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Monday 9 October 2017

After The Fire by Henning Mankell

I’m not a fan of translated novels…more often than not the text is a little stilted, as the translator is usually a native of the language from which the novel is being translated, English, therefore being the second language. This, from Swedish, wasn’t too bad, although the translator got into a pickle with the past tenses. However, the most annoying thing about this book was that every pronoun ‘I’ was in lower case, every word at the start of the sentence and many proper names didn't start with capital. Is this a Swedish thing? And why wasn’t it picked up by an editor? Five per cent in and I was seriously irked by this, but, as they say on Mastermind, I started so I finished.

I found this book rather dreary and lifeless…like most of the characters. Fredrik Welin is a disgraced retired doctor living alone on an island in the Swedish archipelago. His very mundane and routine life is dramatically overturned when his house is completely burnt down and he loses everything. When the police can find no cause, he is suspected of arson, not really considering that he’s lost his home (one that had been in his family for a number of generations) and just about all his possessions. With only the clothes he was standing in, he then has to deal with his terrible loss, the tragedy heightening his loneliness and purpose in life. Ultimately, of course, he wants to find out who set fire to his house and why. 

Fredrik is neither likable nor unlikable. He is bland, a bit feeble and devoid of any personality, so I found it very hard to feel sympathy...or anything...for him. Many of his neighbourhood islanders were the same. As for his daughter (who he’d only recently come to know), she was really rather obnoxious.

Mankell…I realised halfway through the book…was the author of the Wallander novels. I guess if you’re a fan of those, you might like this, the author’s final work before his death in 2015.

But this wasn’t for me…I found myself wanting to shake the characters to get some passion, a spark of life out of them.

Alas, this left me as cold as the icy sea Fredrik Welin swam in every morning.

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