The Brothers is the sixth book out of a total of nine that Lyndsay from Tolstoy is my Cat and I are reading as part of a read-along of novellas published by Peirene Press. We've completed the Female Voices and Male Dilemmas series; The Brothers is the first in the series entitled Small Epics. I've been looking forward to this series all along as I love epic fiction, although I'm more used to it in chunkster rather than novella form!
The Brothers is about Henrik and Erik, Finnish brothers in 1809 who fought on opposing sides of the war between Sweden and Russia, that made Finland a part of the Russian Empire. Although they share blood, there has long been conflict between them, and when Henrik finally returns home, it's to a broken house full of people that hide secrets of their own. In the wintery wilderness, Henrik and Erik must face up to each other and the revelations that are to come.
I enjoyed The Brothers, mainly for the atmosphere. I read this novella in one go on New Year's Day, snuggled up in a blanket with the heating turned up. So it was wonderful to read about the icy Finnish winter, the rugged Farmhand, the distant wife and the frozen rivers. On the back cover, it states that The Brothers is a 'Shakespearean drama from icy Finland' and the atmosphere reminded me a cross between Hamlet and a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. I wanted to dive right into this book, the setting was that vivid.
Despite the historical elements, The Brothers is mainly a story about what can happen to people when they live in isolation from larger communities. Some of the drama and secrets centre around Erik's wife, Anna, but in a way that's inevitable as she's the only woman we read about existing in the community of what seems to be only two houses. When you live so shut off, boundaries between relationships blur and people have to take on multiple roles in your life. That said, I didn't guess the big reveal near the end (although there are plenty of smaller reveals along the way) and I loved that Sahlberg was able to surprise me.
Although I very much enjoyed this book, there was a distance from the characters that stopped me loving it. I don't mind less than perfect characters, so the flaws of Henrik didn't concern me, but it was written in a style that reflected the cold, icy Finnish winter. Whilst I admired the writing, this technique also stopped me from connecting with any of the characters properly, and it was this that made me only like the book, rather than love it. It is a wonderfully written book though, and well worth reading for the atmosphere alone.
Source: From the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
Score: 4 out of 5