Danish bestseller Thomas Rydhal’s The Hermit – at London’s Free Word Centre, 10 October.

Thomas Rydhal discusses his debut crime novel The Hermit. An instant bestseller in Denmark and winner of the Glass Key Award for the best Nordic crime novel.rydahl

Mon 10 Oct 2016; 6:45pm – 9:00pm @ Free Word Centre

Book your tickets here

Thomas Rydhal’s extraordinary debut crime novel The Hermit was an instant bestseller in Denmark and stayed in the top ten for 30 weeks. Winner of the Harald Mogensen Prize for Best Danish crime novel and the Glass Key Award for best Nordic crime novel. It has been translated into 30 languages.

Thomas discusses the themes of the book with Dr Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen, senior Lecturer in Scandinavian Literature at UCL. K. E. Semmel, translator of the English edition, will contribute on video describing the particular challenges of Danish-English translation and how the story was adapted from one cultural context into another.

This event is part of Wanderlust: Great Literature from Around the World, a monthly event series at Free Word. Join us on the second Monday of each month to celebrate the best fiction in translation.

About The Hermit

The Hermit is set in Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, where its unlikely hero, a 67 year old ex-pat Danish taxi driver, is caught up in a dangerous web of corruption and murder.

A car is found crashed on a beach of Fuerteventura. On the back seat lies a cardboard box containing the lifeless body of a small boy wrapped in newspaper cuttings. No one knows his name, and there is no trace of a driver. The last thing Fuerteventura needs is a murder. The ailing resort already has half-empty bars, there are plans for a new casino, and the local police are under pressure to close the case. But long-time islander and loner Erhard, a taxi driver who sees more than most people, won’t let the investigation drop – and he has nothing to lose. The question is: can a 67-yearold man, who knows nothing about mobile phones or the internet, possibly solve a complex murder whose dangerous web of deceit stretches far beyond the small island? This bold, unsettling literary thriller introduces a strikingly original new talent to crime fans.

About Thomas Rydhal

Thomas Rydahl was born in Aarhus in 1974. He studied philosophy and psychology and graduated from the Danish Writing Academy in 1999. He has translated Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink and Outliers into Danish. The Hermit, his first novel, is the only debut to have won the Glass Key Award – previous recipients include Henning Mankell, Karin Fossum, Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbø. He lives in Fredensborg, Denmark.

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Launch of Nordisk Books and the publication of modern Danish classic Havoc in London

This Friday, 9. September, sees the launch of a new publishing house in London, Nordisk Books, and their first publication, Havoc by the great modernist Danish author Tom Kristensen. This is an exciting new venture that will bring past and contemporary quality Scandinavian literature to an English-speaking readership, and Havoc originally published in 1930 is an extraordinary novel with which to launch Nordisk Books.

Havoc by Nordisk Books

Karl Over Knausgård has said of  Havoc that it is “one of the best novels to ever come out of Scandinavia. As discomforting as beautiful, it portrays the fall of a man, and it’s so hypnotically written that you want to fall with him.”

If you wondered whether there was an original depressed, alcoholic, self-destructive fictional hero in Scandinavian literature before “the ulcer school” of Nordic Noir detectives, Tom Kristensen’s Ole Jastrau is the ultimate archetype.

If you are in London on Friday the 9th of September, why not join us for the launch party to celebrate Nordisk Books and to learn more about one of the greatest novels in modern Danish literature by the Danish James Joyce. Mikkel Bruun Zangenberg and myself will join the publisher Duncan Lewis in a talk about Havoc, Tom Kristensen and Danish literature in translation.

