Westö’s The Wednesday Club (Finland) and the #EU27Project

Kjell Westö, The Wednesday Club, tr. from Swedish by Neil Smith (MacLehose, 2016 [2013]). A 2017 Petrona Award entry.

westo-wednesday-club

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.

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This photo and race, which ended in a scandal, is incorporated into Westo’s narrative. Thanks to Neil Smith for passing it on.

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’.

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35 European crime novels

Here’s a random list of 35 European crime novels I love.

There are gaps (not all European countries are represented), but these are the ones particularly close to my heart because they’ve opened my mind and brought me joy.

Euro 4

Jakob Arjouni, Happy Birthday, Turk! (trans. from German by Anselm Hollo, Melville House, 2011 [1987])

Pieke Biermann, Violetta (trans. from German by Ines Rieder and Jill Hannum, Serpent’s Tail, 1996 [1991])

Ioanna Bourazopoulou, What Lot’s Wife Saw (trans. from Greek by Yiannis Panas, Black & White Publishing, 2013 [2007])

Roberto Costantini, The Deliverance of Evil (trans. from Italian by N.S. Thompson, Quercus, 2013 [2011])

Jan Costin Wagner, Silence (set in Finland; trans. from German by Anthea Bell, Harvill Secker, 2010 [2007])

Didier Daeninckx, Murder in Memoriam (trans. from French by Liz Heron, Serpent’s Tail, 1991 [1984]; republished by Melville House in 2012)

Euro 2

Friedrich Dürrenmatt, The Pledge (Swiss crime novel; trans. from German by Joel Agee, University of Chicago Press, 2006 [1958])

Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (trans. from Italian by William Weaver, Vintage, 2004 [1980])

Hans Fallada, Alone in Berlin (trans. from German by Michael Hofmann, Penguin, 2009 [1947])

Eugenio Fuentes, At Close Quarters (trans. from Spanish by Martin Schifino, Arcadia, 2009 [2007])

Friedrich Glauser, In Matto’s Realm (Swiss crime novel; trans. from German by Mike Mitchell, Bitter Lemon Press, 2006 [1936])

Euro 6

Petra Hammesfahr, The Sinner (trans. from German by John Brownjohn, Bitter Lemon Press, 2007 [1999])

Kati Hiekkapelto, The Defenceless (trans. from Finnish by David Hackston, Orenda Books, 2015 [2014])

Paulus Hochgatterer, The Sweetness of Life (Austrian crime novel; trans. from German by Jamie Bulloch, MacLehose, 2012 [2006])

Peter Høeg, Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow (trans. from Danish by Felicity David, Vintage, 2014 [1992])

Jean-Claude Izzo, Total Chaos (trans. from French by Howard Curtis, Europa Editions, 2005 [1995])

Euro 1

Hans Hellmut Kirst, The Night of the Generals (trans. from German by J. Maxwell Brownjohn, Cassell, 2002 [1962])

Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (trans. from Swedish by Reg Keeland, MacLehose Press, 2008 [2005])

Carlo Lucarelli, Carte Blanche (trans. from Italian by Michael Reynolds, Europa Editions, 2006 [1990])

Henning Mankell, The Dogs of Riga (trans. from Swedish by Laurie Taylor, Vintage, 2012 [1992])

Dominique Manotti, Affairs of State (trans. from French by Ros Schwarz and Amanda Hopkinson, Arcadia Books, 2009 [2001])

Euro 5

Petros Markaris, Che Committed Suicide (trans. from Greek by David Connolly, Arcadia Books, 2009)

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Buenos Aires Quintet (trans. from Spanish by Nick Calstor, Serpent’s Tail, 2005)

Harry Mulisch, The Assault (trans. from Dutch by Clare Nicolas White, Random House, 1985 [1982])

Håkan Nesser, Bjorkman’s Point (trans. from Swedish by Laurie Thompson, Pan, 2007 [1994])

Europe 7

Ingrid Noll, The Pharmacist (trans. from German by Ian Mitchell, HarperCollins, 1999 [1994])

Lief G.W. Persson, Linda, as in the Linda Murder (trans. from Swedish by Neil Smith, Vintage, 2013)

Dolores Redondo, The Invisible Guardian (trans. from Spanish by Isabelle Kaufeler, HarperCollins, 2015 [2013])

Georges Simenon, Pietr the Latvian (Belgian crime novel, trans from French by David Bellos, Penguin, 2013 [1930])

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, The Laughing Policeman (trans. from Swedish by Alan Blair, Harper Perennial, 2007 [1968])

Euro 3

Josef Skvorecky, The Mournful Demeanour of Lieutenant Boruvka (trans. from Czech by Rosemary Kavan, Kaca Polackova and George Theiner, Norton, 1991 [1966])

Olivier Truc, Forty Days without Shadow (set in Lapland; trans. from French by Louise Rogers LaLaurie, Trapdoor, 2014)

Antti Tuomainen, The Healer (trans. from Finnish by Lola Rogers, Harvill Secker, 2013 [2010])

Simon Urban, Plan D (trans. from German by Katy Derbyshire, Harvill Secker, 2013 [2011])

Fred Vargas, Have Mercy on us All (trans. from French by David Bellos, Vintage, 2004 [2001])

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As many of you will know, the UK voted to leave the European Union via a national referendum on 23rd June, with 52% voting ‘leave’ and 48% ‘remain’ (overall turnout of 72%). This isn’t a political blog, but given the seismic nature of what’s happened, here’s a brief personal comment.

