Tag Archives: Maj Sjöwall

Guaranteed Norwegian

Nordic Noir on BBC4 on Monday was a lesson in many things, but pronunciation was not one of them. The Resident IT Consultant (who fell asleep towards the end) fondly imagined that the Danish Mariella Frostrup would cope well with the Nordic names. Not even the Norwegian-born Mariella could do anything but sound British, though at least she did so in that sexy voice people go potty over.

The programme didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, so was one of those I sometimes moan about, which assumes the customer is new to the topic, and there is no need to take it further. Quite fun to tick the number of people who took part who I’d met. Poor souls.

The wise participants, like actor Krister Henriksson (Wallander) and author Maj Sjöwall, were interviewed in Swedish. It must be tempting to say yes to requests to do an interview in English. When you can. But it’s worth remembering you ‘can’ less than you think. Krister and Maj came across as intelligent, rounded people because there was nothing to stop them from saying exactly what they wanted to say.

Val McDermid

Val McDermid, likewise, sounded good, Scottish accent and all. She knows her stuff when it comes to Nordic crime. And OK, Jo Nesbø speaks good English. But it’s not as good as his Norwegian, I’d guess. It was he who mentioned some form of music (Norwegian metal?) and CDs in Latin America labelled as being ‘Guaranteed Norwegian’.

Karin Fossum sounded somewhat less bloodthirsty in English, so it might have been a blessing she didn’t speak Norwegian after all. After hearing Karin in Bristol I remember having a good look at her books, and coming to the conclusion I wasn’t up to reading them.

They rather skirted past Arnaldur Indridason and Iceland. Some nice scenery. Though speaking of scenery, I wonder whether much of any of it was of what they talked about. Ystad is always Ystad, of course. Even when it’s Yshtad.

That wasn’t the only disappointment. I can see that a non-native speaker may choose to put the stress on the first syllable only. Or the second syllable. You’re allowed to get it wrong (though I have said before that most people would try to get a French name correct, and you can always ask around if you are presenting for the BBC). But how come the stress-on-the-first-syllable words invariably got stressed on the second and vice versa? Wallander and Sahlander rhyme. Stress-on-second-syllable names. Mankell is a stress-on-first-syllable name.

Henning Mankell

With Wallander the programme went a little tabloid over the suicide of an actress. Sad but irrelevant. And Stieg Larsson was fat. Really? Maybe Stieg lived off junk food and smoked himself to death, but I wouldn’t call him fat.

His friend John-Henri Holmberg would have come across much better in Swedish. He was obviously in a position to say a lot about his friend, but could have said more. I dare say he’s saving it for the book about Stieg he’s writing with a few others.

In fact, this whole programme confirmed why we often think foreigners are idiots. They are not. And it’s time British television interviewed more people in their own language. In this case we had a bunch of interviewees who make a good living off their mother tongues. I’d have liked more considered facts, spoken by people who were comfortable with what they were saying.

But other than that, I enjoyed my hour on Nordic Noir. It confirmed why I don’t read more of it, though.

On the beach

Swedes are mad. Culture mad. At the tiniest sign of a culture offering they break shelter and flock to whatever.


We may be marooned in a small (=quiet and sometimes ‘boring’) holiday resort (though one of the best in the country, I hasten to add, lest you think I’m a nobody), but things do happen. Just look at Harplinge library’s book sale on Monday! Saw the ad in the paper for their table top sale. ‘Harplinge has a library?’ said the Resident IT Consultant.

Library sale

Regardless of the small disadvantage of not knowing where it was, he managed very nicely in taking us to the previously unheard of library. The books were all in Swedish, so I purchased a Maj Sjöwall, and left the rest. But I have to say that when they are ready to part with their old armchairs, I’m wanting first refusal. Daughter couldn’t recall having been there before, and we worked out she may have been 18 months old at the time. On that basis I’m willing to forgive her.

Over the last months I have have come across the name Björn Ranelid several times. Swedish author of ‘normal’ books, i.e. not children’s or crime. With hindsight I know this was a witchy premonition. He was speaking at a Halmstad library event on Monday night. We didn’t go.

Mobile library

The ad mentioned we could catch Björn at Båtabacken the next morning, and this being in Haverdal, we did. Daughter grumbled at being got out of bed (and here you have to consider I’d just had a nightmare featuring Björn), and she said how she hates being the only one at events.

Ranelid's Jag

It was hot. Very hot. The mobile library was in place. So was Björn’s Jag. And there was a stream of people streaming towards the beach area. We streamed along, and Daughter snapped. There were at least 150 people there, frying in the sunshine, and listening. More if you count the dogs.


According to his website Björn has several talks that he is word perfect on.

Björn Ranelid

We left to go swimming.


Björn Ranelid

An hour later, and very slightly cooled off we returned to see if there was action still, and caught the tail end of the signing queue. How Björn and his fans didn’t all faint I don’t know.

We made another hurried escape.

But at least we weren’t the only ones there.


(Photos by Helen Giles)

Doesn’t add up

For a while there I lost my entire teen years. I read the interview with Maj Sjöwall in the Observer at breakfast, and after my first incredulous thought that ‘It can’t have been that long ago!’ I threw myself over Wikipedia to check my facts. And theirs.

I was right. It was a relief to find I hadn’t imagined Per Wahlöö alive – if not well – when I was a teenager. I remembered him dying, and the nine-year-old me wouldn’t have. So the Observer writer making him out to have died 44 years ago was wrong.

Typo, I thought charitably. Well, fairly charitably. I’m a mean old witch, although not as old as they tried to make me. No, I don’t think it was a typo, because the number 44 is repeated in the text, and elsewhere the writer states it’s over forty years since Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö wrote together. Make that over thirty years, please. And 34 since he died.

I was looking at the photo of them, with their children, in typical 1970s clothes and hairstyles. Is it the case that not only is it a little hard to deduct 1975 from 2009 and end up with the correct answer, but that if you’re young enough you can’t tell the difference between 1960s ‘fashion’ and ten years later?

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

It was in ‘sixth form’ that I heard of Sjöwall and Wahlöö, during those radical years in the mid seventies, taking for granted the hopes and the ideals, which we now wonder where on earth they went. When Per died I was a callous teenager who felt that dying was what old people did, and he seemed old to me.

Wikipedia at breakfast is unusual in these parts, so it’s sign of how worked up I became at the thought that all this happened in the mid sixties. Illogical that it should have, as the ten years of writing about Beck would have had to have started in the 1950s to make this possible.

I know, it’s uncharitable to complain, but it really distressed me to think I was ten years out in my own life.

Sjöwall & Wahlöö

We have actually paid for some books! Persuaded the Resident IT Consultant that he could do with the complete Martin Beck series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, so he sent off for them. We now have a tottering pile of ten books sitting around. They look good, with new and matching covers.

Martin Beck pile

They have been translated by about four different people, so I have no idea how they compare. The books also come with introductions by ‘proper’ people, as Son put it. Proper like Colin Dexter, Val McDermid and Henning Mankell.

It’s funny how this growing wave of interest for Nordic crime works. Never thought these crime novels from my past, read by all my leftist friends, would re-surface. But it’s good.

What we shall do with the two or three old Sjöwall & Wahlöö novels remains to be seen. Keep them because they are the real thing, or get rid of non-matching duplicates?