“set somewhere in Scandinavia”

The Book Maven explains why she doesn’t like the Millennium Trilogy. Personally, I agree with her criticism, but I ended up enjoying them anyway (the second two volumes more than the first, though I know others who like the first best). They have a kind of weird energy that saw me past the heaps of unnecessary detail and the lulls in pacing. The more we got to see from Salander’s point of view, the more I enjoyed them.

Forbes has an article on Salander and, being a business magazine, the trilogy is billed as a “feminist franchise” – uh . . . really? As with many other articles, it’s partly about the books and partly speculation about the US film remakes, which perhaps makes sense as the author or the article, Melissa Silverstein, runs a website on women and Hollywood. After discussing the character, responses gathered from readers through social networks, and considering whether a female author could get away with such a heroine (she reckons it would have been dismissed as “crazy chick lit”), she speculates about the possible film legacy:

The clear challenge for Hollywood is to not tone down the rough and decidedly unpretty nature and look of Lisbeth’s character. “I am concerned about how they decide to cast her and how they dilute her because Hollywood has traditionally been very afraid of powerful women,” wrote film blogger Anne Thompson. Think about it: If Hollywood was smart, Lisbeth Salander could be the first real female action hero.

Unlike Sex and the City and Twilight, which are largely targeted at girls and women, what makes this female-led franchise unique is that this one has actual crossover potential. Men like Larsson’s books just as much as women. If men and women will pay money see a female star who takes down the bad guys and doesn’t need to look like a babe in the process, she would certainly be The Girl Who Started a Feminist Franchise.

Personally, I think if Hollywood were smart, it would leave well enough alone and not try to reinvent the already well-regarded Swedish films. But they aren’t likely to ask my opinion.

Marilyn Stasio has little good to say about Camilla Lackberg’s The Ice Princess. Ouch! I wonder if her reaction was in part push-back from too much “next Stieg Larsson” hype that seems to attach to all things Swedish. (Earlier, this US debut for Lackberg got starred reviews in Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist.)

Norm (aka Uriah) has had it with hype. He wonders if Hamlet will be the next to be linked to the Millennium phenomenon – “people get murdered, it is set somewhere in Scandinavia, so if you liked Stieg Larsson you will enjoy this.” His ire was provoked when a Hakan Nesser book had Mankell and Larsson splashed on its cover – though Nesser has so many laurels he needn’t rest on other people’s – and he quite rightly finds his style more comparable with Sjowall and Wahloo than Mankell or Larsson.

Finally, Declan Burke in the Irish Times puts Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman at the top of a list of “killer reads for the summer.” And And Kerrie reviews Jan Costin Wagner’s Ice Moon, a whydunnit that includes unraveling the investigators’ reasons for their actions as well as the killer’s.

12 thoughts on ““set somewhere in Scandinavia”

  1. Wish everyone would quit with the “next Stieg Larsson” already! Every writer is different, but, I know, publishers and booksellers want hits; they want bestsellers. They want mega-sales.

    But really, would Agatha Chrystie be compared to Arthur Conan Doyle? Would Wendell Wilkie be compared to Arthur Conan Doyle? Would Dashiell Hammett be compared to Sara Paretsky? Or to Michael Connelly? (etc., etc.)

    I liked Larsson’s third book the best, because it’s contains the least violence against women, it vindicates Salander, the plot and conspiracy are fascinating and there are great, strong, smart women characters, many of them.

    I don’t think it’s a “feminist” treatise. But there is respect for women and that women characters shine in book III is quite a plus.

    That it’s a bestseller with leading, brilliant women characters, which both women and men are buying like hotcakes, shows that thrillers can feature women with leading rolls, women who are supremely competent, and not minor participants, simply there to be partners to the leading men, or objectified or victims. But there are fully developed women characters who take action.

  2. Sorry for going OT but I didn’t find any “contact us” email on the site.

    I have a question, and it’s both about Scandinavian fiction and about Scandinavian society (or societies).

    In American pop culture, leading characters are rarely declared atheists and when they are they are usually curmudgeonly doctors like Becker and House, depicted as either the butt of humor or the victim of tragic, self-made unhappiness.

    Kurt Wallender in more than one of Henning Mankell’s books has declared himself an atheist and, if I am not mistaken, Martin Beck somewhere makes a similar declaration.

    Is declared atheism common among the leading characters of Scandinavian crime novels?

    Does that reflect the opinion of society as a whole?

    And, yes, I know, Scandinavian crime novels are only very doubtfully classified as a belonging to pop culture.

    And a long time ago Graham Greene taught us to reject the pretentions of literary snobs running down what he eventually refused any longer to class as his mere “entertainments.”

    • That’s an interesting question, and I don’t actually know the answer. The first two of Asa Larsson’s books deal with the murder of people associated with formal religion. In the first, it’s a very American style megachurch that is evangelical and very focused on individual improvement through ecstatic acceptance of the holy spirit and donating to the church (which does a nice line in books and videos). The leader, who is charismatic in every sense of the word, is murdered and solving the crime involves getting inside the workings of the church. I invited a Scandinavian studies professor, who is Swedish, to talk to a class in which we were reading this book about religion in Swedish life. He basically said it is a largely secular society, that the church-going population is aging, and that there really isn’t a popular evangelical movement of any kind that he’s aware of. Oddly enough, the Lutheran church is a state religion – the Church of Sweden – and public education includes religious studies (though it appears to be a course on world religions, not Bible School). There have been “free churches” for a long time – non-Lutheran protestant churches – and of course immigration has brought more diversity of faiths to the country.

