No, not really. But neighbors Sweden and Norway do make each other the butt of jokes so much that a startling number of their children really do believe the other country is mentally impaired. And they do have a prickly rivalry, made worse by upstart Norway becoming so rich and successful.
Where sports are concerned the one-upmanship rapidly reaches ludicrous proportions, but no occasion is too small to consider a poke in the other’s direction.
When I was reading the articles about Norway’s penchant for bloodthirsty literary thrills at Easter, I noticed with some bemusement that one journo had felt it necessary to insert that this tradition was something the Swedes could not match.
Now, I found this odd at the time because I couldn’t really see making a seasonal quest for crime and murder books something to lord over one’s neighbors. But later it struck me as childish for a more compelling reason – the Swedes are brilliant at writing crime lit. Chances are high that Norwegians are reading them for Easter, and that they are being read in general around the world.
And Swedish crime is if anything even hotter than usual. Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander and Henning Mankell’s Inspector Wallander are bigger than ever on the international scene, and to my mind no one has yet to surpass the sublime Martin Beck novels of Sjöwall and Wahlöö.
Norway doesn’t have much to put up against these heavyweights, despite the obsession here with crime, and even less has been translated and exported on an international scale. But there is one who has enjoyed deserved success, and who is almost certainly translated in a bookshop near you. OK, even nearer if you buy online.
Jo Nesbø is a master of the genre, and his depressive, often alcoholic detective anti-hero Harry Hole is a surprisingly engaging character. It wouldn’t be Scandinavian lit without a good dose of gloom. Nesbø’s children books are also top notch subversive adventures for kids.
I also found out that another staple of hard-boiled Norwegian detective fiction, private eye Varg Veum, has been translated into English, and the only danger with following that lead is possible frustration at not being able to get more without resorting to learning Norwegian.
For those with an interest in Scandinavian literature, the following sites are a good place to get acquainted with either news or classics.