film and fiction in review

A quick round-up before the craziness of the fall semester starts up . . .

A graduate student in computational linguistics named Joshua points out that there is too much variety among Swedish crime writers to consider Swedish crime fiction a genre, and he offers this comparison as evidence: “in the schoolyard of Swedish crime fiction, Theorin is the studious nerd and Mankell and Larsson are the big kids.” He thinks Theorin’s books are not nearly as engaged or challenging as those that offer more social critique and are more or less harmless entertainments. (Or, to put it bluntly, “beach reads.” While I like social critique, I think Theorin’s just dandy without that element, myself.)

In a previous blog post, the blogger has very positive things to say about the film version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  And they’re smart and thoughtful comments well worth reading.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (”Men Who Hate Women” in the original) is basically the perfect movie at this point in time. It’s socially conscious without being PC, it’s atmospheric but not artsy, it’s an intelligent thriller that’s neither ironic, nor overly reliant on plot twists. It’s a genre film that’s about more than genre commentary. I loved it.

I loved it because it’s slow. It doesn’t seem like it will be just at first: you’re plunged down into the middle of a libel suit with a helpful reporter narrating the setup on the evening news. But from there we see a bunch of seemingly unconnected scenes, so it’s alright. We trust they’ll get around to having all these people meet each other – and they do.

I loved it because it’s fun. The protagonist (erm, one of them) basically gets hired to solve a locked room mystery involving a bunch of rich people who live on an island. Why not? Why should we be above these things?

I loved it because it has a fetish chick. Tough bisexual biker girl hacker with nose rings and spiked collars and Black no. 1 hair. Which of us born in 1975 hasn’t wanted one of those?

I loved it because it’s graphic without being indulgent. All together now: the violence we see is realistic and in the service of a theme, not there merely for shock value.

I loved it because the characters are believable stereotypes . . . [here follows an intriguing discussion of how plausible and how enlightened – or not – the romantic relationship between Blomqvist and Salander is, and then] . . .

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo succeeds because it’s politically aware only to the extent of wanting to do the right thing, and metafictionally aware only to the extent of picking out the workable formulas and giving credit to their sources. It’s a film that shouldn’t be too hard to deconstruct, and I’m sure that’s just around the corner. But now, while it’s fresh, I’m enjoying just having enjoyed it.

Well, I must say I enjoyed the review.

Carla McKay reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman for the Daily Mail and points out he’s not the next Stieg Larsson. (We knew that.) She apparently liked the book, though most of the review is a synopsis.

Keishon also reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman and, while she’s an admirer of the series, feels this one is not the strongest.

Ben Hunt reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment and says it’s a very good debut, though he advises readers to take the hype on the book jacket with a grain of salt. It’s an ably plotted story with a vivid setting and characters that are somewhat typical, but well-drawn. He also proposes a theory:

If anything defines the extraordinary and apparently relentless rise of Scandinavian fiction, for me it is these three qualities, and in particular the plotting.

It would be easy to draw cheap stereotypical conclusions about ordered minds and ordered societies producing writers with organized minds who produce impeccably plotted and well executed novels. Cheap maybe, but the more Scandinavian fiction I read the more I am drawn to this idea.

Bernadette reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s first book in the Martin Beck series, Roseanna, and is interested to find in it so many of the elements that have become part of Scandinavian crime fiction.

Martin Beck too is realistic, perhaps a little too much so. If the phrase ‘dour Swede’ has been over-used since Scandinavian crime fiction has become flavour of the month then surely the blame must lie mostly at the feet of the rarely smiling, crowd hating, always ill, never wanting to go home Martin Beck. As a characterisation I think he’s marvelous but as a human being I’d rather not be stuck in an elevator for any great length of time with him . . .

In Roseanna the authors tackled the nature of bureaucracy, the rise of consumerism and even used the nature of the crime itself in a country that prided itself on being the kind of place where such things did not happen with a subtlety that I would dearly love to see more of in modern fiction.

Margot Kinberg also puts Roseanna “in the spotlight.”

