Deadly rivalry

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.


2 responses to “Deadly rivalry

  1. Varg Veum is great… I’ve just finished Som i et speil, and am rather impressed with Gunnar Staalesen’s writing style. It’s clever, and stylish crime writing. But then again so was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson… Maybe we should just forget about Norwegian and Swedish on that one and sing the praises of Scandinavian crime writing (?) 🙂 And by the way, shouldn’t forget the girls – Anne Holt and Karin Fossum (Norway) and Camilla Läckberg and Liza marklund (Sweden) probably require a mention too. They are among the best!

    • Jonathan Tisdall

      I meant to mention Marklund and Holt actually – I’m not sure how easy it is to get Holt and Fossum in English – I did spot at least one Holt in translation while rummaging around for links to the blog. I think the rivalry is especially silly here, but it is inevitable. I’m not well enough read on the topic to go into detail, but my two cents are that Holt dipped a bit after a very good start, and that Nesbø is in a class of his own here and Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö are just legendary.

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