Author: Kjell Westö

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Issue 4/2007 | Archives online, Essays, On writing and not writing

Writer's block

The Finlandia Prize-winning author Kjell Westö recalls his literary adolescence, and the moment ­– of a dark January night – when he stopped worrying about writer’s block and began to write

When I was in my twenties, my urge to write was very strong. I was driven, almost consumed, by this ever-present zeal, which tore me apart nearly as inexorably and effectively as love did. But I wrote precious little. Now, some twenty years later, I have a general idea about the traps I so unknowingly walked into. More…


30 March 2005 | Fiction, Prose

A short story from Lugna favoriter (‘Quiet favourites’, Söderströms, 2004)

We were in the space age, the age that came and went, the age of space and great dreams, when space was what we talked about and space was what the papers wrote about, and about Vietnam and protests and revolution, in articles precocious and prematurely old children spelled their way through, children living in the mixed forests of the North which had recently been transformed into gleaming suburbs where ink-caps, puffballs and parasol mushrooms still grow in the backyards of high-rise tower blocks. It says in the paper that we humans will soon have to move away, leave the Earth because our planet has become overcrowded and almost uninhabitable, and space and the eternity of space are waiting for us and we have engineers of the highest class who will soon solve such small problems as still remain. It’s not a question of forests of mixed trees or ink-caps or parasol mushrooms or other earthly things, it’s a question of it being too late now, that we must go further, first to the moon and then to Mars and Andromeda and further still, and here are some of the key words and phrases: space programme, space race, Apollo, Vostok, Tereshkova and Glenn. For humanity has dreams, dark mixed visions and a nagging and not easily extinguished sense of life’s inscrutability and greatness, but down here all goes on as before, we kill each other, we kill our fellow men in jungles and marshes, we kill them amid rugged mountains and in snow-clad forests, we poison them and blow them to pieces, we kill them in dark backstreets and in ramshackle wooden hovels and in mighty marble palaces where the bath-taps glitter with gold. Only a chosen few are able to escape, and to do this they have to set off upwards into a coolness, and seek out a darkness and solitude where there will be no anxiety or feelings of guilt. But before they can get there they must face opposition of a magnitude that can only be overcome by a fierce rush of power, and before the rocket can start it sits and breathes out smoke and gases and fire for a good thirty seconds before lifting off slowly and reluctantly as if unwilling to leave its home planet, as if it hasn’t the slightest desire to go, but when it gets under way it travels at incomprehensible speeds over unimaginable distances, it’s only 108 years since Lenoir invented the internal combustion engine and we are already up in space where it’s silent and cool and peaceful, just a little anxiety in case some instrument fails, in case some double safeguard shows itself insufficient, otherwise nothing, just weightlessness and silence, just the oceans and deserts and mountain-chains on the surface of our blue globe. Though let’s be fair: the Chinese, who haven’t been up in space, claim that the Great Wall of China must be visible from up there, but on the other hand they have nothing to say about the visibility of new-built suburbs in the miserable little capitals of small underpopulated countries with frosty climates. More…

Compelled to write

30 June 2000 | Authors, Interviews

Kjell Westö

Photo: Marica Rosengård

Kjell Westö (born 1961) is one of a generation of younger, urban Swedish-language writers who are at home in both Swedish and Finnish. An extract from his novel Vådan av att vara Skrake (‘The perils of being Skrake’, Söderströms, 2000), which traces the fortunes of the Helsinki family of Skrake from the 1910s to the present day. Here, Westö is interviewed by his alter ego, the discontented poet Anders Hed, editor of the cultural journal Bokassa (now sadly extinct)

Anders Hed: So, to get us going: do you write any poetry at all nowadays?

Kjell Westö: No. The last poem I wrote comes at the end of the title story in Fallet Bruus (‘The Bruus case’). And that book came out in 1992.

It’s a poem about human face and the search for ‘the Thou’, isn’t it?

Exactly. More…

Notes related to pharmacist Pemberton’s holy nectar

30 June 2000 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Vådan av att vara Skrake (‘The perils of being Skrake’, Söderström & Co.; Isän nimeen, Otava, 2000)

At the time of Werner’s stay in Cleveland Bruno and Maggie had already been divorced for some years, and in an irreconcilable manner. But they were still interested in their grown-up son, each in their own way; Maggie wrote often, and Werner replied, he wrote at length, and truthfully, for he knew that Bruno and Maggie no longer communicated; to Maggie he could admit that he hated corporate law and bookkeeping, and to her he dared to talk about the raw music he had found on the radio station WJW, he wrote to her that the music of the blacks had body and that he had found a great record store, it was called Rendezvous and was situated on Prospect Avenue and there he had also bought a ticket for a blues concert, wrote Werner, he thought that Maggie would understand. More…

A day in the life

Issue 3/1996 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Drakarna över Helsingfors (‘Kites over Helsingfors’, Söderströms, 1996). Introduction by Jyrki Kiiskinen

It is December 1970, it is Friday afternoon and Helsingfors is shrouded in a damp, leaden-grey fog when Jacke Pettersson, trainee electrician at Mid-Nyland Vocational College, signs a receipt for his driving licence at Vallgård Police Station.

At home in the flat in Svenska Gården in Munkshöjden: the very next evening Jacke sneaks his hand down into his father’s, typesetter K-G. Pettersson’s, overcoat pocket. It is getting on for 9 o’clock and KG is sitting deeply submerged in his favourite armchair, staring concentratedly at the premiere of a new show.

Six out of forty
make it every week

sings a bright girl’s voice.

Then: the Official Supervisors and their solemn ‘Good evening’. And then: the blonde girl in her mini-dress and high boots, the glass holder with its plastic balls, the plastic balls with numbers on. More…

Melba, Mallinen and me

Issue 2/1993 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

From Fallet Bruus (‘The Bruus case’, Söderströms, 1992; in Finnish, Tapaus Bruus, Otava), a collection of short stories

After the war Helsingfors began to grow in earnest.

Construction started in Mejlans [Meilahti] and Brunakärr [Ruskeasuo]. People who moved there wondered if all the stone in the country had been damaged by the bombing or if all the competent builders had been killed; if you hammered a nail into a wall you were liable to hammer it right into the back of your neighbor’s head and risk getting indicted for manslaughter.

Then the Olympic Village in Kottby [Käpylä] was built, and for a few weeks in the summer of 1952 this area of wood-frame houses became a legitimate part of the city that housed such luminaries as the long-legged hop-skip-and-jump champion Da Silva, the runner Emil Zatopek (with the heavily wobbling head), the huge heavy­weight boxer Ed Saunders and the somewhat smaller heavyweight Ingemar Johansson who had to run for his life from Saunders. More…

He came in through the bathroom window

Issue 2/1991 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Utslag och andra noveller (‘Rash and other stories’, Alba, 1989). Introduction by Pekka Tarkka

He heard a voice behind him:

‘Hey, Aspelin, what are you doing here?’

Awakening from a half-sleep, he looked around as Ilpo approached his seat.

‘I work near here. I’m teaching math to the visually impaired.’

Ilpo sat down next to him. For several seconds they sat without speaking. Then Aspelin collected himself.

‘And you?’

‘Visiting a friend. He lives in Mäkkylä.’ More…