Peter explores the “bloodthirsty femmes” of Scandinavian crime fiction: Swedish writers Karin Alvtegen, Kerstin Ekman, Inger Frimansson, Mari Jungstedt, Camilla Läckberg, Asa Larsson, Liza Marklund, and Helene Tursten; Norway’s Anne Holt and Karin Fossum; Tove Jansson (Finland) and Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Iceland).  He looks at their protagonists and finds a great deal of variety. He promises more on the subject anon . . .

CrimeFic Reader reviews Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Ashes to Dust, which (how very topical) involves a volcanic eruption, though in this case it’s to do with bodies buried for decades in ash from a massive 1970 eruption. She likes the book, but wishes the translation weren’t so Americanized.

7 thoughts on “film and fiction in review

  1. Hello everyone,

    I really love this blogsite. I spotted a few new authors which I will try. I have read every author mentioned in this article except three.
    I have to disagree with Joshua. I do not feel that Johan Theorin’s book are “beach reads”. I think they are well constructed, well developed, hold my interest intensely, page turners. I think Theorin is highly articulate and the translater is as well. I have only read his two that are available in the US. I am in a mystery discussion book club and Theorin is a favorite. We are also in communication with other book clubs in he US and he is popular there also.
    Beach reads, to me, are almost mindless reads, such as chick lit or James Patterson thrillers. Patterson himself just stated that he writes books to entertain. He does not consider his books great literature. I am going to throw Joshua’s comment out to my book group and see what they think. Maybe some feel the same as he does.

  2. Pingback: New Book Deal and Other Cool Stuff—Including Why Finland Is the Best Place in the World to Live « Jimland

  3. Thanks for linking my reviews! I didn’t know this blog was here, but am pleased to have stumbled across it. I’ve only just started reading Scandinavian crime fiction, but am fascinated with it, and this seems like a good place to get recommendations of good books to read.

    @Anna Klein – in retrospect, I kind of agree that “beach reads” is too harsh. The main point is just that I think Theorin is not as serious as Mankell and Larsson. Anyway, would be interested to hear what your group says.

  4. Hi Joshua,

    Very gentlemanly of you concerning your last comment. It could be attributed a little to the southerness in you.
    With your history, academic ahievements, and
    acquired culture, I really cannot see you with
    “a beach read”. I stopped reading them many years
    ago. Too many fine books. Beach reads have their place, but I will not waste my time or money.

    I will read your reviews after I have read the book. I am one of those who want to fully enjoy a book without any foreshadowing.
    You must have been connected with the military. I lived overseas in Japan and travelled all over. I loved South Korea and the Phillipines.
    I will throw the question out to my friends and if you want to track it we are on, mystery discussion group, NBIE II, (nordic/british/irish/euro). Look up any Mankell book and scroll all the way down.
    We also have many fine authors who drop in from time to time. Leighton Gage and RJ Ellory post when they have time. We would be honored if you
    stopped in and chatted anytime.

  5. Thanks for stopping by, Anna and Joshua.

    I find at least two directions Scandinavian crime fiction take – psychological analysis of characters and their interrelationships (which Theorin does quite a bit – and so do writers like Karin Alvtegen, Inger Frimansson, and Karin Fossum) and a kind of sociological suspense written by people like Borge Hellstrom & Anders Rosland (whose work is like a cross between action thriller and documentary), Arnaldur Indridason, and Leif Davidson. This is, of course, a silly over-generalization because they blur quite a bit. Kurt Wallander and Erlendur are introspective, and Karin Fossum’s character studies have an important social backdrop. So much for classification.

  6. Am responding to an above comment: I think Indridason is as serious as Mankell and Larsson–the introspective, ruminating Erlander, and the social issues in many of the books speak to that. (I see him included in the comment right above this.)

    I thought, upon reading the Dagger shortlist, that Indridason was far more serious than Theorin. Both write very differently with different goals.

    Have not yet read Davidson; my library does not have “Woman from Bratislava,” which I’ve wanted to read for ages, nor does the essential Book Depository.

  7. Pingback: Why I Stopped Reading on Page 15 « It's a crime! (Or a mystery…)

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