Date: Friday 9th September, 2016
Time: 19.00 – 22.00
Location: Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL (tube Holborn, bus no. 38)
After party: the Dolphin Tavern (just next door)
Debit/credit card payments will be accepted for purchase of books

Please RSVP to info@nordiskbooks.com

See also https://conwayhall.org.uk/event/nordisk-books-launch-party

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Sjón in Conversation with London Student PEN

The Icelandic poet, lyricist and novelist Sjón is coming to UCL to talk about his new book as well as his work as president of Icelandic PEN. In Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was, Sjón once again takes his readers on a mind-bending miniature historical epic, this time through the life of a 16-year-old homosexual boy living in Reykjavík in 1918. The book explores questions of queerness and sexuality on the fringes of a society in profound transformation, itself on the very extremity of the world.

Sjón, together with the book’s translator Victoria Cribb, will be interviewed by a representative from UCL PEN, part of the London Student PEN Network. Since 2012, student branches of the writers’ association English PEN have sprung up on university campuses all over the country. We bring together students, academics and writers working for the human right to freedom of expression, and for the free movement of ideas and literature.

The interview will be followed by a reading and an audience Q&A.

Time: 7th of June, 7.00-8.30 pm

Location: Pearson G22 Lecture Theatre (North East Entrance)

For any questions, please contact Alice Olsson (CMII, UCL PEN): alice.olsson.15 [at] ucl.ac.uk

The event is open to all, but please register for your Eventbrite ticket: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/sjon-in-conversation-with-london-student-pen-tickets-25696255191

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2016 Petrona Award

Top quality crime fiction from Scandinavia is shortlisted for the 2016 Petrona AwardPetrona Logo

Crime novels from Finland, Norway and Sweden have made the shortlist for the 2016 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year, which is announced today.

They are:

THE DROWNED BOY by Karin Fossum tr. Kari Dickson (Harvill Secker; Norway)
THE DEFENCELESS by Kati Hiekkapelto tr. David Hackston (Orenda Books; Finland)
THE CAVEMAN by Jorn Lier Horst tr. Anne Bruce (Sandstone Press; Norway)
THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB by David Lagercrantz tr. George Goulding (MacLehose Press; Sweden)
SATELLITE PEOPLE by Hans Olav Lahlum tr. Kari Dickson (Mantle/Pan Macmillan; Norway)
DARK AS MY HEART by Antti Tuomainen tr. Lola Rogers (Harvill Secker; Finland)

The winning title will be announced at the Gala Dinner on 21 May during the annual international crime fiction event CrimeFest, held in Bristol 19-22 May 2016. The award is open to crime fiction in translation, either written by a Scandinavian author or set in Scandinavia and published in the UK in the previous calendar year.

The judges’ comments on the shortlist:

THE DROWNED BOY by Karin Fossum tr. Kari Dickson (Harvill Secker; Norway)

Fossum’s spare prose and straightforward narrative belie the complexity at the heart of this novel. After the drowning of a young child with Down’s Syndrome, Chief Inspector Sejer must ask himself if one of the parents could have been involved. The nature of grief is explored, along with the experience of parenting children with learning difficulties. There’s a timeless feel to the writing and a sense of justice slowly coming to pass.

THE DEFENCELESS by Kati Hiekkapelto tr. David Hackston (Orenda Books; Finland)

The second in Hiekkapelto’s ‘Anna Fekete’ series is an assured police procedural rooted in the tradition of the Nordic social crime novel. Its exploration of immigrant experiences is nuanced and timely, and is woven into an absorbing mystery involving an elderly man’s death and the escalating activities of an international gang. A mature work by a writer who is unafraid to take on challenging topics.

THE CAVEMAN by Jorn Lier Horst tr. Anne Bruce (Sandstone Press; Norway)

Horst’s The Caveman begins with the discovery of a four-month-old corpse just down the road from William Wisting’s home. Troubled by his neighbour’s lonely death in an apparently uncaring society, the Chief Inspector embarks on one of the most disturbing cases of his career. Beautifully written, this crime novel is a gripping read that draws on the author’s own experiences to provide genuine insights into police procedure and investigation.

THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB by David Lagercrantz tr. George Goulding (MacLehose Press; Sweden)

The late Stieg Larsson created the groundbreaking, two-fingers-to-society, bisexual anti-heroine Lisbeth Salander. When Larsson’s publishers commissioned a fourth book, they turned to David Lagercrantz, whose The Girl in the Spider’s Web often reads uncannily like Larsson’s own text. His real achievement is the subtle development of Salander’s character; she remains (in Lagercrantz’s hands) the most enigmatic and fascinating anti-heroine in fiction.

SATELLITE PEOPLE by Hans Olav Lahlum tr. Kari Dickson (Mantle/Pan Macmillan; Norway)

An accomplished homage to Agatha Christie, Satellite People adds a Nordic twist to classic crime fiction tropes. References to Christie novels abound, but Lahlum uses a Golden Age narrative structure to explore Norway’s wartime past, as Inspector Kristiansen and Patricia investigate a former Resistance fighter’s death. Excellent characterisation, a tight plot and a growing sense of menace keep the reader guessing until the denouement.

DARK AS MY HEART by Antti Tuomainen tr. Lola Rogers (Harvill Secker; Finland)

Tuomainen’s powerful and involving literary crime novel has a mesmerising central concept: thirty-year-old Aleksi is sure he knows who was behind his mother’s disappearance two decades ago, but can he prove it? And to what extent does his quest for justice mask an increasingly unhealthy obsession with the past? Rarely has atmosphere in a Nordic Noir novel been conjured so evocatively.

With grateful thanks to each of the translators for their skill and expertise in bringing us these outstanding examples of Scandinavian crime fiction.

The judges are:

Barry Forshaw – Writer and journalist specialising in crime fiction and film; author of four books covering Scandinavian crime fiction: NORDIC NOIR, DEATH IN A COLD CLIMATE, EURO NOIR and the first biography of Stieg Larsson.

Dr. Katharina Hall – Associate Professor of German at Swansea University; editor of CRIME FICTION IN GERMAN: DER KRIMI for University of Wales Press; international crime fiction reviewer/blogger at MRS. PEABODY INVESTIGATES.

Sarah Ward – Crime novelist, author of IN BITTER CHILL (Faber and Faber), and crime fiction blogger at CRIMEPIECES.

More information can be found on the Petrona Award website (http://www.petronaaward.co.uk).

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Nordic Noir at Crime Festival in Horsens

Arriving at Krimimessen in Horsens, Denmark, the largest crime fiction festival in Northern Europe, one is greeted by long lines of expecting readers making their way through the gates of the old state prison – the gate, the taxi driver told me, where visitors used to enter the prison to visit jailed family members. I am here to, luckily, to see another kind of inmate, namely the many writers who have been invited to talk about their crime novels, to pitch them to an audience of readers who may quite possibly have seen and read it all before. As you make your way through the gates to the festival venues in the old prison gym, the prison workshops and magazines you come upon a black hearse inscribed with the name of one of the more recent Danish crime exports, Sara Blædel, advertising the first novel in a new series of hers: The Undertaker’s Daughter.

Advertising Sara Blædel’s forthcoming novel, Bedemandens Datter at Krimimessen 2016

In her talk, Blædel told an audience numbering in the hundreds that she got the idea for her no heroine, an undertaker’s daughter, from her experience of losing both of her parents a few years ago with only a few days between – the comfort provided by the female undertaker was nothing less of heroic in the midst of her grief.

My own talk on this the first day of the festival was about Female Avengers in Nordic Crime Fiction, building partly on a short article I have written about Nordic female crime writers for the online The History of Nordic Women’s Literature and the last chapter of my book Scandinavian Crime Fiction, both of which will appear, if all goes well, later in the year. The theme of this year’s 15th edition of Krimimessen is Revenge, and throughout the day there where excellent debates and talks about revenge – why, for instance is revenge an ongoing preoccupation in societies where we should have dispelled with such “primitive” emotions. Robert Zola and Anna Grue gave interesting talks, and there to show the broad interest of the festival, there even was a talk by a Danish journalist about the Truth Commission in South Africa.

