Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On Kjell Westö

I read pitifully little Finnish literature, but when I make the effort, I'm often surprised by the excellent, fierce quality. Kjell Westö's Helsinki quartet is deceptive reading, certainly quite uneven at places (though this might be partly due to the translation, I'm not able to read him in his native Swedish), but oddly impressive. I read recently a relatively lukewarm review of him in a Swedish magazine where he was criticized for the "shallowness" of his characters. That is very understandable, there is a strange, gimmicky smoothness there, a sense of passing over things - understandable but still quite mistaken: there is an ambitious scope in those smooth storylines, a grasping for history, for generations.

Strange to find such things in these ahistorical times - he certainly earns his popularity with those narrative skills but the popularity might cost him some critical acclaim. Interestingly, I find myself unable to make any very definitive conclusions, apart from the sense that there is something there. These texts will have to be revisited, and that is very rare with any contemporary fiction, no matter in which language.

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