Söderströms, 2009. ISBN: 9789515226099
Reviewed by Željka Černok in SBR 2010:1
Gå inte ensam ut i natten is the fourth and last book in Kjell Westö’s series about twentieth-century Helsinki and it doesn’t disappoint. Westö is a first-class storyteller and you don’t have to be interested in Finnish history to enjoy his books. His previous book Där vi en gång gått (Where Once We Walked) dealt with the hard years before and after the First World War, and rightly won the Finlandia Prize. It contains all of Westö’s characteristic themes – young people struggling to understand who they are, only to find themselves a few years later with their dreams shattered, their lives completely changed and their ideals abandoned. Gå inte ensam ut i natten focuses on breezier times – the book starts in the 60s when music burst onto the scene and influenced a new generation that wanted change. The main characters are three friends: Jouni, a tough working-class boy determined to succeed; Ariel, a sensitive musician, and Adriana, an upper-class girl they are both in love with. They form a band and even record a single, but real success never comes, the band breaks up and they all go their own separate ways. In order to get more money and influence, the ambitious Jouni becomes a journalist, abandoning the two friends he considers to be dreamers. The second part of the book is set about ten years later. We get to know another group of friends who live in the suburbs of Helsinki – Pete, Frank and Eva, Adriana’s much younger sister, with whom Frank is in love. Adriana is now a loner ridden with psychological problems after a career in modelling she doesn’t want to talk about. After discovering the single that the band recorded a long time ago (from which also the book takes its title), Frank starts digging through the members’ past, in an attempt to discover what has happened to the trio. He finds that his own life story is more closely connected to them than he thought. He befriends Jouni, now an influential politician, and finds out that Ariel apparently died in Stockholm after living there for years as a petty criminal to finance his drug addiction. Westö’s preoccupation with the themes of weakness and strength and the position of individuals in an ever-changing world is known from his previous books. His main question, in one form or another, is always whether giving up the ideals of one’s youth means selling out or simply maturing and developing. Frank’s generation, just as the generation before, is portrayed as being heavily influenced by the past, be it through people who lost their lives in the war or through people who lost themselves and turned to alcohol and abandoned their families. Although the book could be described as a historical novel, with its detailed descriptions of Finnish politics and popular culture (including appearances by President Kekkonen and various celebrities from the music industry), it is still primarily the story of a few individuals and the choices they made, and how these choices affected their lives. The reader is led into thinking about the forces that shape one’s life and the fact that some pains or dreams can never be completely discarded. Also, that it may be wrong to try even – all of which testifies to a great writer at work.