Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Review of Coffee and Vodka by Helena Halme

by Catriona Troth

I was drawn to the idea behind Coffee and Vodka before I had even opened the first page.  Like me, Eeva, the main character, had moved from one country, and one culture, to another at a young age.  Moreover, they were countries that appeared – to an outsider at least– to have superficially similar cultures, so surely it should be an easy transition.  But as Eeva discovers, particularly for a child, sometimes small differences can loom very large indeed.

Like the television series The Bridge, Coffee and Vodka opens our eyes to facets of a Scandinavian culture that most of us would lump together into one. I loved the way the narrative wove together the viewpoint of Eeva the child and her shock at arriving in a new country, with Eeva the sophisticated adult, returning for the first time to the country of her birth, and finding it both familiar and irretrievably strange.

Without giving too much away, the turning point of the story is the fracture in Eeva’s parents’ marriage. The two halves of the narrative also provide, indirectly, the two sides of the parents’ story.  From the first scene in the book, when Eeva’s papa announces that they are moving to Sweden, tiny uncomfortable clues are planted that all is not well. And when the adult Eeva first appears, it is clear that she has cut herself off from her father.

Yet, with great subtlety, just as Halme shows the child Eeva beginning to see her father in a new light, she also shows Eeva the adult coming to terms with the fact that her mother was not without fault either.  There are, indeed, two sides to every story.

If you are a fan of Scandi-noir, and you’re ready to try something beyond crime fiction, you will surely love this. 

Helena Halme is also the author of The Englishman and The Red King of Helsinki.

You can read Catriona Troth's interview with Helena here.

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