reviews and interviews

The three top selling books in April at Abebooks were a Larsson trifecta:

1. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson
2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
3. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

Ali Karim interviews the author of a new biography of Stieg Larsson at The Rap Sheet. Barry Forshaw, author of The Man Who Left Too Soon, warns that his literary biography contains (as one would expect) spoilers and that he thinks the author’s heavy smoking and generally punishing lifestyle were more likely to blame for his premature death than a conspiracy (though fellow chain smoking writers would have it otherwise…) He also has this interesting thing to say in response to a question about Larsson’s feminism.

There is no question that he was genuinely a feminist who celebrated strong, capable women. But it has to be said that his strong, capable female protagonist [Lisbeth Salander] is also a disturbed sociopath who is psychologically damaged. What do we read into this? Is it simply a novelistic imperative to render his heroine more vulnerable? My own personal jury is still out on the graphic descriptions of sexual abuse in the novels. I can’t see an argument for Larsson describing such things in a discreet, mealy-mouthed fashion–and I would have thought it would be difficult (except for certain individuals) to find these passages erotically exciting. Basically, Larsson provides us with a remarkably high number of male scumbags to function as antagonists for his vengeful heroine. And I think–in the final analysis–he does it in a (largely) responsible fashion. But it’s a difficult call … Sorry if that sounds like fence-sitting.

I have to agree that it’s hard to imagine the sexual violence in these books as titillating; at any rate, if it is, that’s more the reader’s problem than the author’s – which one can’t say for the large number of thrillers that use violence against women in an obviously exploitative manner.

The Guardian takes a break from the election to report on various entertainments, including a Nordic film festival in Edinburgh.

Perhaps it’s the long winter nights, perhaps it’s their excellent road-safty record, perhaps it’s the satanic strains of Roxette, but stereotyping aside, Scandinavian crime fiction seems to have taken over the world – first as books, now as movies. So if Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo whetted your appetite, head for the fresh imports on show here. Norwegian crime writers Karin Fossum and Gunnar Staalesen are represented by adaptations of their noir-tinged novels The Girl By The Lake (which was actually made in Italy) and Varg Veum: Bitre Blomster (Bitter Flowers) respectively. Alternatively, you can compare the Swedish Wallander with the UK version in a double bill, or revisit such overlooked cult gems as Jar City, Just Another Love Story, The Ape and Erik Skjoldbjærg’s original version of Insomnia.

Who said they were allowed to have so much fun!? Then again, the election is so much not fun, I shouldn’t begrudge them a break.

The Viking invasion of India continues to get press coverage; this week brings an interview with Hakan Nesser in the Business Standard. The Swedish writer thinks the boom in Scandinavian crime is caused by Germans reading such a lot of it.

Nesser is sceptical about the existence of any such thing as a “Swedish tradition” in crime writing. “The only thing [Swedish crime writers] have in common is that we write in Swedish,” he says. Fans, however, will point out that the tradition goes back to the 1960s, when the husband-wife team of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö wrote their Martin Beck series. Nesser (whose best-known character is the philosophical detective Chief Inspector Van Veeteren) counters with the observation that since Sjöwall-Wahlöö no Swedish crime writer had gained worldwide recognition until Henning Mankell (creator of Inspector Kurt Wallander), Nesser himself and a handful of others shot to fame in the 1990s.

“When critics try to scrutinise the Swedish crime fiction situation,” he says, “they look for patterns… and find, because they want to find it, this or that which is rotten in the state of Sweden, and thus has caused this explosion of crime writing… Since Sweden used to be a kind of model society in the latter part of the 20th century, [they] like to link our literary hype to a fall from grace of the country.” Nesser does not consider his own books to be making any kind of social criticism, though he agrees that some authors do. This is not a Swedish specialty, he insists. “You can hardly write a realistic contemporary story, crime or not, without involving the society where it takes place.” . . .

“Right now,” says Nesser, “we probably have the world’s largest number of good crime fiction writers per capita, but please be aware that we also have the world’s largest number of bad crime fiction writers.”

Maxine points out that Swdish Book Review has just published an issue devoted to Kerstsin Ekman, whose crime novel Under the Snow and Blackwater have been translated into English. It has been a long time since I read them, but I loved the latter and didn’t so much love the former. I look forward to the issue since my library (on Maxine’s advice) has just started a subscription to this publication.

Incidentally, that periodical has published an article based on Selling Ice to Eskimos: Translated Crime Fiction and British Publishing, a dissertation by Paul Engles, who has kindly put it on the web. He looks at the market for translations, particularly in view of the recent popularity of Scandinavian translations, and compares the British market for Italian and for Scandinavian titles.

Maxine reviews Mikkel Birkegaard’s The Library of Shadows, and finds that it’s “fast-paced, exciting and readable, if a somewhat formulaic mixture of Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Da Vinci Code-type themes,” including a fair amount of supernatural shenanigans, which means it’s not really her sort of book at all.

Rob Kitchen reads Roseanna, the first in the Martin Beck series, and wonder what it is about the book that gives Sjowall and Wahloo the reputation of being transformational. It has a much quieter, more leisurely pace than what we’re used to today.

There is a sense of progression, but it is not driven along at breakneck speed, with an endless succession of cliffhangers. Instead the story meanders along at a relatively sedate pace, detailing how the case is patiently and dogmatically investigated, eventually reaching a relatively understated climax. . . . I find it quite difficult to conceive Roseanna as a book that broke the mould and started a new way of writing crime fiction given the vast quantity of work that follows in their path, some of which advances what they started and branches off in new directions. That said, it is a fine piece of work that reads just as well now as it no doubt did forty years ago.

Bernadette reads The Serbian Dane by Leif Davidsen and finds it fits the bill very well indeed, giving high marks to both author and translator.

The suspense built in a gradual, quite understated way as the date for Santanda’s visit draws closer and you know that everyone will intersect somehow but are never quite sure how this will happen and what the resolution will be. The flow of the writing appears to have been expertly captured by Scottish born translator Barbara Haveland as the novel was a particularly easy and engaging read and I would recommend it heartily.

Dorte reports that another children’s writer has turned to crime, reviewing a book co-authored by Lene Kaaberbøl and newcomer Agnete Friis, The Boy in the Suitcase. She considers it the best Danish thriller she’s ever read and, while it’s not translated into English as yet, she was kind enough to translate her review.

Photo courtesy of Global X, who had to start reading the trilogy in French because it took so long for the English translation to come out.

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2 thoughts on “reviews and interviews

  1. Re: Lizbeth Salander and the discussion about her–given the way she was brutalized, beaten, tortured physically and psychologically, it’s amazing that she has such a strong will to survive. In reality, women or children treated like that might not survive; they might just vegetate and be totally dysfunctional, unable to work, travel, form attachments–or they might commit suicide.

    That Salander can work, travel, even get attached to anyone, including Blomquist, carry out such elaborate financial schemes and charades, follow suspects and fight back is absolutely amazing.

    She is drop-dead brilliant, independent, very strong, courageous, as a friend says.

    Although I abhor gratuitous violence (and had to skip some violent parts of the first two books which I read), how could Larsson have made the case for Salander’s behavior without it?

  2. I rather agree with Nesser – there’s not a shortage of Scan-crime available in English, but since I read most of it in German, I can safely say there’s substantially more of it available…and the translations are a lot more rapid. (Particularly of books that get less English coverage, notably those from Denmark and Finland.)

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