Tag Archives: Stieg Larsson

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.

Writing someone else’s sequel

I don’t mind in the least. But at the same time I wasn’t eagerly looking forward to the next ‘Stieg Larsson’ novel, even if it means I can have more of Lisbeth Salander. Didn’t exactly feel I’d boycott the book, but nor did I visualise myself reading it.

But then I read the first interview with David Lagercrantz in Swedish magazine Vi. It was a good interview, done by one of my favourite columnists on Vi, Johan Norberg. Johan usually writes about music, which he does well, since he’s a professional musician. He’s also a good friend of David’s. It’s very Swedish, this, but for the last two decades these men have delivered and fetched their children from the same daycare. (Yeah, a lot of children were required.)

Vi interview David Lagercrantz

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Swedish title Det som inte dödar oss [literally What doesn’t kill us]) was conceived and written under the greatest secrecy, like something straight out of a Stieg Larsson novel.

When I first heard David Lagercrantz was writing the book my cynical reaction was ‘of course,’ as in my mind he belongs to a writing dynasty. Turns out he’s part of the nobility, too, which I didn’t know. But from my foreign horizon I had no idea it was David who wrote Zlatan, or any of the other books he’s responsible for. He just wasn’t important enough for me to keep track of.

For obvious reasons Son wondered who the translator of this fourth Millennium novel would be. The name George Goulding elicited more wondering, as he was totally unknown to everyone. Some digging by Son suggests he’s a pal of Christopher MacLehose, with no translating past, apart from the recent Alan Turing book, also by David Lagercrantz.

Anyway, judging by Johan’s article in Vi, David is a nice, and somewhat shy man, who prefers not to leave his home, other than for the previously mentioned school run. He has been subjected to the expected nasty tabloid articles, because in Sweden it doesn’t do to seem to be more than anyone else. (But they can’t all write Larsson novels!)

David’s only comment to Johan’s interview was that he most certainly doesn’t shave using disposable blades. So now you know.


Now I dream of Harrogate. Me, who has never even made it to Betty’s Tea Rooms. 27 years in the Northwest and not a single trip to Harrogate…

Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Weekend is not something I have seriously considered going to before, especially as it takes place in mid-July, which is a time fraught with holiday plans and trips to Sweden. And things. Last year I felt dismay when I heard JK Rowling was attending, but quickly dismissed this negative thought.

And now, now there are more people who draw me there and I so want to go. Sara Paretsky will be there, and so early that a day trip is out of the question, and all those Northern Irish boys I’m fond of, including Adrian McKinty back in the Northern hemisphere. James Oswald. Stieg Larsson, except he’s not, of course.

I looked at all the suggested crime hotels for the weekend and they look positively irresistible, straight out of an Agatha Christie novel.

It’s still the middle of July, however. And I know for a fact that when the time comes I will be pleased not to be going to yet one more place, or more events.

But right now I’m at the point where I want to!

Bookwitch bites #114

Well, wasn’t that a week stacked to the gills with reviews of some of the excellent books published on the 5th? Don’t spread them out. Just send them in our direction all at once. Spacing your reading is so last century.

And Sophie Hannah is the new Agatha Christie. Will be. Sort of. Sophie is the latest in the recent trend of asking living authors to step into the shoes of their late colleagues. And whereas Agatha Christie did finish Miss Marple off, I think Hercule Poirot managed to avoid having a last case. Although, he is dreadfully old, even if we don’t bring him into the 21st century. Very pleased for Sophie, who writes extremely well. I look forward to seeing what she can do with the old French, oops, sorry, Belgian detective. (Maybe she’ll be less scary. Than her usual self, I mean.)

No sooner had Daughter and I returned from our travels, overseeing The New Window, but Mrs Pendolino called in to deal with hair that had grown too long. She’s on her way to Vegas, which apparently is the place to go this year.

Once shorn, we opened our doors to Botany Girl and Rhino Boy, who called in on their way past Bookwitch Towers, having inspected some scout hut or other. They weren’t going to Vegas. The Northwest – our Northwest – is good enough for them.

I have known Botany Girl for almost as long as I have known the Resident IT Consultant. I’ve not seen so much of her, however, so it was nice of her to remember my proximity to the scout hut. Rhino Boy I’d only met the once, over ten years ago. He wasn’t sure he’d met Daughter, but she was able to tell him what he had for dinner that evening (and somehow he knew she was right. It was a Quattro Stagioni…).

Before regaling us with tales of stuff that all happened when we were all less old than we are now, Rhino Boy looked round the room and his gaze fastened on Anne Rooney’s The Story of Physics. So I let him have a little look. Seems he knows about Physics. He also wanted the inside story on Stieg Larsson. (As if I’d know anything about that.)

Botany Girl and I agreed that it is possible to have a satisfactory quality of life even without advanced Maths, and I forgot to remind her I still owe her a session of washing up.

And I suppose now it’s back to ‘normal’ for maybe a week…

The book I’m reading now

I have to share this with you. Even though you can’t share it. Yet. Even the Resident IT Consultant is having to delay reading, unable to join in. And I bet it’s killing him!

This is a very, very exciting read. You know how publishers have kept finding the next Harry Potter/J K Rowling? Or the person to step into the shoes of Stieg Larsson. And they fail, because it’s a terribly hard thing to do.

Well, I think I have encountered someone who could possibly do a Stieg Larsson (unless you have to be dead to manage it). Not the same. But the same kind of urgency in reading. Similar sort of eye for detail. More thriller than crime. But very, very moreish.

En rasande eld by Andreas Norman was published in Sweden this spring, and it has had pretty favourable reviews. It’s about the EU in Brussels, and MI6 are being very naughty indeed. Written by a diplomat, who knows what he’s talking about. The prose is nothing special, but you don’t need that. What you need is the next page. The next chapter.

I do know it is going to be translated (p8) into English. When is another matter. The title is Into a Raging Blaze. It will be worth waiting for.

Screen Shot 2013-07Andreas Norman, Into a Raging Blaze

Andreas Norman, Into a Raging Blaze

The Nightmare

Lars Kepler’s second crime novel is far better than the first. I’d say the two Ahndorils have got the hang of what they are doing. The plot is still pretty gruesome, but it makes sense. The recurring characters are no more attractive than they were, but familiarity makes up for some of that. Some of the other characters are almost likeable. Actually, I did like one or two of them. Hence I sort of prayed they would last until the end and not be slaughtered halfway.

Their fondness for bloodbaths at the drop of a hat means you can never take a single thing for granted. Maybe that’s good, but sometimes it’d be nice to know there are certain things that just won’t be allowed to happen.

The plot has taken half a step towards the social conscience of Stieg Larsson, featuring the export of weapons to the wrong countries. This makes it easier to approve of the stance taken by some of the characters.

People are murdered, and sometimes appear to take their own life, for some really obscure reason. The police with Joona Linna race to find what exactly lies behind the deaths.

The police. I suppose it’s wrong to feel you’d want your law enforcers to have a higher moral standard than these do. Incompetence is human, but some of these people are most unpleasant.

And I can only assume foreign readers believe Sweden to be full of weird men and women, with hardly a normal average person anywhere. Very compulsive reading, though.

There is an epilogue which almost made me lose faith in what had gone before it. Sometimes we want to believe that things are fine, until the next book comes up with a new horror. I hope I misunderstood it, but I don’t think I did.

K O Dahl, Thomas Enger & Yrsa Sigurðardóttir: Crime in a Cold Climate

It rained. That’s probably not what they had in mind when they named Monday evening’s Nordic crime event for the Manchester Literature Festival. Its other title was Scandinavian Crime Fiction. They do wobble rather between the words Nordic and Scandinavian, and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir isn’t Scandinavian, but she doesn’t mind. She’s quite pleased to be allowed to belong to this select group. Norwegians K O Dahl and Thomas Enger are both Nordic and Scandinavian, and they don’t like the fact that us Swedes are the biggest in Nordic crime.

It’s obvious to me. Bigger population. More crime novels. And as Yrsa very sensibly put it, 300 000 Icelanders can’t possibly fill Waterstone’s with books. Although, I feel they are doing their very best. Once, the only writer from Iceland anyone knew was Laxness.

Thomas Enger, K O Dahl and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Yrsa is dark, or so Barry Forshaw who chaired the event said. I could see she’s dark. Having checked them out on google images to make sure I knew what they looked like, she has gone brunette from all those blonde photos. Maybe he meant her writing. Apparently Yrsa has also written children’s books. Cheerful, humourous ones at that. Good for her. And in true Icelandic spirit, where no one can be allowed to do just the one job (remember, there’s only 300 000 of them), Yrsa is also a civil engineer.

Barry Forshaw started off by asking them about their misanthropy, but they didn’t seem to get that. And then he called Stieg Larsson controversial, which also surprised the three of them. They all claimed to be very non-violent in their books, and Yrsa mentioned her difficulty in working out how to kill people off. Must be tricky.

Thomas Enger

But she has one piece of advice for those who do want to kill off their characters. The answer is the standalone novel, because those characters are disposable and need not be saved for the next book. How true. She herself has a new horror book coming next year. Presumably there isn’t a single character standing at the end.

Thomas Enger wrote four books before he had anything published. The fact that they were about a woman in New York might have had something to do with it. Once he wrote about what he knew – being a journalist – it went a lot better. He explained to us why his character is scarred, in more ways than one.

K O Dahl

K O Dahl wrote his first novel at 15, and was so put out when it wasn’t published that he was never going to write again. But twenty years on, there he was, getting published, and doing so long before the Nordic crime wave. He said that at the time there was only him and Anne Holt.

They all avoid sex. Thomas’s character is too angry for sex, and K O prefers tension between his characters. As for Yrsa, Iceland is too small for sex. (You know, she is really quite amusing…) Having been informed that Italians and other south Europeans are the only ones who can write about food, Thomas makes a point of always having food in his books.

Speaking of food, Yrsa might have said she does the shopping for Arnaldur Indridason. Or perhaps not. The live near each other, but that’s just by coincidence. Early reading for K O was his father’s pulp fiction, whereas Thomas read the Hardy Boys and his sister read Nancy Drew. Quite normal, in other words. Didn’t quite catch what Yrsa said. Something about a Yellow Shadow, I believe.

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Translations of books are tricky. They are only able to check the English ones, but that’s enough. Yrsa has been translated into 34 languages, and when she sees how mangled the English translation can be, she worries about what happens in the other 33.

After the Q & A, it was time for book signings, and Yrsa was kept singularly busy. I just wish she wouldn’t keep putting her reading glasses on and off like that. Made the photographer’s life difficult. The Norwegian ‘boys’ on either side of her sat like angels.