finland, especially its early history. We’re shown a young nation divided by its dual Swedish/Finnish heritage, and by politics and class. Its depiction of 1938 as a moment of great social and political uncertainty also feels resonant now, given that right-wing populism is once again on the rise. The whole novel is beautifully written, and Neil Smith’s translation communicates the measured and occasionally humorous tone of the original extremely well.
The day after finishing this novel, Marina Sofia’s ‘#EU27Project: Reading the European Union’ caught my eye. I’ll definitely be having a go myself, and will use The Wednesday Club as my Finnish entry. To find out more, see Marina Sofia’s post over at Findingtimetowrite. There’s a provisional list of her 27 novels here and you might also find inspiration in this earlier Mrs P post of ’35 European crime novels’.
Thanks for the mention and for joining in. I like the sound of this one. I am fascinated by Finland and its history – a tormented state, at the mercy of its neighbours, much like Poland or other countries in the Balkans.
Thanks for having the idea and getting it up and running! Really looking forward to it (though it will be a bit of a bitter-sweet experience…).
I’m with you on Finland – a fascinating country, and Westo really manages to pack a lot of historical complexity into a seemingly simple story.
This sounds excellent, Mrs. P. I have a real fondness for historical novels, particularly when they are authentic. And this sounds as though it includes a number of fascinating characters. Glad you enjoyed it.
What I liked about this one was the balance between individual and historical storytelling. The narrative has lots of historical weight, but the individual stories never feel overwhelmed, and I found myself getting very fond of some of the characters.
Sounds terrific, Mrs P. Thanks for the heads up.
You’re very welcome, Angela.
Morning Mrs P. Pouring with rain here in Southampton yet again!. I’m becoming very bedraggled every time I get home from shopping 😕.
The Wednesday Club sounds an excellent read, and I always like the combination of historical fact and fiction woven together. It makes it seem less like a school history book.
People know about WWII, but the Winter War between Finland and Russia doesn’t get mentioned that much.
I look forward to reading The Wednesday Club very much.
Morning, Kathy P! Hope you’ve dried off. Just rain here too with a sprinkling of sleet yesterday. I quite fancy a bit of snow, but unlikely for those of us near the sea.
I’m with you on historical crime fiction. It’s a great way to learn about history, but without feeling like you’re being lectured (as long as the author gets it right). There’s a huge amount of history packed into The Wednesday Club, but it’s done with quite a light touch. I found myself stopping occasionally to look stuff up (e.g. a bit on the Finnish Civil War), and could fill in on the detail as much as I wanted that way.
Hope you enjoy!
Sounds like a good one, like most books recommended here. Much as I dislike reading about World War II and events leading up to it and persecution during or after it, I’ll put this on my list and see what develops.
I’m glad you’re putting it on your list, kathy d. It may be that you feel drawn to this one at some point down the road, and if so, I hope you like it. It’s very well written and extremely sensitive in the way that it deals with traumatic subjects.
Having finally managed to visit Finland for the best part of three weeks last summer, I’m off in pursuit of this too. Finland fascinates me as well so thanks for the recommendation and I hope I’m going to enjoy this one as much as your other recommendations I’ve followed up on.
Hello, Stella – you’re very welcome. Like you, I’ve visited Finland (a few years ago), and having been there did add interest and enjoyment to the reading process. I remember seeing the bilingual Finnish/Swedish signs around Helsinki, and reading up a little on Finland’s history then, but this novel’s taken me a few steps further. I hope you enjoy it!
Just bought a copy will certainly enjoy reading it next. Did you notice Jorkim Zander has a new one out? In the US it’s titled ‘The believer’ over here ‘The Brother’ sounds interesting, enjoyed ‘The Swimmer’ have ordered it from the library.
Going by the beebs adverts for their ‘Pure Drama’ programmes, they have filmed Deighton’s SS/GB, loooks interesting. Long while since anything of his was filmed.
Hope you enjoy, Brian! I actually have a copy of The Brother on my shelves, as it’s a Petrona Award entry. I really enjoyed The Swimmer, so am looking forward to reading it.
I’d be interested in seeing SS/GB on the screen – and it explains why the novel is being displayed more prominently in bookshops at the moment too.
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Starting this book today….haven’t read your review or comments yet.
I want to approache this with an ‘open mind’.
Note from a CF novice 🙂