Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Why do you think Norwegians are so skeptical about George Bush?"

Jo Nesbø has called Norway "a very young nation, and it is trying very hard to find itself. Like any nation, it needs pillars to build an image of a nation on."

In The Snowman he has a character make a similar point more provocatively:
"`Why do you think Norwegians are so skeptical about George Bush, Arve Støp?'

"`Because we're an overprotected nation that has never fought in any wars. We've been happy to let others do it for us: England, the Soviet Union and America. Yes, ever since the Napoleonic Wars we've hidden behind the backs of our older brothers. ... That's been going on for so long that we've lost our sense of reality and we believe that the earth is basically populated by people who wish us — the world's richest country — well. Norway, a gibbering, pea-brained blonde who gets lost in an alley in the Bronx and is now indignant that her bodyguard is so brutal with muggers."
The passage in incidental to the story, but it adds to the novel's flavor. What are your favorite such passages? And what are your favorite bits of political commentary in crime stories?
© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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15 Comments:

Anonymous Linkmeister said...

From a Library Thing review I wrote of John D. MacDonald's "Nightmare in Pink": "We're treated to more of McGee's thoughts about society here. At one point he's walking the streets of Manhattan and is bumped by a fellow pedestrian who snarls at him, and this takes him off into a theory about New York being the place where society breaks down -- instead of mere snarls at some point the bumper and bumpee will be at each others' throats; onlookers follow along, and soon all urban centers will be jungles with the smarter predators hunting one another through the streets."

That was written in the early 1960s.

June 14, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep, that's a good one.

Nesbø has a history of using the U.S. to poke fun at his own country. Here's a bit from The Redbreast:

"On the radio, someone speaking with a Norwegian accent asked, "Mr. President, this is the fourth visit to Norway by a sitting U.S. President. How does it feel?"

Pause.

"It's really nice to be back here. And I see it as even more important that the leaders of the state of Israel and of the Palestinian people can meet here. The key to – "

"Can you remember anything from your previous visit to Norway, Mr. President?"

"Yes, of course. In today's talks, I hope that we can – "

"What significance have Oslo and Norway had for world peace, Mr. President?"

"Norway has had an important role."

A voice without a Norwegian accent: "What concrete results does the President consider to be realistic?"

The recording was cut and someone from the studio took over.
"

June 14, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

Norway, a gibbering, pea-brained blonde

The feminist in me resents that description. I thought Nordic males were supposed to have gone beyond that kind of thing.

More work to do there, I think.

June 15, 2011  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

Peter, do you think that, "pea-brained blonde," applies to Canada as well? A rich country wondering why her bodyguard is so tough on the muggers?

About New York a stand-up comedian friend of mine said, "In most cities you get heckled in the clubs, in New York you get heckled on the street."

June 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, Nesbø made the tactically wise decision to put that sentiment in the mouth of a loudmouth media personality.

June 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John, Nesbø invoked Canada in our interview (which we conducted in Toronto, remember):

"It’s pride and insecurity going together. You see that in many countries. Norway has always had the same relationship to bigger countries, Sweden especially, Denmark, maybe the same way that Canada feels toward the United States, like a bigger brother. Canada is a nicer country, but that’s not enough."

June 15, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

Nesbø made the tactically wise decision to put that sentiment in the mouth of a loudmouth media personality

Glad to hear it wasn't Harry talking through his hole. I would have given up on him if it had been.

June 16, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's Harry talking through his HU-leh, pal.

My guess -- and it's nothing more than speculation -- is that those opinions are exaggerated versions of Nesbø's own, along with an expression of his disdain for certain quarters of the media.

June 16, 2011  
Blogger Pat Miller said...

When I read this post I had just been reading Donna Leon's A Question of Belief at the point where (and this is often a feature of her stories) Inspector Brunetti has just finished lunching at home with his family and is ruminating on the discussion he had with his very astute wife, Paola:

"Brunetti was, by dispositon and then by training, a listener: people sensed that first in him and in his company spoke easily and often entirely without reserve. In the last year, what he heard more and more in the voices of people - sometimes a woman standing next to him on the vaporetto or a man in a bar - was a mountng sense of disgust at the way they were ruled and at the people who ruled them...
Underlying it all, and this is what troubled Brunetti, was a sense of despair. He was troubled by the helplessness which so many people felt and their failure to understand what had happened, as if aliens had taken over and imposed this system on them. Governments came and governments went, the Left came and then gave place to the Right, and nothing changed. Though politicians often talked of it and promised it, not one of them gave evidence of having any real desire to change this system which worked so very much to their real purposes."

Being only a quarter of the way into the book, it's paragraphs like these that give an inkling to what's in store and make the reading that much more compelling.

June 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Being only a quarter of the way into the book, it's paragraphs like these that give an inkling to what's in store and make the reading that much more compelling."

That's an interesting remark, that the paragraph sets a tone for the rest of the novel. I'm not sure Nesbø's observations, delightful as they are, do that. Here's another one of those observations, just because I like it so much.

June 18, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

That's the joy of reading about Guido and Paola Brunetti. Donna Leon weaves in many observations and much commentary about life in Italy today.

Her 20 books are full of such paragraphs -- and on so many issues.

Leon loves to discuss Italian society and dissect it and give her opinions -- or, should I say, the opinions of the Brunettis.


I just finished Leon's last book, Drawing Conclusions, and enjoyed it like a perfect cup of tea and a delicious dessert (or newly baked bialy with butter). Or as a friend says, it's like coming home to a comfortable pair of shoes.

Whatever it is, it's my cup of tea.

I say this as I just returned from a two-day virtual trip to Vigata,Sicily, where I observed Salvo Montalbano wrestle with two murders, contemplate (and grouse about) aging, curse and yell, show compassion to a child, enjoy and ruminate about his meals and make witty remarks. I could not put down The Snack Thief. This series should go on forever, but because the author, Andrea Camilleri, is in his 80s, there may be an end in sight.

June 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, there is an end in sight. I have read that Camilleri has already written the last of the Montalbano series -- to be published in the event of the author's death or incapacitation, according to a friend of mine who is a big fan of his.

That leaves we readers of English several books yet; three or four Montalbano novels and story collections already published in Italian have yet to appear in English translation.

June 19, 2011  
Blogger Pat Miller said...

Yes, I too have a fondness for the humanists among our fictional detectives and I will be looking forward to reading more from Leon and Camilleri, however long we can.
Still, I can't help but also admire the wry wit of Philip Kerr's cynical Bernie Gunther. I don't have a copy to hand so I can't quote, but I think that given how the caustic environment of Nazi Germany that he works in is so toxic it is only his witty retorts that protect him from annihilation. He has managed to survive like this through 7 books over a couple of decades with an eighth due out in October. I hope he doesn't run out of puff.

June 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, when it comes to Norwegian society and insecurities, the narrator's opinion in Nesbø' books are the same as the author's.

June 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think that given how the caustic environment of Nazi Germany that he works in is so toxic it is only his witty retorts that protect him from annihilation.

Pat, that's an interesting explanation for wit that some readers might find odd or off-putting given the world in which Bernie Gunther lives.

June 19, 2011  

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