Dear Nordic Noir, we are mistaken if we believe the current wave of interest in Scandinavain Crime Fiction is merely a British or Northern-European one. I have recently been interviewed by a Greek newspaper, and the questions and my answers are below. I know, there is not much new here for most of you – but I would certainly like to read some comments on my answers.
– Do you believe that the contrast between the peaceful life of reality and the violent behavior of the book characters is what makes Scandinavian crime fiction so special in the first place?
On the one hand I would say yes. I believe that people are at first drawn to the ‘Scandinavian paradox’ of seemingly being flooded with crime fiction depicting violent crimes, corruption at all levels of society, violence against women etc., and, at the same time, still being stereotypically pleasant countries with the highest living standards in the world, egalitarian democracies with universal welfare, lowest rates of corruption and, according to the Eurobarometer, the highest level of subjective wellbeing and happiness. Maybe the crime fiction coming out of Scandinavia appeals to Scandinavian and non-Scandinavian readers exactly because the fictive corruption, violence and misery is depicted in a context where such things are comparatively rare. I also believe that Scandinavian crime writers explicitly use the context of the universal welfare state to deal with issues relating more to general life situations, to social issue, interpersonal issues, with the genre of crime fiction as a form or genre that merely works as a catalyst for saying more general and maybe transnational things about modern existence, responsibilities, globalising forces and pressures – put more simply, Scandinavian crime fiction, while driven by a strong tradition of storytelling and in many cases excellent uses of melodramatic techniques, it is simply a genre that, at its best, deals with ordinary people in extraordinary situations, with the everyday, with relationships, with balancing careers and families. Therefore, a kind of literature that is both very local and global.
– After all, we can find many reasons why Scandinavian crime fiction is probably the best nowadays but is there one reason above all?
I am not sure, I would say that Scandinavian crime fiction is the best crime fiction available. Luckily, we are in Britain witnessing a surge in the translation and publishing of wonderful crime fiction from a number of countries that have not before been available. I think the Scandinavian crime wave has been instrumental in furthering this interest, and I think there are a few really world class writers coming out of Scandinavia. A main reason for why some of the Scanindavian crime writing certainly measure against the very best in this global genre is its mix, as I said above, of well-crafted suspense and social-critical realism, the latter of which has a very strong tradition in Scandinavia going back to Georg Brandes and Henrik Ibsen at the end of the 19th century.
– All these novels reveal aspects (political and social) of Scandinavian life that an average reader from abroad couldn’t imagine. How do people of Scandinavia feel about that?
I do believe, though, that the political and social issues raised in many of the Scandinavian crime novels (personal issues such as how to make a relationship work, balancing work and family, responsibilities towards your children and elderly parents, and more social issues such as financial and political corruption, social inequality, gender inequality) are recognizable in most other cultures and countries as central issues in contemporary peoples’ lives. It may be a surprise to readers abroad to learn that Scandinavian’s, despite the universal welfare states and high quality of living, have major concerns about their own countries and their place in an increasingly globalised world. But if you have read a few novels or seen some movie adaptations, you realize that Scandinavians share many of the concerns of other people, and they do write about them. I guess it would also not really be interesting in a crime novel to read too much about how pleasant life is in Scandinavia in terms of welfare and well-being. Scandinavian’s are concerned about the changes happening to their lives, states and cultures, about divisions in their societies – and naturally they and their authors feel that such problems and issues should be turned into stories and art with the hope of bettering the society.
– Can we find a connection between the modern Scandinavian crime fiction and the rich literary tradition of Scandinavia?
As mentioned above there is a strong tradition for Cultural Radicalism in Scandinavian going back to Georg Brandes and Ibsen, a sense of artistic obligation to debate current issues and problems in the society. Authors in Scandinavia have since then periodically been asked to contribute to developing the societies and the welfare states by directing their fiction towards real life issues. In Scandinavia, artistic social engagement is to most people a merit. There is naturally also a strong tradition for genre fiction and storytelling in Scandinavia going back to the Icelandic sagas and folk tales, Hans Christian Andersen, Selma Lagerlöf, Karen Blixen and Astrid Lindgren etc. The mixture of storytelling, the fantastic, the uncanny and the social engagement may be a way to understanding why quite many Scandinavian crime writers experience great success with readers today.
– Do you believe that without Stieg Larsson all this conversation would never have happened? Did the Millennium trilogy change the way readers face the Scandinavian crime fiction?
I do believe that Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy was the most significant reason for why Scandinavian crime fiction broke through on a grand scale to the English speaking market. However, Scandinavian crime writers have for decades been very popular in the German market and in other continental markets, but its global success is surely due to Stieg Larsson. The reason why the Nordic Noir Crime wave has not receded is because there was so much good crime writing in Scandinavia just waiting to be translated, now that Larsson had paved the way. And new interesting authors keep appearing as well. But, I think it is safe to say, that without the Larsson trilogy, this would not have happened in quite the same massive way it has.