Friday, May 15, 2009

CrimeFest, Day II: The spirit is willing, and the flesh makes a pretty good go as well

My own highlight from Crimefest 2009, Day II? Perhaps it was Jo Nesbø's English translator, Don Bartlett, relieving me of anxieties about how to pronounce Nesbø's name. If "Joe Nesbow" is good enough for the man who translates his books, it's good enough for me.

Or maybe it was L.C. Tyler's professed admiration for Allan Guthrie. Tyler writes comic cozy mysteries; Guthrie's work is anything but cozy. One author's respect for another who writes fiction of a different type is one of those salutary, mind-opening reminders that make events like this a joy.

Another was Leighton Gage's answer that his books begin with plot. If my memory serves me well, he was the only one of eight writers on two panels who gave that answer to the "Plot or character?" question.

Stephen Booth offered the disarming admission that "I didn't want to write about middle-aged alcoholics because other people had done it better" and the warning that too faithful a portrayal of procedure can be deadly in a police procedural.

Ros Schwartz, Dagger-winning translator of Dominique Manotti, offered shocking assessments of the miserable working conditions of literary translators in much of Europe and contrasted these with the far better environment for translators in the Scandinavian countries.

Håkan Nesser, in answer to a question about Nordic authors' reputation for dourness, noted their penchant for social criticism: "If your mission is to criticize society, you can't be very comical." (Editor's note: Your humble blogkeeper is author of an article on humor in Nordic crime fiction, including Nesser's. I believe that the general seriousness of crime fiction from the Nordic countries throws such humor as there is into especially sharp relief.)

Declan Burke, Chris Ewan, Steve Mosby and Kevin Wignall made up a panel on writing about villains. An observation of Mosby's neatly encapsulated the way the line between hero and villain can blur: "Every villain is the hero of his own story."

See the day's complete program here. And Burke discharged his bar debt in a prompt, gentlemanly manner.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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21 Comments:

Blogger R. T. said...

In my experience, finding humor in Nordic crime fiction is a bit like finding a grove of trees in Iceland. You really have to keep an eye open, and you are rewarded rarely, but the rewards are special. At any rate, continue on with enjoying the festivities and personalities. Remember, also enjoy the Guinness! (Though I should have told you yesterday that the fellow who consumed Guinness in Sayers' novel is the fellow who assumes room temperature rather early in the story. So, be careful.)

May 15, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Today's tipple was Magner's cider. I should add that I have drunk Guinness in Adrian McKinty's sister's pub. The beer acquires a special flavor when drunk in an establishment presided over by a close relative of a favorite author.

May 15, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

You know, I was really buying the whole Scandinavian=dark, dour crime writing until I chanced upon the Forbes report on the world's happiest places today and found both Sweden and Norway among them. Now I think we have to come up with other theories.

May 16, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Maybe the biggest flaw in the new Trek: a low charisma villain.

Here's a question for everyone who has seen Abrams' Star Trek, what were Eric Bana's last words? ... Dont remember, eh? But I'm pretty sure everyone who has seen Wrath of Khan will recall Ricardo Montalblan's "From hell's heart I stab at thee."

May 16, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Oh dear. I am really hoping that Peter or someone can see the connection here and that you are not just wandering around from site to site hoping to find someone who will talk about Star Trek with you. If Bana said something about the spirit being willing I might just be able to understand. But unfortunately all those Bristol goers are probably asleep by now, and I have no idea what Bana's last words were.

May 16, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Adrian, if seanag is correct and you are wandering around looking for a Star Trek discussion, try this one. There are a lot of SF authors and aficionados who partake of that salon's offerings (the authors are affiliated with Tor), so they're a pretty passionate group about Trek in all its forms.

May 16, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

Linkmeister I am kidding him a little because I am pretty sure he knows where all the forums are, and maybe even started a few of his own.

I'm betting that he has posted this to the wrong site. Unless Eric Bana did say something along the spirit is willing lines.

