Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Some Kind of Peace includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Camilla Grebe & Åsa Träff. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Dr. Siri Bergman runs a private psychotherapy practice in central Stockholm with her best friend Aina. Since her husband’s death in a diving accident, Siri has lived alone in an isolated cottage outside the city. Terrified of the dark, she drinks wine to steady her nerves and leaves the lights on when she goes to bed, unable to shake the feeling that someone is watching through her windows. When the lifeless body of Sara Matteus, a young patient with borderline personality disorder and a tragic history, is found floating in the water near Siri’s cottage, Siri’s worst fears become reality. She knows that someone has been watching her—and he’s coming for Siri next. But she is not alone. With the help of a colleague and a young policeman, Siri starts her own investigation into the murder that will force her to question the motives of everyone around her.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In the beginning of the novel, Siri describes working with her patient, Sara Matteus, is like “like walking a tightrope.” (p. 19) Why is Sara such a difficult patient? How does Siri approach her therapy? What do you learn about Siri as both a character and a psychologist from this interaction?
2. On page 26, Siri reflects: “I can say that we are close, so close that I no longer notice when he arrives in the twilight.” (p. 26) Who or what is she talking about? Is Siri’s condition understandable? How does this “companion” affect Siri throughout Some Kind of Peace?
3. Siri’s self-assessment is: “I’m a bad therapist, I’ve failed, I should have gotten over it, it’s in the past.” (p. 27) Do you think she is too hard on herself? Is she hanging on to her grief longer than she should? Why or why not?
4. How would you characterize Siri and Stefan’s marriage? Was Stefan a good partner for Siri? What did he mean when he said, “Actions make us who we are.” (p. 45) Does Siri agree with this statement? Do you?
5. Siri and her colleague Sven have a contentious relationship. What do you think of Sven? Should Siri learn “not to take everything so seriously” (p. 50), as Sven suggests?
6. Some Kind of Peace is written by sisters Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff. Did the knowledge that Some Kind of Peace was written by two authors influence your reading experience in any other way?
7. Discuss Siri’s end-of-summer crawfish party. What did you learn about Siri’s personal relationships from her description of the party? Do you think her perceptions of friends and colleagues are accurate? Why or why not? Do you think Siri’s profession influences her personal relationships? How did you react to Sven and Birgitta’s actions?
8. Siri and Stefan shared a love of diving and Siri comments that she finally understood her husband after she went diving with him for the first time. This changes when she unexpectedly panics underwater. What happens to her? How is her reaction indicative of her larger fears?
9. Charlotte is a patient of Siri’s who initially was being treated for an eating disorder. As the novel progresses, Charlotte’s life unravels. How does Charlotte’s crisis resemble Siri’s own issues? Does Siri provide good counsel for Charlotte? In what ways do Siri and Charlotte mirror each other?
10. After Stefan and Siri lose their unborn baby to a birth defect, Stefan becomes withdrawn and depressed. Discuss the fight they have before Stefan finally agrees to take medication. Why does Siri upset him so much? Do you understand his reaction?
11. On page 246, Markus says: “You pull on a thread at one end, and someone drops down dead on the other. It’s not anyone’s fault, or maybe it’s everyone’s? But to me the intent is more important than the cause.” What is Markus referring to? Do you agree with Markus’ view? How does this statement relate to Siri’s character?
12. Throughout the novel, different characters discuss the nature of evil and evil actions, including Vijay, a professor of psychology and an old friend of Siri. Do you agree with Vijay’s assertion that in order to be evil, there has to be a conscious choice involved? How does this compare with Markus’ opinion on evil?
13. Discuss Siri and Aina’s relationship. How does each woman view her friend? Do you think they see each other accurately? How do the authors portray Aina? Do you think your view of her was influenced by Siri’s own judgment?
14. How is the murderer’s story presented to the reader? Is the reader given a chance to understand the killer? Did the discussion of evil in the novel influence your opinion of the killer and his motives?
15. At the end of Some Kind of Peace, Siri is in therapy. How has she changed or progressed as a character since the first chapter? Do you think she’s still afraid of the dark? Discuss your answer.
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Learn more about Stockholm and the surrounding countryside where Siri lives.
Visit the official Stockholm city website at www.visitstockholm.com/en/ for pictures, travel tips, attractions.
2. Siri admits she isn’t a very good cook or interested in eating good food. However, don’t let that stop you from cooking a Swedish meal for your next book club meeting! For recipes and ideas, visit www.sweden.se/food.
3. Siri is both a psychologist and an amateur detective. As a fun comparison, watch the classic Alfred Hitchcock movie Spellbound—starring the Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman—about a psychoanalyst who gets involved in a murder with your book club. Discuss the use of suspense in both Spellbound and Some Kind of Peace with your group.
A Conversation with Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff
It’s unusual to see siblings collaborating on a novel. Why did you want to write a novel together? Who had the idea first?
