Tag Archives: Carl Jonas Love Almqvist

Nordic grey – The Origin Story of Nordic Noir

I have a certain bias, but I felt that the Translation studies research seminar at the University of Edinburgh yesterday afternoon was pretty good, and really interesting. Even for me, with some prior knowledge as well as interest in the subject of Nordic Noir.

Nordic Grey with Ian Giles

The talk by Ian Giles, aka as Son, was part of a series of seminars in the next few months, and it was merely a happy coincidence that they kicked off on what was International Translation Day.

The Resident IT Consultant and I both went. We were pleasantly surprised to find Helen Grant there too, but shouldn’t have been, as she’s both a linguist and proficient translator, when she’s not simply killing people. I introduced her to Peter Graves, making rather a hash of it. Translator Kari Dickson was also in the audience, as were other Scandinavian studies people and aspiring translators. And I was surrounded by a whole lot of Chinese whispers. Literally.

Nordic Noir didn’t begin with something on television five years ago. It’s been coming a long time, and Ian is on its trail, trying to determine where and when we first met ‘dark storylines and bleak urban settings.’ It’s more than Sarah Lund’s jumpers or Lisbeth Salander’s hacking skills.

The trail might begin (or do I mean end?) with Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell, via Peter Høeg to Sjöwall and Wahlöö. But that list is not complete without mentioning the murder of Olof Palme or Kerstin Ekman’s Blackwater. And apparently some critic recently accused the new Martin Beck on television of imitating itself.

Here there was a slight sidetrack to a Turkish writer, translated twice in the last twelve years, long after his death, and only because his compatriot, Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk said he liked him. Knut Hamsun had something similar happen to him.

Because yes, the trail goes a long way back. Before Sjöwall and Wahlöö we had Maria Lang and Stieg Trenter, for instance. Earlier still, Hjalmar Söderberg’s Doktor Glas would have qualified, as would Norwegian Mauritz Hansen. And maybe even Carl Jonas Love Almqvist and Zacharias Topelius.

And when it comes to the crunch, Peter Høeg’s Miss Milla’s Feeling For Snow is not a true progenitor of Nordic Noir. It seems to be, but isn’t. People would have read the book no matter what. Hindsight tells us Peter Høeg doesn’t belong to the origin story.

Anyway, there are many more books translated into English than there used to be. The 3% of translated books has recently become more like 4 or even 5%. Swedish books come sixth if you look at language of origin, but make that Scandinavian books and they end up in third place, and if you count all the Nordic languages, they are the second most translated.

Nordic Grey with Ian Giles

So, it’s not all jumpers, and Scotland has just claimed to have more words for snow than the cold Nordic countries. The latest idea for selling books on the international market is to translate the whole book into English, rather than a few sample chapters, making it possible to offer an almost finished product, as well as facilitating sales to countries where they don’t have a steady supply of translators from Scandinavian languages.

As I said, I found this interesting. And Ian’s a tolerable speaker, too. The right amount of jokes, and a good selection of slides and videos to show what he’s on about. The beard, however, was rather a surprise.

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It’s old, but that’s OK

After saying recently that I almost preferred older books as a child, I also had a certain fear of what I perceived as really old. Deep down I suspected that something written a Very Long Time Ago would be so strange as to be unreadable. Now, why I should see other old books as a problem when I felt Alexandre Dumas was just fine, I have no idea. Could it be the difference between old children’s/adventure and old serious/real?

At some point at university I had to read old books. I don’t think I counted the Odyssey, because you’d see it in so many more recent incarnations. And having had to read Austen and Gaskell in English and survived, I saved my reservations for old Swedish literature.

But the point came when I needed to read Carl Jonas Love Almqvist, and as you can see even the name is a mouthful. I had heard of his novel Det går an, but with my prejudice I had no wish for a closer acquaintance. Although when I got there, it was reassuring to find it’s a mere 100 pages or so. Written in 1838 it’s not even that old as classics go.

I was pleasantly surprised both by how readable it was and how good. More than good. I actively loved it. When you’re used to old novels along the line of Jane Eyre, with a governess or other poor female and a romantic but chaste meeting with ‘The Man’, then the ‘free love’ in Det går an is a wee bit unexpected. They are ‘normal’ people, neither aristocracy nor starving slaves. Albert and Sara meet on a journey and fall in love.

It ends with Sara asking if it’s OK to be together without getting married, and Albert saying ‘it’s OK’ (title of the book).

And that’s it.

Very modern, in other words. Nothing to be afraid of.

The other day Son was telling me he’d just read it. As with me it was for a university course, and like me, he too had enjoyed it. ‘Immigrant’ that he is, he could have more cause for wariness.

I went looking for it before writing this, but couldn’t find it. Maybe Son had helped himself to my copy?