At the age of 60, Max Paul should be able to enjoy the position he has reached in life. He is a respected sociologist, husband, father and grandfather, and lives in a big flat in the centre of Helsinki. And yet, something isn’t right. As a young man he was a star in his field, who in the ’90s gained national recognition as “the sex professor”, following his controversial study of Finnish sexual habits. But he seems unable to complete the book he’s working on; instead he surfs the web and writes anonymous comments about himself on chat forums.
When Laura, a former student, contacts Max to profile him in Helsinki’s largest newspaper in honor of his birthday, something comes to life in him. Laura is young, ambitious and gorgeous. She seems to know what she wants and Max fights himself—until he gives in. Complicating the picture is Katriina, his wife of many years, and their two grown daughters. The youngest, Eva, has moved to London to study art and is torn between a destructive relationship with her brilliant but self-involved teacher and her longing to create art that actually matters.
Over the course of the winter, years of disappointment culminate in a crisis: Everyone returns home for the celebration of Max’s 60th birthday, but by then the hamster is already dead, and Eva feels trapped with her pale young man. Laura, after getting what she wanted, reveals her own private agenda and overturns everyone’s expectations, including the reader’s.
The Winter War is an intelligent literary novel about relationships, families, love and sex that brings to mind writers like Siri Hustvedt and Claire Messud. Teir is a great observer of human behavior, who infuses his characterizations with just the right balance of warmth and satire, bringing each character to life.
The Winter War tells the story of different generations, sex, life choices and art, while also looking at how larger events change our lives and define us. Why do we want what we want? And how can you really know what you want to do with your life?
Finno-Swedish/Schildts & Söderströms
The Netherlands/Ambo Anthos
UK/Serpent's tail (WE)
US & Canada/House of Anansi
“Teir writes with spirit and ease about weddings, dinners, and parties. Makes me think: easy, but not easily forgotten. Loving, but not indulgent. Teir’s novel is the kind of entertainment that speaks both to the heart and the head, with writing that has a lot of finesse.
“Philip Teir has … a fully developed sense for the oh-so-common people and their commonly uncommon experiences; for the small but meaningful minutiae of everyday existence. He brings that sensibility to his writing, as well as a concrete and unmannered style. Also, a visible tenderness for and compassion with his characters, though he is not afraid of making fun of them … The Winter War is entertaining, and provides ample possibilities for identification, while also containing multiple layers and deeper perspectives.
”Teir is an efficient narrator with clear influences from Anglo-Saxon feelgood. I’m just waiting for Hugh Grant to turn up, a bundle of charm. He doesn’t … [The writing] has an ease to it, is packed with light-hearted humor, but the subtext is serious cultural critique … Teir manages to sustain a thriller like nerve – given his subject, the level of suspense is unusually high. The only thing we can be sure of is that sooner or later, the lifestyle projects will crumble. In the novel, as in reality.
“Many things about Finno-Swedish Philip Teir’s debut novel are conventional, but I mean that in the best way possible, as praise. Teir writes his way into an Anglo-Saxon tradition of literary depictions of the middle class, placing himself somewhere between Richard Yates and John Updike, but with a Nordic temperament that naturally enough is cooler… [Teir] writes about the various adventures of an academic middle class family with a realism that is at once ironically compassionate and warmly critical”
“His portrayal of comfortably living contemporary Finno-Swedes is sardonic without being unnecessarily sadistic, kind without being indulgent. I’m having fun as I read, while Teir also touches certain sore spots pertaining to my own life … [Philip Teir’s] debut novel, then, is a timeless portrait of people who have been granted most of what they need in life, and for this very reason find it difficult to be happy.”