Wolf Winter, by Cecilia Ekbäck, is a haunting tale of isolation, superstition and murder set in a remote, mountain community in 1717 Swedish Lapland. Maija, her husband Paavo and their daughters Frederika and Dorotea have moved to the Blackåsen Mountain from their native Finland hoping to escape their past. It is not to be.
Whilst out herding goats with her sister, Frederika comes upon the mutilated body of one of the other settlers. His violent death is put down to a wild animal attack but, having examined his remains, Maija will not accept this verdict. Throughout the course of a particularly harsh season, a wolf winter, she stubbornly questions her neighbours about what preceded the man’s demise. It seems that everyone has secrets.
Overseeing the scattered community is a Church determined to suppress the Shamanism which Maija eschews but which still lurks beneath the surface on the brooding mountain. It is unclear what is real and what is conjured up through fear but it cannot be spoken of. Suspected witches will be tried and condemned.
The story is told from three perspectives: Maija, Frederika and a priest who is also new to the area. The prose is sparse, evoking the cold and bleak atmosphere of the setting and the challenges of staying alive in such a wild and isolated place.
As well as portraying the storms and darkness of the day to day lives of the settlers the author explores relationships with a sometimes uncomfortable realism. She skilfully presents Maija’s feelings towards her husband who has changed so much since they first met; the increasing distance between Maija and the teenage Frederika; Frederika’s burgeoning interest in a young Lapp man; the conflicts felt by the priest in his encounters with two of his female flock.
The layers and twists in this tale make for powerful reading. As secrets are uncovered the resultant truths precipitate reactions which must then be dealt with by all. The climax of the tale does not disappoint.
Beautifully written with a clear and haunting voice, this story takes the reader into the heart of a dark and challenging way of life. The cold seeps in along with the story. Wrap up well and enjoy.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Hodder and Stoughton.