We’re both absolutely fascinated by thriller/crime literature. We grew up together in a house filled with books and started reading early. Our parents read a lot of classical Swedish crime-literature, such as Sjöwall-Wahlöö (a husband-and-wife team of detective writers who wrote a series of ten novels about the exploits of detectives from the special homicide commission in Stockholm in the 70’s. They started a trend of realistic crime-novels, written from a social democratic viewpoint.) As soon as we started to read, we entered the world of crime/thriller fiction and never stopped. In 2004 [Camilla] had the idea of writing a thriller with a female therapist as the main character. Camilla e-mailed the first chapter to Åsa and said, “Let’s write a book. Here’s the first chapter – now you write the next one!” At that point in time, it was something we did entirely for fun. We enjoyed our little game tremendously, but never thought about the possibility of actually being published. Much to our surprise (and great joy, of course), we got excellent reviews for Some Kind of Peace. Since this was our first book, we were kind of anxious about being published and could hardly read the reviews to start with. Then, everything happened very fast. The book was sold to a number of countries within a short period of time (Norway, Denmark, Holland, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Poland, Rumania, the US, the UK – just to mention a few).
You both work in very different fields. What did you each contribute to the writing of Some Kind of Peace? Did you find you had unexpected areas of expertise?
Many readers believe Åsa writes all the therapy sessions since she is a psychologist. However, we both wrote all kinds of scenes/chapters. But, naturally, since Åsa is an expert in psychology, she makes sure the facts are correct when it comes to describing Siri’s profession.
What drew you both to write crime fiction? How did you create Siri’s character, with all her quirky traits, such as her fear of the dark?
The desire to write crime fiction is due to our love of the genre. Using a therapist as our main character opens up a number of fantastic opportunities. First of all, you get to dive into the really important (emotional) issues immediately. For instance: A patient enters the room for his first therapy session. He takes off his coat, sits down and starts talking about the most difficult issues in his life. Now, where else would this happen? There are so many good detective novels around. We wanted to write something different and unique that combined the best elements of crime fiction with real psychological insight.
Siri is sensitive, stubborn and empathetic. Although she’s an expert in relieving her patients’ suffering, she is incapable of helping herself. We wanted to make her strong, yet vulnerable – hence all the quirky traits. She is insightful when it comes to her patients, and yet can’t understand her own feelings. It is this contrast that makes her complex, and therefore interesting.
Åsa, as a trained psychologist, your experience in the field no doubt provided extensive background for the novel. What would you like your readers to understand about your profession?
I tried to describe the profession with both its pros and cons. It’s an interesting and fascinating profession, and hopefully you can make a difference in a person’s life. But it’s also very difficult and sometimes hard to get through. It was also important to me to show how painful a psychiatric diagnosis can be, and how brave the patients are, trying to deal with their problems.
Siri, Aina, and Sven have an unusual working relationship. Why did you decide to structure their office and the characters in this way?
It’s quite common for psychologists in Sweden to have small clinics like this (without the receptionist/secretary, though). When we wrote Some Kind of Peace, I didn’t have my own practice, and I guess what we described was in a way my own dream scenario - a small practice together with a really good a friend and a more experienced, wise colleague.
Late in the book, Siri makes a distinction between her patients who are ill with neuroses and those with the capacity to kill. How did you craft the killer in the novel? Did you draw upon your own knowledge and experiences or was it entirely a fictitious creation?
The killer in the book is entirely fictitious. Our experience of killers is very limited (luckily), and comes from what we read and see in the news.
Despite the aid and support Siri gets from her friends and colleagues, she’s basically alone for most of the book, left on her own to solve the mystery. Why did you decide to isolate Siri in the way that you did?
Isolation in a remote location is a classical way of creating suspense (think The Shining). We wanted to create a claustrophobic atmosphere where Siri is confined to her small, lit-up house with large glass windows (much like an aquarium). Everyone can see her from the outside, but she herself cannot see intruders hiding outside – only her own reflection in the dark windows.
Do you think your characters have particularly Swedish attributes that your English-language readers may not be aware of?
If so, we’re not aware of them either …
How does your joint writing process work? Do you both have different writing styles? If so, how do you blend the styles together?
Initially, we discuss the story, the characters and the setting in detail. After that we start writing - but we rarely do the actual writing together. Instead we e-mail chapters to each other. While writing, we have an intense dialogue; we call each other several times a day to discuss different options and solve creative issues. Our styles might have been a little different to start with, but after working together for a year or so, we believe we have developed a common style - a "third voice" - neither Camilla's nor Åsa's, but rather a mixture of the two.
Are there any books that were an inspiration for you both when it came to writing Some Kind of Peace? Do you both read crime fiction? If so, who are your favorite authors?
While we both read a lot of crime fiction, Åsa is the most "pathological" reader. She reads at least 2-3 novels/week (get a life, Åsa!), and almost exclusively crime fiction. There are many great crime writers in Scandinavia and elsewhere. Among others, we like: Dennis Lehane, Tana French, Denise Mina and Swedish writer Johan Theorin. And, last, but not least - the classical Swedish crime-writing duo Sjöwall-Wahlöö.