I think the other members of my book club will be really relieved that I actually like this month’s choice ‘Wolf Winter’ by Cecilia Ekbäck. That makes me sound as if I am a really critical and difficult reader, well, maybe I am, but I do always try to find something I appreciate in our book choice, but obviously everyone has their favourite genres, and genres which they don’t like… and sometimes I feel as if the balance isn’t quite right.
I like many different types of books, an example of favourites from different genres, ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ by John le Carré, the Shardlake books by C.J.Sanson, the ‘Rivers of London’ books by Ben Aaronovitch, ‘Game of Thrones’ by George R.R.Martin, any books by Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson, Dickens, Wilkie Collins… so there are novels about espionage, Tudor mysteries, urban fantasy, alternative world fantasy, novels about Iceland…
‘Wolf Winter’ is a historical novel… or is it a crime novel… or is it a ghost story, a historical thriller, a ghost thriller, a Swedish/Lapp historical crime thriller? I actually don’t really care what genre it falls into – it is a fantastic book, so well written, so strange in many ways, so interesting, thrilling, intriguing, puzzling moving… Perhaps that is what I like in a novel – forget about genre but think about strange/interesting/intriguing/puzzling/mysterious and add informative, engaging, unusual.
The story is set in Swedish Lapland at the beginning of the eighteenth century; I guess not many English readers would know very much at all about Swedish history but Ekbäck very subtly lets us understand what is happening, not by great chunks of exposition which might take us out of the narrative, but through the characters conversation, thoughts and memories. A family move from coastal finland to a mysterious mountain area in Sweden, beneath a threatening mountain, Blackåsen. One of the daughters finds the body of a man… local people say it was a bear or wolf which killed him, the wife and main character believes he was murdered. The novel follows her attempts to discover who was responsible as a wolf winter settles on the mountain – a wolf winter, a harsh and terrible winter, worse and harder than usual. Apparently ‘wolf winter’ also refers to a terrible personal crisis in someone’s life… and there is plenty of that in the lives of the characters.
I am utterly gripped by it, totally intrigued, fascinated and mystified… I think I may have guessed who is responsible for the death of the man, but there are other mysteries as well which I have no idea about. This is Ekbäck’s first book and she is now writing her second… I’m looking forward to that!