The title comes from the Swedish term vargavinter (wolf winter) which refers to an especially cold winter season.
In the small isolated community where the novel is set, this extreme cold serves to amp up tensions between the villagers, the new settlers, and their secrets. A family of four move to Blackåsen, aiming to put the trauma of their past behind him, but it turns out that new worries are in store when the youngest daughter, Frederika, finds a mutilated corpse.
The locals don't seem especially perturbed by the find, which they put down to a wolf or bear, but new arrival Maija is convinced something more lies behind the death.
Author Cecilia Ekbäck has travelled and lived in multiple countries and now resides in Canada, but set her debut novel in the landscapes where she grew up. She wrote the book in English, but it has also been translated into Swedish, Ekbäck's native language.
Themes that dominated the novel included home/community and belonging, fear, and trust, and many of the Book Club members felt that the mountain was a character in its own right. The winter also played a central role, causing some characters to suffer, while Frederika says she feels most alive in the cold.
Here is what some of our readers had to say about this month's book:
“I have to admit it sounded a bit dark at first but it's written in such a way that it feels like the reader is there,” – Elle Bushfield.
“Wolf Winter hooked me in the first four pages. I really enjoy a good murder mystery and this one was not bad at all. I like history and I often compare what was going on at the same time in different parts of the world. In my own country, the USA, we were not yet an independent nation and were still colonies of the British. For me this was a good read. I am thankful that I was introduced to this book,” – Bradley Melton.
“Not my usual type of book but who can resist a whodunnit? The author conveyed the bleakness of the landscape and the harshness of just trying to stay alive without being sentimental. Understatement was key to us staying with the story and not being overwhelmed by the individual acts of horror. Interspersed throughout I was fascinated by the the day to day tasks that had to be done to survive – thank goodness for washing machines! My only criticism would be a little too much practical help came from the spirits; at this time magic was very real to people but as we know from the Greek oracles it was not precise and very open to retrospective interpretation. Overall loved this book – thank you for the recommendation,” – Djana Haines.
“It was loosely a thriller, more of a study of character and place and a peek at some of the things that motivate us. So many things, scenes, and characters were lingered on, while others were dropped in so quickly you might not even catch them, especially toward the end. The book definitely made an impression on me of the time, the hardship, the place, and the class structure. And I loved the sense of the supernatural and community with the natural world as somehow conflated – inherited and cultivated skills that were both useful for life but frightening for outsiders,” – Sarah Dandelles.
“As soon as you start reading you can feel the atmosphere of the mountain building until of course winter comes and with it a new set of evil. As I personally love winter and the cold I didn't particularly like that association; then again I don't live in 1717 so I am sure life was much harder. Fear is a big theme here I think. There is fear of the physical kind but also fear of self-fulfillment and fear of being who you truly are. Again I think we need to consider an 18th century prospective and how women were on a different level back then, but still, at times it made it a hard read,” – Samantha Hammell.
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