The Brothers by Asko Sahlberg

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The Brothers by Asko Sahlberg

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A tidy little treasure, in the form of a modern Finnish piece of historical fiction with a punch.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 112 Date: January 2012
Publisher: Peirene Press Ltd
ISBN: 9780956284068

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We're in the family home of Erik, in Finland, in 1809. It's large enough to have been the most impressive farmstead when his mother was taken there as a young bride, and she still lives there, with an elderly retainer, Erik, Erik's untrusting wife and some other servants. One night the brother of the family, Henrik, returns, and all the bad blood gets spilled. Not just about a neighbour's horse and hotheaded plans for it, not just over a marriage, and not even about the fact that when Sweden and Russia fought over Finland and the territory changed hands, the brothers were on opposing sides.

This is one of those small books that pack a considerably larger punch, and the publishers - a fairly young, boutique house, are selling it as that - this is their series of the small epic for 2012 and it's first entrant. Other writers would have factored in more of an attempt at a real, earthy Finnish flavour, and I suppose some readers could wish for that. Despite all the sections of the small book being narrated by different characters, named in turn by a sort of stage direction, there is no laborious work separating and defining them. Sahlberg has taken the ethos of 'just enough' and made it a very satisfying work ethic.

The approach, of various narrators in the first person, in turn, can at times let the piece down a little. It's not always a realistic style - at times the sections are very confessional, and don't work as something vocalised. Other times what is a fleeting instance seems to be done at length. But that and the economy of the small book packs a lot in. I liked the line spoken about this disfunctional family - ""They have been given more than most but they do not know how to appreciate it"", which, alongside the valet, reminded me we are only a short remove from Strindberg territory. The publishers see Faulkner in here, others note the splits between brothers, dirty secrets and buried truths brought back to the family home for a grandstanding series of revelations, and recognise Shakespeare.

In fact any summation of the plot and its many tricks and turns, played out in the length of a short evening at the theatre, would sound like the bad soap people say Shakespeare would be writing if alive these days. There actually is nothing whatsoever cheesy here, and this more gentle look at high drama, hiding its literary qualities very finely, is, to repeat, 'just enough' - just enough to make us want to read his other output, when translated.

Much more Finnish flavour can be had in the very different At the Edge of Light by Maria Peura.

Buy The Brothers by Asko Sahlberg at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Brothers by Asko Sahlberg at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Brothers by Asko Sahlberg at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Brothers by Asko Sahlberg at Amazon.com.

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