The Summer House by Philip Teir (transl. Tiina Nunnally): A smart piece of summer reading

Cover imageI reviewed Philip Teir’s debut, A Winter War, back in 2015 when I described it as the perfect winter read, a book to tuck yourself up with. It may seem a little lazy but it’s hard to resist describing The Summer House as the perfect summer read. Set against a backdrop of a long holiday spent in the Finnish countryside, Teir’s second novel explores the dynamics of modern family life.

While Julia packs up the car ready to drive to Mjölkviken, she wonders where Erik has got to, idly trying life as a single parent on for size. They drive off later than planned with ten-year-old Anton and twelve-year-old Alice, each with their own expectations and worries. Erik plans to find his way back into fatherhood after long hours spent working in the IT department of a Helsinki department store; Julia is intent on making headway with her second novel while the children fret about phone reception and how many new people they will be expected to meet. After an uneventful first week, with nothing more troubling than a bad smell emanating from the drains and the constant sound of a bouncing tennis ball, they’re invited to a midsummer party by a neighbour. Much to Julia’s surprise, Chris turns out to be the partner of her close teenage summer friend Marika who plays a starring but not very flattering role in her first novel. While Chris expounds his doomsday views on climate change, Julia frets about whether Marika has read her book and admires the couple’s apparently liberated lifestyle. Before the end of the summer, the lives of everyone at the party will have changed and Julia will have come to a realisation about her safe, secure marriage.

The Summer House offers a neat seasonal counterpart to A Winter War. Marriage, family tensions and coming-of-age are all handled with the same sympathy and deftness. Teir shifts smoothly from character to character as he unfolds each of their preoccupations and stories: Alice constantly worries about the way she looks; Julia is convinced other people’s relationships are more exciting than hers; Erik keeps his worries about work and losing Julia to himself. A violent thunderstorm brings the novel to a satisfying conclusion, complete with a dramatic revelation and the resolution of that troubling smell. With its adroitly managed characters and involving story, The Summer House is well worth thinking about if you’re after an intelligent summer read.

12 thoughts on “The Summer House by Philip Teir (transl. Tiina Nunnally): A smart piece of summer reading”

  1. I recall your fondness for The Winter War – for some reason, the author’s name has stayed in my mind! It’s nice when you return to a promising author and the novel in question lives up to expectations. No worries about the difficult second album syndrome here. 🙂

  2. Really like the sound of this one. I like novels which explore the complexity of family dynamics. I should look out for this one and The Winter War (great title).

  3. Having worked for several years when I was in my 20s in a department store, I have a soft spot for books which include an eye on this kind of work. But even beyond this, it sounds like it’s just my kind of story. Adding it to my list: thanks! (Recently saw a very striking short film called “The Ceiling” from Finland, via Kanopy, which is offered through the public library – not sure if it’s available in the UK but it was quite curious, the film not Kanopy in general).

    1. It’s never mentioned by name but I’m pretty sure said department store is based on Stockmann which I’ve visited when on holiday in Helsinki. They used to have a spectacular bookshop as an annexe to the main store but it was sadly depleted on my last visit. I’ll look out for The Ceiling – thanks for that.

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