Art and design

Books

Culture

Environment

Fashion

Film

Life and style

Money

Music

Politics

Science

Technology

Travel

Television

US news

World news

Red Winter by Anneli Furmark review – small-town Maoist’s secret love affair

Anneli Furmark’s Red Winter has ‘the flavour of a thriller’
Anneli Furmark’s Red Winter has ‘the flavour of a thriller’.

Just about any subject can be interesting in the hands of the right artist or writer: glory lies in the telling, not the raw material. All the same, I was a bit surprised to find myself so utterly charmed by Red Winter by the Swedish cartoonist Anneli Furmark. Yes, at the heart of this graphic novel is a clandestine love affair, and yes, it comes with plenty of snow and subtly lit interiors. But it’s also a cold-eyed and occasionally chilling analysis of the ruthlessness, bullying and groupthink indulged in by a certain kind of small-time, small-town Marxist. It is, in other words, a book in which the difference between, say, the APK (a Swedish Leninist political party) and the SKP (which is, or was, Maoist) actually matters – at least to some of its characters.

The action takes place in an isolated and somewhat bleak town in the north of Sweden in the late 70s; the four-decade reign of the Social Democrats has just come to an end and across the country far-left parties are mobilising, hoping to overthrow capitalism (though naturally they seem not to be able to work together). Ulrik came here from the south, having been deployed by his party to spread the word, and spends his free time selling its newspaper in the street and attending endless meetings with his zealous comrades. But all is not going entirely to plan. Siv, the woman with whom he has fallen passionately in love, is not only a married mother of three some 14 years his senior, she also works – oh, the horror – for the youth wing of the local Social Democrats.

A page from Red Winter.
A page from Red Winter.

Both of them fear discovery: Siv has her husband and children to think about, not to mention her friends and neighbours in this close-knit community; Ulrik knows that his comrades would regard such a relationship as little more than sleeping with the enemy, even if he’s as careful as any spy not to allow his pillow talk to touch on politics. But they also dream of running away together, and perhaps it’s this that, in the end, draws the attention of Siv’s suspicious daughter Marita, and of Ralf, the most horribly devout member of Ulrik’s Maoist chapter. Even when they’re present, these two seem somehow to be elsewhere.

Furmark makes the most of this narrative tension: at moments, her comic has the flavour of a thriller. But she’s also a wonderfully lyrical cartoonist. When Siv speaks of love, it’s akin to poetry; when Marita goes out to play, she enters the enchanted forest of her own imagination. Best of all, though, are her gorgeous watercolours, which utilise blue and orange – ice and fire – to such marvellous effect. Something about her depiction of this subarctic region, where in the winter the sun struggles to rise, brings to mind the forested landscapes of Tove Jansson. Cosy as her kitchens and bedrooms are, outside is a dangerous realm. Here, the winter nights will always be too long, for lovers and leftists alike.

• Red Winter by Anneli Furmark is published by Drawn & Quarterly (£16.99). To order a copy for £14.44 go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99

This article titled "Red Winter by Anneli Furmark review – small-town Maoist’s secret love affair" was written by Rachel Cooke, for The Observer on Tuesday 6 February 2018 07.00am

Books

Only half of pre-school children being read to daily, UK study finds

The proportion of toddlers being read to every day has dropped by a fifth over the last five years,… Read more

Sex, jealousy and gender: Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca 80 years on

In 1937, a young army wife sat at her typewriter in a rented house in Alexandria, Egypt. She wasn’t… Read more

Nefertiti’s Face by Joyce Tyldesley review – the creation of an Ancient Egyptian icon

Even with her blinded left eye, Nefertiti has come to epitomise female perfection. Uncannily… Read more

The Wife’s Tale by Aida Edemariam review – portrait of a mother goddess

In this elegant account, Aida Edemariam has sketched her grandmother’s life in an Ethiopia that… Read more

The many tongues of Lost in Books, the only bookstore in Fairfield

Walking into Lost in Books is a little like walking into a daydream. Models of hot air balloons… Read more

Skin in the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb review – how risk should be shared

Skin in the Game is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s fifth book. He presents it sometimes as part of a… Read more

Rainsongs by Sue Hubbard review – healing and loss

Landscape and seascape are central to poet Sue Hubbard’s elegiac story of loss and valediction.… Read more

What's the difference between a troll and a sockpuppet?

The latest in the story of Russian meddling in last year’s US election is that the Russians ran a… Read more

Marvel comics' Fresh Start looks like a return to old cliches

Another year, another relaunch at Marvel comics: on Tuesday, it was announced that it is revamping… Read more

Inglorious Empire by Shashi Tharoor review – what the British did to India

A 2014 poll in the UK found that 59% of people thought the British empire was something to be proud… Read more