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Winter War by Philip Teir

Even in translation there is a noticeable difference in voice and approach in novels by Dutch and Scandinavian writers.

Herman Koch is shocking in his ability to write about rather despicable people in circumstances we might find ourselves – but pray we never do so. His novels The Dinner and Summer House with Swimming Pool are books you cannot put down no matter how much you feel you need a break from his intensely disturbing but riveting characters and story.

Gerbrand Bakker is another Dutch writer whose novels are available in translation in Canada, The Twin and The Detour are stark, brilliant novels. There is something about the writing by these authors from northern Europe that is quite different from the novels we read by British, Canadian and American writers. There is a much more open and straightforward manner of writing about relationships – less angst perhaps, just saying it like it is – a sometimes refreshing, but often disturbing, clarity.


The Winter War is by a Scandinavian writer, Philip Teir, and chronicles one winter in the life of the Paul family. Max, the father, is a college professor. A bit of a celebrity in the 1970s because of his work about sexuality – now approaching his 60th birthday Max is feeling like a “has been” at home and at work. His wife, Katriina has a busy professional life – and quite frankly she is a bit tired of Max and his self-importance and selfishness. Their eldest daughter, Helen, lives nearby with her husband and two young children. The younger daughter, Eva, is studying art in London.

Poor Max, his aging mother is ill, his wife is busy with her own career and not paying him near enough attention, his daughters are off on their own, when a young journalist who interviews him about his work appears to be interested in pursuing an intimate relationship with him. It only takes one bad decision to wreck a life.

We watch all of these characters make choices – some good, some bad. All choices have consequences. One marriage disintegrates – another is in for a struggle – and another begins. All of it is told with sharp observation of our all too human frailty. 

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