      Apart from Asa Larsson, and from the odd Satanic criminal types (yawn), I don’t remember religion or atheism being a major topic in Scandinavian crime fiction – oh, excepting Jo Nesbo’s Redeemer, which is about the murder of a Salvation Army member.

  3. Interesting question. Since Sjowall and Wahloo and Stieg Larsson were political people and leftists, they probably were not religious and thus, their characters not either.

    Did not come across religion in Kjell Eriksson’s three books nor one I read by Hakan Nesser.

    I have read that religion is on the decline throughout Western Europe–organized religion.

    So it’s not surprising that would be reflected in Sweden, especially since it’s supposed to be a progressive country on many social issues.

  4. Am trying to read “The Ice Princess,” but find it boring and not interestingly written, so it may go back to the library basically unread. And so I may be throwing in with Marilyn Stasio, only I won’t give it the chance she did.

  5. Thanks, I had suspected it might be that Scandinavian – or anyway Swedish – society had gone heavily non-religious.

    But I wasn’t really sure.

    Give that, I suppose you might expect the issue would just never come up or, if it did, the leading character(s) would be declared atheist and thus typical of his (her/their) society.

    • This report indicates that in 2005 as many Swedes say they believe in God as don’t believe in God – 23%. Slightly over half, however, believe in “some sort of spirit or life force” instead of embracing a religious idea of a deity. (They’re also very inclined to want to protect nature. Not a big surprise there.)

  6. A “feminist franchise”?

    The mass media are just so full of beans.

    Hollywood and the comics have long since modeled male action heroes after figures in violent comic books and games.

    The characters played by Tom Cruise, for instance, often come close to leaping over tall buildings in a single bound and running faster than a locomotive, not to mention bouncing bullets off their chests and defeating dozens of adversaries, hand to hand, every ten minutes or so.

    Nowadays, women like Angelina Jolie play similar parts in their films.

    Frequently, this development and such films, TV shows, or “graphic novels” are spoken of as “empowering” such female characters and thus living up to a feminist agenda.

    But the world of crime fiction – and perhaps especially of Scandinavian crime fiction in which police procedurals generally dominate – seems much more closely tied to life as we know it on this planet than is the world of the Hollywood action movie, at least as regards the physical abilities of the characters and the depiction of violence.

    Feminism, or perhaps better “non-sexism,” here cannot mean that female leads are as much disguised versions of Superman as are the males.

    And neither, given the conventions of something somewhere between “documentary” and “gritty” realism that prevail in the crime fiction world, should either the men or the women be too far in their attitudes and behavior from the real men and women around us.

    Hence, a female character seeking breast enhancement (or, more commonly, wrinkle removal or a face lift) is no more necessarily evidence of sexism in a male author than a male character seeking penile enhancement (or, much more commonly, getting a prescription for Viagra) would be in a book by a female author.

    On the other hand, I don’t know what to make of criticisms that the violence of Larsson’s characters is “over the top.”

    Is the violence of criminals – even violent criminals – more mild in Scandinavia than it is on the continent or in the US where it gets really, really nasty?

    One has to wonder.

  7. Funny how all the American publishers are looking for the “next Stieg Larsson,” when none of them would step up to the plate and publish a dead author with “only” 3 books when I told all the NY editors I know about the series back in 2006-7. There isn’t going to be another one, folks, if the pretenders to the throne I’ve read are any indication. Stieg is a one-of-a-kind artist, like the Beatles. He could sweep you along through the wackiest digressions and somehow hardly ever lose the pacing; and his pervasive sense of morality and justice were far beyond what most thriller writers can achieve. If anyone else in Scandinavia has figured out how to do this, I sure haven’t seen it.

    Since I translated both the 3 Millennium books and 4 of Camilla Läckberg’s so far, I find it hard to grasp how my translations can be so (almost) universally liked in Stieg’s case (despite the UK editing) and be called “cottonmouthed” in The Ice Princess (also published first in the UK). According to Wikipedia, the cottonmouth, “Agkistrodon piscivorus is a venomous snake, a species of pit viper, found in the southeastern United States.” Can anyone explain what this has to do with translating, or writing? Anyway, Stieg and Camilla’s styles couldn’t be more different.

    There’s sure no accounting for critics. I prefer reviews by actual readers, and thank them for making Stieg’s books such a big hit.

  8. Reg, that’s a perfect example of what’s wrong with publishing. Can’t sell it, nope, won’t work. Oh wait, we want some! Quick, find a clone! I do wonder if people will somehow be encouraged to read Lackberg because they liked the trilogy – that would be an unfortunate expectation because the books are so different in style and tone. (I’m actually not a Lackberg fan, but many people whose taste in mysteries is impeccable though different than mine find them very satisfying.)

    And I agree with you that his work in not something you can imitate, though some big sellers that rely on the “quick, turn the page to find out what happens before you think about how ridiculous this story is” method can be factory-farmed.

    I think we’re all agreed here that the swipe at translators was unwarranted.

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