Other memorable talks on this the first day of the festival was an interview with Lone Theils. She is the author of Pigerne fra Englandsbåden (or Fatal Crossing, as I believe it will be called in English). She has recently returned to Denmark after spending 16 years as a newspaper correspondent in London. Her first crime novel is set in London (Nordic Noir in London!!) and her second novel soon to appear in Denmark (in June she revealed) takes place between Denmark and the UK involving a refugee family from Iran – yes, timely indeed.

An old friend of the Nordic Noir Book Club, Gunnar Staalesen, opened the festival with its anniversary speech, mentioning the historic relationships between Norway and Denmark and celebrating the growing interest in crime fiction over the past 15 years the festival has existed. This turned out to be a great day for the Norwegians (even if Karin Slaughter probably had the largest audience) as the big prize offered by the Danish Crime Academy, Rosenkrantz prisen, went to Gard Sveen, author of The Last Pilgrim.

Exhausted from running around from one venue to the other, I think I should just do the Prison tour tomorrow after giving my second talk on Scandimania and Nordic Cool – on the reception of Nordic Noir in the UK, if I can stay away from talks by Jesper Stein, Mari Jungstedt, Lars Kepler – and, perhaps even harder for me to stay away from, a discussion between Staalesen and academic colleagues Kerstin Bergman and another old friend of the NN Book Club Bo Tao Michaelis celebrating the late Henning Mankell. Oh what to do?

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The Mystery of Nordic Noir and the Welfare State

A new series of essays investigating the relationship between Nordic Noir and the welfare sate, curated by Bruce Robbins, is being published on Post45. So far, two essays have been published. Bruce Robbins considers in his excellent piece, ‘The Detective is Suspended‘, the first season of the TV-series Forbrydelsen. If you have wondered why so many female Nordic detectives are presented as difficult and ‘unsozialised’, Bruce Robbins has the intriguing answer.

In my own piece, ‘The Policeman in the Ill-fitting Uniform‘, I discuss Anne Holt’s crime novel Skyggedød and how its uses the attack on Utøya, a Norwegian tragedy, to consider the care for children and the fate of social trust in a neo-liberal welfare state. The novel by Holt has yet to appear in English translation, so beware there might be some plot spoilers in this piece.

Look out for further essays in this series.

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“Sex and Scandinavians” – extract from Barry Forshaw’s new book

Thanks to Barry for sharing the extract below from his exciting (!) new book Sex and Film: The Erotic in British American and World Cinema.

In much the same way that Ingmar Bergman had tackled sexual themes in his much-respected arthouse classics, other directors were moving into this edgy territory. The Swedish I am Curious Yellow and its less successful sequel I am Curious Blue, directed by Vilgot Sjöman in 1967 and 1968 respectively, had supporters who were able to mount a defence based on the films’ avowed social and political agendas, with a left-wing critique of Swedish society clearly being foregrounded as much as any sexual content in the film (famously, the plump Lena Nyman’s nudity and her fondling of the actor Börje Ahlstedt’s genitals), though it was the sex that (unsurprisingly) gleaned the column inches more than the dour agitprop, the latter very much of its time. Ironically, other more contentious foreign films – which might be said to wear their exploitation credentials more overtly on their sleeves — such as Michael Miller’s West German film Pornography in Denmark (1970) and Jorgen Lhyne’s American-made Pornography: Copenhagen 1970 (1970) were passed uncut in America as they were promoted as ‘documentaries’, even though both featured unsimulated sexual intercourse (the film Pornography in Denmark was able to show the sequence as part of a visit to a film studio where the sequences were supposedly being filmed; had it been simply incorporated into the narrative of a mainstream film, it would not have been allowed.

