Invisible Helsinki

Kjell Westö’s poetics of space

Keywords: Helsinki, poetics of space, memory, physical landscape vs immanent spaces

Well-known Finnish writer Kjell Westö (b. 1961) has written several novels set in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. Helsinki is usually situated in the foreground of Westö’s novels, as a part of the dynamics of the plot. Westö’s depictions of his hometown – certain poetics, which he is constantly using to describe the landscapes of Helsinki – have been heavily influential to the author of the article, who is trying to make some generalizations about Westö’s poetics of space. The first one would be the notion that beauty in Westö’s novels has to do with the ephemeral nature of every aspect of physical space, and it is only temporariness – or rather the knowledge of temporariness – that makes an object or a place beautiful. In Westö’s world, the characters’ yearnings for lost times or lost loved ones are strongly associated with certain spots (streets, landmarks, or ordinary places) in Helsinki. The second reason for this kind of yearning (and poetics of yearning) is based on the intuitive sense that every space is divided into two – on the one hand we have a physical landscape, in Westö’s case the urban surroundings of a northern city. This landscape is shared and situated in a temporary, everchanging and therefore unreliable present. On the other hand, the physical space is constantly perceived, but also recreated by immanent spaces, which are innumerable and linked with particular memories, using individual abilities to memorize through space, by building invisible dreamlike “memorials”.


Jan Kaus (b. 1971), MA, writer and musician, member of Estonian Writers’ Union (Harju 1, Tallinn 10146),