glum, Professor Plum?

“Professor Plum” of Crime Critics discovers crime fiction of the Scandinavian variety when confronted by a reader who specializes in it, and samples some himself: specifically, Hakan Nesser’s Woman With Birthmark, to be released in the US in April.I’m not sure I’d ever use the descriptor “glum” with Nesser, myself, but Professor Plum thinks it fits, and goes on to say . . .

As much as I love a good cozy for what they provide, this is the anti-cozy.  A style of book that drips with the morbid nature of death and dying without the sensationalized gore common to American literature.  Nesser peels his characters back way beyond the flesh and blood and focuses on the primitive core of our brains that makes the rest possible.  The result is a book that will not give you goosebumps, but rather will make the intake of each breath feel strenuous.

As good as Nesser is at crafting a story and filling it with his culture’s angst, credit also needs to be given to Laurie Thompson, the books translator.  As impossible as writing a great novel seems to me, the idea of translating one from Swedish to English is even more difficult to fathom.  And not just because I can’t read a lick of Swedish.  There are so many cultural sayings that have to be converted, and the breadth of vocabulary needed to capture everything the author is conveying just boggles my brain.  But the winning praise here is that you can’t tell this has been translated.  Bravo to both for pulling this off.

WOMAN WITH BIRTHMARK broke me down emotionally during the final pages.  I adore any work of art that can make me feel this deeply.  Nesser created a murderer that I wasn’t sure I wanted stopped, a group of men that perhaps deserve something worse than death, and a police force that I pulled for, but perhaps not too much.  The uniqueness of these conflicts created a pool of emotions in me before the dam finally blew in the final pages.  It was one helluva ride.  I may have gotten on board late, but I’m glad I’m here.  And there is room for you guys as well.

He also points out this YouTube video interview with Nesser.

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10 thoughts on “glum, Professor Plum?

  1. If I used a word improperly it might be because I am not a real professor. I just play one on the Internet!

    Your blog and sister site were helpful in investigating this Scandinavian mystery phenomenon. I’m amazed at the scope of this sub-genre’s popularity and how late I am in hopping aboard. I’m going to add a link to your blog in our comments to get interested folk over here and checking out other authors.

    Sincerely (or Med vänliga hälsningar),
    Professor Plum

    • Oh my – a Scandinavian salutation! I think I’m probably so inoculated by glum after reading enough of this stuff that Hakan Nesser seems light-hearted, even frivolous in comparison.

  2. I agree that Nesser is funny – laugh out loud – but bleak as well. Some crime fiction is unrelentingly bleak – Blackwater by Kersten Eckman for example, which certainly does not have the dashes of humour that characterise Nesser. Karin Alvtegen’s Shadow is similarly very, very bleak. It isn’t limited to Scandinavian either, as Bernadette commented at Friend Feed – eg David Peace (Red Riding quartet) or Andrea Maria Schenkel (The Murder Farm and Ice Cold — which I have just finished and bleak is one of the more uplifting adjectives that can be applied to that book!).

  3. As impossible as writing a great novel seems to me, the idea of translating one from Swedish to English is even more difficult to fathom. […] There are so many cultural sayings that have to be converted, and the breadth of vocabulary needed to capture everything the author is conveying just boggles my brain.

    I hope I am not too rude, but living in a country where more than 50% of the published books of crime fiction are translated and where those books and their authors are highly popular, not to mention the fact, that our language is not the lingua franca of the world I find the remark a bit US-american-self-centered.

  4. I’m looking forward to this one. I was only wondering yesterday if UK review copies are available. I like the humour in this series and also the brevity :). For those new to Nesser/Van Veeteren they are at least able now to start with no.1 – Mind’s Eye.

  5. I have never considered Nesser glum, but that is probably because I am just a bleak and glum Scandinavian myself.
    Bernd, I thoroughly agree: if a translator cannot make his/her text sound natural and ´untranslated´, they should find another job 😀

  6. “I hope I am not too rude, but living in a country where more than 50% of the published books of crime fiction are translated and where those books and their authors are highly popular, not to mention the fact, that our language is not the lingua franca of the world I find the remark a bit US-american-self-centered.”

    I only meant it as a compliment to the translator, krimileser. Sorry if it came across poorly. I have the same thoughts when I am reading Greek classics translated into English. It just seems odd to have a second writer putting their spin on the original.

    I suppose it feels to me that I am looking at a painting copied from the original by a different artists. Sure, they are trying to be 100% faithful, but part of me is longing to see the original. If I could read Swedish fluently, I would be going to the source, in other words.

    -Cheers!

  7. To put another spin on the translation issue, perhaps it is Americans, who less frequently encounter translations, who can truly appreciate the work involved in creating a translation that works.

    I just heard (not sure if it’s true or not) that Soho is no longer going to publish translated work – and that’s why they dropped Helene Tursten. I hope that’s not true. We need more exposure to work written in languages other than English, not less, on this side of the pond.

  8. @ Hugh Howey. For me James Ellroy’s LA quartet is the best piece of crime fiction ever written, and part of the joy is the language (abbreviations, nouns turned to verbs, word of Yiddish origin ect.). Every time I read a book of the series I wonder how this can be transported into German, but obviously it is possible, Ellroy is quite popular in Germany although I don’t see how they can conserve his language. So yes I agree, good translators do a fantastic job.

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