Sex education films had long been utilised as a way of circumventing censorship from the days of such films as He and She and Man and Wife which had demonstrated sexual positions (and even cunnilingus and fellatio), talked about dispassionately by clearly serious (it seemed) sexual experts. But by the time of Torgny Wickman’s Language of Love (1969), the treatment of sexual dysfunction was routinely included in unblushing fashion, the apparent seriousness underlined by the narration of a writer had worked on the Alfred Kinsey reports, Dr Wardell Pomeroy. These films (ran the defence) had a point to make beyond titillation, and were thus more defensible than popular entertainment which simply invited the audience to enjoy the carnal activity on offer.

A constant source of annoyance – or wry acceptance – among Swedes visiting Great Britain is the fondly-held, slightly envious British notion (also nurtured by Americans) of Sweden as a fount of sexual liberation and erotic adventure; a land without inhibitions where all forms of erotic behaviour are tolerated, and saunas are used more creatively than simply to open the pores of the skin. Much of this perception stems from the sexual revolution of the 1960s, which was by no means a solely Swedish phenomenon. The writer Håkan Nesser is fond of nailing one particular culprit in this identification of unbuttoned sexuality with the Swedes: the great international success of the 1967 film I Am Curious Yellow (as mentioned above), which, though largely a dispiriting (and would-be humorous) left-wing political tract, famously featured a deal of nudity and startling sexual scenes. According to Nesser, the massive international success and censorship furore surrounding this film (largely because of its relatively minimal erotic content) established a template in the minds of non-Swedes for the country; a template, what’s more, which hardly told the whole story. Swedes, according to Nesser, have been living with this lazy cliché ever since. But other, more prestigious, Swedish filmmakers might have been said to have contributed to this perception of Nordic carnality, notably the man many cinéastes consider to be non-pareil, Ingmar Bergman. His mid-period masterpiece Summer with Monika (1952) enjoyed a great deal of attention not only for its undeniably impressive cinematic qualities, but for a scene in which a nubile Harriet Anderson removed her sweater – at a time when actresses kept their bodies largely covered. Later Bergman films such as The Silence (1963) further expanded the sexual parameters with actress (and then-Bergman muse) Ingrid Thulin in a particularly joyless masturbation scene, while a young couple have sex in a cinema in a sequence that was considered very graphic that time (despite the impeccable reputation of the director, The Silence encountered much crass tampering by censors at the time – and, as with most such storms-in-teacups occasioned by moral guardians, the film’s sexual candour is mainstream today).

Interestingly, this perception of Scandinavia as a land of erotic lotus-eaters has not been explored in Nordic crime fiction to any great extent (no doubt because native writers know the truth behind such erroneous perceptions), although Karin Alvtegen – while utilising the form of the traditional ‘cosy’ mystery – incorporates audacious sexual elements into her narrative. The Icelandic Yrsa Sigurđardóttir, a woman not afraid to confront the shibboleths of her society, utilises asphyxiation for sexual ends in Last Rituals. The author, of course, who most fully explored the sexual arena was the late Stieg Larsson, whose unblushing and graphic descriptions of sexual acts have caused much controversy (not least inspiring debates over whether or not the author’s unflinching – and repeated – descriptions of sexual abuse are exploitative or feminist). Interestingly, the duo who are the inspiration behind much current Scandinavian crime fiction, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, are notably chaste and discreet in their treatment of sex. Regarding other areas of sexual politics (including homosexuality), certain Scandinavian writers have been much more upfront – notably Anne Holt with her lesbian protagonist Hanne Wilhelmsen – although the character’s sexuality is utilised as a means of creating her personality rather than introducing any erotic elements. If the Nordic Noir novel may be considered as subversive of a generic form (which is ostensibly concerned with the restoration of the status quo), it is not so in the sexual arena (despite occasionally addressing gender issues) but in the political field.

Sex and Film: The Erotic in British American and World Cinema by Barry Forshaw is published by Palgrave Macmillan

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