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Westo, Kjell - 'Lang' (translated by Ebba Segerberg)
Paperback: 181 pages (Feb. 2006) Publisher: Carroll & Graf Publishers ISBN: 0786717246

Kjell Westo is a Swedish speaking Finnish author, who has previously published poetry, short stories and three novels. LANG is his first suspense/crime novel.

The central character, Lang, is a twice divorced, well-known novelist and host of a TV discussion panel show in Finland. He's a very self-obsessed, slightly pretentious man who totally loses personal control when he meets Sarita - a very self-contained, distant woman. Lang and Sarita develop a complicated and tortuous personal relationship which is not helped by the presence of Sarita's ex-husband Marko. Lang feels physically and emotionally threatened by Marko but his passion for Sarita is so extreme, he cannot tear himself away.

The novel is structured in an unusual manner. There is a narrator, Lang's best friend, who starts off telling the story after a murder has been committed, when Lang calls him late in the night. The story then steps back through the events that led up to Lang meeting Sarita, the difficulties of their relationship, their various split ups and reconciliations and Marko's involvement. The narration of events is interspersed with snippets of the narrator's involvement with Lang since childhood, and even before the crime is revealed in the book, Lang's behaviour in prison, where he is obviously serving a sentence for killing somebody - but who, it is not clear. The victim is intentionally vague until the final clarification - it could be Sarita, it could be Marko, it could really be anybody.

This is another one of those classic Scandinavian style crime fiction books where nothing is easy, nothing is simply resolved, and there are more questions at the end than there are answers. Lang is an unpleasant character - not the sort of person that you could warm to, and even at the end, when it appears that he may just have done something grand and selfless for love, he is at the same time pulling away from the people who try to support him, back into his prickly, self-involved world. Sarita is both a victim and a perpetrator. She uses Lang just as much as he tries to control her. Even the narrator is relieved that his involvement is kept out of the courts and therefore out of the press. Another one of those books that you can't say outright that you loved or even necessarily enjoyed, but you read it, and you think about it for weeks and weeks afterwards.

Karen Chisholm, Australia
August 2006

last updated 23/03/2008 21:02