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),


Bachelard, Gaston 1999. Ruumipoeetika. Tlk Kaia Sisask. (Avatud Eesti raamat.) Tallinn: Vagabund.

Benjamin, Walter 2007. Ühesuunaline tänav. Tlk Katrin Kaugver. – Loomingu Raamatukogu, nr 25–26. Tallinn: SA Kultuurileht.

Botton, Alain de 2014. The Architecture of Happiness. London: Penguin Books.

Haahtela, Joel 2014. Kadumispunkt. Tlk Piret Saluri. – Loomingu Raamatukogu, nr 4–5. Tallinn: SA Kultuurileht.

Hayden, Dolores 1995. The Power of Place. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Kaus, Jan 2009. Hetk. Tallinn: Tuum.

Kaus, Jan 2012. Koju. Tallinn: Tuum.

Kaus, Jan 2017. Kompass. Tallinn: Hea Lugu.

Kaus, Jan 2021. Tallinna kaart. (Loomingu Raamatukogu kuldsari 7.) Tallinn: SA Kultuurileht.

Lefebvre, Henri 1991. The Production of Space. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Murphy, Douglas 2012. The Architecture of Failure. Winchester: Zero Books.

Pamuk, Orhan 2011. Must raamat. Tlk Inna Ossiptšuk, Helen Geršman. Tallinn: Pegasus.

Šiškin, Mihhail 2013. Kiri sinule. Tlk Veronika Einberg. Tallinn: Varrak.

Viikilä, Jukka 2017. Akvarellid Engeli linnast. Tlk Kai Aareleid. Tallinn: Post Factum.

Westö, Kjell 2000. Isän nimeen. Tlk Katriina Savolainen. Helsinki: Otava.

Westö, Kjell 2006. Missä kuljimme kerran. Tlk Katriina Savolainen. Helsinki: Otava.

Westö, Kjell 2007. Lang. Tlk Ülev Aaloe. – Loomingu Raamatukogu, nr 37–40. Tallinn: SA Kultuurileht.

Westö, Kjell 2009. Älä käy yöhön yksin. Tlk Katriina Huttunen. Helsinki: Otava.

Westö, Kjell 2016. Leijat Helsingin yllä. Tlk Arja Tuomari. Helsinki: Otava.

Westö, Kjell 2020. Tritonus. Tlk Tõnis Arnover. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat.