Rating: 3 stars
Lasse and his friends head to Oppdal, a Norwegian ski resort, for a vacation filled with fun, partying, and lots of skiing. After a day on the slopes, Lasse gets into a confrontation with a man named Armas who won’t take no for an answer. Coming to Lasse’ rescue is Markos, Armas’ brother and fellow vacationer. Markos and Lasse are instantly attracted to each other and spend the rest of the vacation together. But Markos is Finnish, and the vacation is coming to an end. The stress of a long-distance relationship is only one of the tests their love comes under as Markos and Lasse struggle to keep their winter love alive.
Upon finishing the story, I wondered why I found it so dissatisfying. On the surface, the story is plausible and well constructed, the characters of Lasse and Markos likable. Further reflection crystallized several problems I had with Winter Love.
The first is characterization or the lack thereof. All of the characters here are so bland as to be interchangeable, with the exception of Oliver, the group slut, and Armas, the homophobe who sleeps with men. Otherwise, you can switch out Markos, Lasse, Dimitri, and Mathias with each other based on personality alone and no one would notice. It’s just one note character after another. When glimmers of depth or layering come up, or when we think that a backstory is about to be discovered, it is either immediately forgotten or dropped.
These lapses in character and story development are so frustrating that the reader is tempted to skip ahead to see if it (whatever it is) comes up again. And of course, it doesn’t. At one point, Oliver is described as being bitter, which would give meaning to his promiscous behavior, but it is never mentioned again. Also during the epilogue, Lasse wonders if he should bring up his past as a alcoholic and drug addict to Markos’ parents and the reader starts going “what? what?” because this is the first mention of this side of Lasse’ character. Had we had a backstory on Lasse earlier, it would have made him a more relatable person, instead we have a bland personality masquerading as a main character.
Plot lines within the story are handled with the same nonchalance as character development. A major character in one of the main story lines threatens suicide because of a trauma that has driven a major section of the plot. He then disappears for the rest of the book, leaving the reader to wonder why this character was introduced at all if he could be so easily discarded. Also disturbing is the manner in which the potential for suicide is treated by the other characters. One singular moment of tears then nothing more.
Kove is Norwegian, so it did occur to me that some of the issues I had with the story might be due to translation or language difficulties. Also, I have not read any Norwegian fiction so perhaps story development or plot outlines diverge along cultural lines. I am not sure. I would like to give the author the benefit of the doubt, rather than using Winter Love as a standard for prowess as a writer. At any rate, I would certainly pick up another book by Kove, just not this one.
Cover: Beautiful cover by Megan Derr. I loved the image but wish the author’s name could be more legible. A larger font in the same color as the title would have been better.