May 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I guess Forbes does better at breaking stereotypes than do the compilers of that survey comparing countries by the amount of alcohol their citizens consume.

May 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I thought Khan's last words were: "They never ... knew there's no such ... no such thing ... as ... Corinithian leather. The fools!"

May 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I must defend Adrian for bringing up Khan and his charismaless successor. I'm guessing the question follows on my mention of the panel on villains.

May 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I thought Eric Bana was a talented but erratic French former soccer star.

No, wait. That was Eric Cantona.

May 16, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Montalblan great villain. Bana lousy villain. It aint rocket science. Oh wait, it sort of is.

May 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I shall leave it to the Trekheads among us to hash that one out. I have heard good things about the new movie, though, so I may give it a look.

Isn't is about time to supplement "It ain't rocket science" with a fresher expression? The choices are:

a) It ain't quantum nechanics
b) It ain't super-string theory, bub
c) It ain't post-structuralism, pal
d) None of the above
e) All of the above
f) Other

May 16, 2009  
Blogger bookwitch said...

Humour? Try Bo Balderson. You will most likely need to learn Swedish first. So slight drawback there. But very funny.

May 16, 2009  
Blogger Dana King said...

"If your mission is to criticize society, you can't be very comical."

Huh? I think Dafoe, Heller, and Hiaasen might argue that point. None are Scandinavian by birth, but satire has used humor to criticize society since before the printing press.

(Verification Word = meddyv, which is, I believe, the president of Russia.)

May 16, 2009  
Anonymous BV Lawson said...

Thanks for the great updates thus far, Peter. Definitely makes us desktop-bound shlemazls wistful and jealous. Upon your return, we'll expect a complete thesis with bullet points, index, and bibliographic notes. Fair is fair.

May 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Miss Witch, I shared a table at dinner this evening with Reg Keeland/Steven T. Murray and Tiina Nunnally, two of the leading translators of Swedish crime fiction into English. Mr. Keeland recalled reading Balderson years ago and said he thought his work, especially in its political aspects, might be too specifically Swedish to translate well. Does that sound like the right Bo Balderson to you?

May 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, one might add Ruth Dudley Edwards, Garbhan Downey and Christopher Brookmyre among English-language crime writers who are funny as they criticize politics, society or both. I'm tempted to suggest that Sweden and other Nordic nations might lack suck a tradition, which may lead Nesser to feel as he does. But see the references to Bo Balderson in comments above this one.

Your v-word sounds like a Russian who is staggering home after closing time and voicing his unflattering opinion of the president.

May 16, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

BV, this footloose luftmensch can make no such promise to my deskbound schlemazl friends, especially since I shall in all likelihood resume my own life as a deskbound schlemazl in less than two weeks.

I can promise no bullet points, indexes or subscripts, but I can promise the likelihood of posts in a rather more probing direction in the coming weeks. Some interesting issues have arisen in the panels and post-panel discussions.

May 16, 2009  
Blogger Declan Burke said...

Rozovksy, you luftmensch ... I lost a bet and bought you a drink. My reputation is being traduced here ...

You can't be comical criticizing politics and society? What, they've never heard of Swift? Flann O'Brien? Barry Gifford? Elmore blummin' Leonard?

Cheers, Dec

May 17, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Your reputation has been restored with an amended post.

In re Nesser about incompatibility of comedy and social criticism, I did not probe further on this matter. Perhaps he'd have slappped his lofty forehead and said: "By Odin's whiskers, I was remiss! How could I failed to think of Swift, E.b. Leonard, Heller and the rest? My brain simply ceased functioning. Must be the fookin' yet lag." (And I'd add Mark Twain to the list.)

But perhaps he'd have replied that Sweden lacks the satirical heritage of England, Ireland and pre-war America. I don't know if that's the case, but the starkness of his declaration leads me to suspect that he simply comes from a very different literary tradition. But see also Bookwitch's comment above.

May 17, 2009  

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