I was one of the 48% who voted to remain and, as a British European and languages lecturer, I’m heartbroken at the result. As a nation, we’ve probably caused ourselves irreparable economic and political damage. We’ve also become a more divided and less tolerant place. Every aspect of our future is now uncertain, and the younger generation, who voted overwhelmingly to remain, will have to bear the consequences of the ‘Brexit’ for decades to come. It’s a monumental, catastrophic mistake that could well lead to the break up of the UK and destabilize Europe.

Those of you in Europe looking on in disbelief, please know that 48% of us did not wish to leave the EU. Many of us regard ourselves as European and are horrified by what’s happened. We don’t yet know how, but we will try to find our way back to you. And if you’re a European living in the UK, please know that millions of us appreciate you for your contribution to British society and the cultural enrichment you bring.

Brexit

Surreal: some UK papers on my kitchen table this morning

 

‘Foreign Bodies’: New fifteen-part Radio 4 series on European crime fiction begins 22 October 2012

This major new series showcases the best of European crime fiction and will be an absolute treasure trove for fans of international crime. Entitled ‘Foreign Bodies: A History Of Modern Europe Through Literary Detectives’, and presented by Front Row’s Mark Lawson, it will air on Radio 4 over three weeks, at 1.45pm from Monday 22 October to Friday 9 November (accessible here). In addition, we’ll be treated to dramatizations of Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Swedish Martin Beck novels (1965-75), and Swiss crime writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Judge and His Hangman (1950). What riches.

Many thanks to @_alisongray for alerting me to the following BBC press release:

“BBC Radio 4 begins a fascinating season of programmes this month featuring a 15-part examination by Mark Lawson of European crime fiction.

In ‘Foreign Bodies: A History Of Modern Europe Through Literary Detectives’, Lawson investigates the tensions and trends of Europe since the Second World War by focusing on some of the celebrated investigators from European fiction, and their creators.

The series accompanies dramatizations of all the Martin Beck novels, starring actor Stephen Mackintosh in the title role. Written by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö the novels are widely acknowledged as some of the most important and influential crime fiction ever written. The authors paved the way for subsequent generations of crime writers to illustrate society and its most dysfunctional elements through crime and criminal investigations, future fallible heroes – Kurt Wallander and John Rebus to name but two – making the best fist they can of their own lives, whilst trying to tackle the violence and crime around them.

Gwyneth Williams, Controller BBC Radio 4, said: “This Autumn we explore the mood and mores of European cities in the company of eccentric detectives. And what better way to take a Radio 4 journey through Europe than to travel with the likes of Martin Beck, Inspector Rogas, Pepe Carvalho, Kemal Kayankaya.

The first of the Turkish-German Kemal Kayankaya series (1994)

“And at the heart of the series we bring you a complete dramatization of the little-known but hugely respected Martin Beck books by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö – all ten of them. These are the stories that inspired the Scandinavian explosion of crime writing we have seen in recent years and are referenced by many eminent writers such as Ian Rankin. Stephen Mackintosh plays Martin Beck and he is sure to hook you in.”

In crime fiction, everyday details become crucial clues: the way people dress and speak, the cars they drive, the jobs they have, the meals they eat. And the motivations of the criminals often turn on guilty secrets: how wealth was created, who slept with who, or a character’s role during the war. The intricate story of a place and a time is often explained in more detail in detective novels than in more literary fiction or newspapers, both of which can take contemporary information for granted.

In ‘Foreign Bodies’, Mark Lawson focuses on some of the most celebrated investigators – everyone from popular modern protagonists including Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander; Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole; and Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano; through to Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus; Lynda La Plante’s DCI Jane Tennison; and Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Martin Beck; back to a Belgian created by an Englishwoman and a French cop created by a Belgian – Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Georges Simenon’s Jules Maigret.

Through the framework of cases investigated by these fictional European police heroes and heroines, ‘Foreign Bodies’ pursues the shadows of the Second World War and the Cold War, conflicts between the politics of the left and right, the rise of nationalist sentiments and the pressures caused by economic crises and migration. Among the writers helping Lawson with his inquiries into their characters are: Jo Nesbø, Andrea Camilleri, PD James, Henning Mankell, Liza Marklund, Ian Rankin and Lynda La Plante.

The ten Martin Beck detective novels featuring Detective Inspector Martin Beck and his colleagues in the National Police Homicide Department in Stockholm will air in two parts. The dramatizations of the first five novels will start on October 27th, 2012 with the second five airing in Spring 2013. The radio dramas are written by Katie Hims and Jennifer Howarth, and directed by Mary Peate and Sara Davies.

Accompanying the dramas and Mark’s series, Radio 4 Extra will broadcast a reading, in five parts, of The Judge and His Hangman in October. Originally published as a novella in 1950 by Swiss writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt, it explores the themes of guilt and responsibility following the Second World War, and shows protagonist Inspector Bärlach finding his own solution to bringing a career criminal to justice.”