Tuesday, January 2, 2018

After the Fire

Title:  After the Fire
Author:  Henning Mankell (author). Marlaine Delray (translator)
Publication Information:  Vintage. 2017. 416 pages.
ISBN:  0525435085 / 978-0525435082

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "My house burned down on an autumn night almost a year ago."

Favorite Quote:  "The most important memories are preserved in my mind. I can't weep over the fact that everything is gone. I have to decide what to do. I have no intention of allowing the fire to steal my life."

This is the first of the Henning Mankell's works that I have read. He is perhaps best known for his Kurt Wallander msytery series. Sadly, this book is also the last work he published before his death. The afterword of this book is dated March 2015. He died in October 2015.

After the Fire is the second book by Henning Mankell centered around the character of Fredrik Welin. As the beginning of this book states, it is "a freestanding continuation of Italian Shoes, which was first published in 2006. This narrative takes place eight years later." The freestanding part works on the surface for this book can stand alone. The theme of shoes - Wellingtons, in this case - does run through the book, and, I understand, the characters from the first book carry forward into this one as well. So, below the surface, perhaps much remains undiscovered not having read the first book.

Regardless, this book lends itself to looking at its pieces. First, the main character. Fredrik Welin is a seventy-year physician, although he has long since given up surgery. He is no longer an actively practicing physician at all; the back story is that a dire mistake and injury to a patient led him to quit his profession. Now, he lives on an island in the Stockholm archipelago; he lives alone. His only regular interaction is with Jansson, the mailman, handyman, and closest thing to a friend that Fredrik has. Fredrik's character and his meditations on his life are in essence the theme of the book.

Second, the plot. Fredrik's house burns down, taking with it most of what he owns. The police are in the picture because after all, a fire just doesn't start. The fire also forces Fredrik out of his isolation and into contact with the police, a journalist, and his recently discovered, adult daughter. Fredrik's emerging out of isolation and the investigation into the cause of the fire become the plot of the book.

Third, the setting. Fredrik's island is in the Stockholm architecture. His house was the main structure on the island; now the burned shell remains. The nearest town, if it can be called that, is small. The writing conjures up a picture of damp, cold, and isolation. Yet, at the same time, I want to visit and see this place for myself. It draws you in.

The picture the author manages to draw of the setting is the most memorable part of the book. The introspective main character does not grab me as much as I thought it would. Maybe, something is lacking not having the background of the first book. Maybe, Fredrik's musings get intermingled with the more prosaic investigation into the fire. Maybe, the movement through the present and his memories of the past leaves me as a reader a little scattered. Maybe, the very human, very criminal solution to the mystery of the fire impedes the philosophical bent of the trip through memories. Maybe, the pull away from the main setting of Fredrik's island breaks the spell of the story. Maybe for all these reasons, the setting and Fredrik's search for his Wellingtons are what I take away from this book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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