After the Fire
Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy
Vintage Books, October 31, 2017
Henning Mankell, who died in 2015, capped a distinguished career with this follow-up to Italian Shoes, in which Frederik Welin, a disgraced surgeon, was the principal character, as he is in After the Fire. In each novel, Welin looks deeply into his present as a lone resident on an island in the Swedish archipelago, living in his boyhood home built by his grandfather, as well as dredging up past memories.
The major difference between the two novels, however, is in the later book, his house burns down, apparently by arson (of which he is suspected) while he is asleep and narrowly escapes death. Previously, Welin was content to live quietly, taking a daily dip in the sea, even if he had to cut a hole in the ice with an axe to do so. Following the destruction of his home, things change. When a female journalist visits to write a story about the event, it awakens sexual hope in the 70-year-old retired doctor, but to develop into only a close friendship. At the same time, his somewhat strained relationship with his daughter changes for the better.
In other words, the consequences of the house being reduced to ashes forces Welin to approach life differently, accepting life (and death) as it is, rather than as was his attitude toward it in the past. His introspection leads him to develop a more practical approach to his relationships.
Mankell has here written a superlatively insightful look into a man’s mind. While, perhaps, better known for his Kurt Wallender mysteries, Mankell has here added another well-written and -thought-out novel to a long list of other books he penned.
Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2017.