Monday, January 02, 2012

Nordic not-really Noir: The BBC documentary

(Cheerful blogger with non-
gloomy Icelandic crime writer
Arnaldur Indriðason)
Hat tip to Adrian McKinty, who posted a link to the BBC documentary Nordic Noir: The Story of Scandinavian Crime Fiction. A few comments:

First, the title. Alliteration to the contrary, none of the authors interviewed or discussed really writes noir, not Stieg Larsson, not Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, not in the books of hers that I've read, Karin Fossum. The central characters are not losers. The books are about anger, compassion, isolation, or resignation. They don't encompass the essentially noir emotion of depair. Gloom, yes. Doom, no.
*
Val McDermid noted the cold, gloomy landscape in Nordic crime writing and suggested this makes a wonderful stage for crime.  She gets no quarrel from me. Here's some of what I wrote about Arnaldur Indriðason in the book Following the Detectives: Real Locations in Crime Fiction:
"People disappear in Arnaldur Indriðason's Iceland, but the soil has a way of yielding them up again. An earthquake cracks the land, drains a lake, and uncovers a body; a victim turns up on a construction-site excavation; in spring, corpses come to light in a lake, where winter ice had concealed all signs of their disappearance. ... The landscape swallows up victims, whether of murder, accident or natural disaster; geological disruption lays them bare again."
Iceland, says one expert interviewed for the BBC piece, is "a place where people can disappear." Rozovsky said it first.
*
I was glad to hear McDermid note that Arnaldur's books are shot through with "these dark and awful bits of humor." And I loved a remark from Håkan Nesser, always amusing in a way not normally associated with Scandinavians, that "We're not supposed to talk like I do, we're supposed to just sit there and stare blankly out into the, whatever, darkness."
*
The program offered lots of Larsson but also a bit of Ibsen, intriguingly citing the nineteenth-century Norwegian playwright as a prototype for Scandinavian crime fiction's tendency to explore the outward, social manifestations of inner trauma. Jo Nesbø, among the program's featured authors, numbered Ibsen among his influences when he spoke with Detectives Beyond Borders last year.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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27 Comments:

Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

These days anything qualifies as noir or thriller. It's the hype.

January 02, 2012  
Blogger Nan said...

Thank you, thank you for bringing this to my attention. We have it all set to watch later. Yay! I love how one of the you tube comments noted just where the Arnaldur I. part started. :<)

January 02, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I,J., I'd call the vogue for noir a matter of cachet rather than hype, if that makes any sense. The same with thriller, I suppose. I have read some fine crime novels recently that I was surprised to see described as thrillers. One irony is that while noir as a term enjoys prestige, real noir -- hardcore, bleak tales of losers and futility -- is a difficult sell. Noir is the most protean of crime-fiction terms.

January 02, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Iceland, says one expert interviewed for the BBC piece, is "a place where people can disappear

Gee, that sounds like a shocking place. Glad I don't live there.

Happy New Year, Peter.

January 02, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're welcome, Nan. Enjoy the show. Arnaldur is the best crime writer from that part of the world and one of the best anywhere.. That viewer was obviously impatient for the good stuff.

A quick look at the YouTube comments reminded me of program's odd assertion someone makes that Stieg Larsson would have hated having his titles changed in so many languages. As far as I know, English is the only language in which the title was changed from the original "The Man (or Men) WHo Hated Women." I can't figure out why the makers of show did not pick up on such an odd statement. The only possibility I can think of is that the woman intended to say Larsson would have wanted the same title for all the books, though that seems pretty far-fetched.

January 02, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And to you, too, Solo. In the coming year, I shall try to make "Ah, go to Iceland!" a part of English lexicon, a synonym for "Ah, get out of my hair, will ya?"

January 02, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Grumble! The man's last name is Indridasson. I don't care what peculiar customs they have there. The rest of the Scandinavian countries have adjusted. I keep losing the fellow in the library.

And yes, Iceland isn't my favorite sort of place to visit, though the man can write. (Unlike other Icelandic authors who got a free ride on his success).

January 02, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Grumble? Your disposition is improving!

I wonder if libraries and bookstores that shelve Arnaldur among the A's also put Qiu Xiaolong with the Q's. There's something to be said for putting books where readers can find them.

As for riding Arnaldur's coattails, the BBC program did not mention the only other Icelandic crime writer I can think of off-hand.

January 02, 2012  
Blogger Pat Miller said...

At the risk of seeming pedantic, most libraries follow cataloguing rules. Ours does, so Arnaldur is with the A's. But our catalogue allows you to search by any part of the name. You probably wouldn't want to search for John or Mary, but if you put Sigurdardottir in the search field, you will get all of Yrsa's books. I recall the first Icelandic novel I read, Jar City, had an explanation at the front of the book about Icelandic names. Our library also shelves Qiu with the Q's - I don't think our many Chinese library users mind at all.

Bookstores have a more specific objective - to sell books. So they can put a copy here, a copy there - anywhere anyone looking for it might find it. Some libraries use this tactic, too, but mainly for controlled temporary displays. Catalogues are nice to have, even in a bookstore.

January 02, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I was pleased when I found Arnaldur with the A's in my local public library, not surprised when I found Qiu with the Q's in a bookstores.

You're not pedantic, just sensible. Thanks.

January 02, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

All theories about Nordic Noir, or at least Swedish crime fiction break down in the face of this.

The Swedes are not like you and I. Well, unless "you" happend to be Swedish.

January 02, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, ja, but that's so obvious. Just read the following excerpt from the article to which you linked, with relevant passages highlighted by me:

"Kalle Anka (pronounced kah-lay ahn-kah) gets its name from the star of the show's second animated short, a 1944 cartoon called "Clown of the Jungle," in which Donald Duck is tormented by a demented Aracuan Bird during a luckless ornithological expedition. The short is typical of the random violence of many early Disney cartoons."

The cartoon highlights the violence that lurks beneath the placid surface of Sweden's alleged avian paradise. Sure the Aracuan Bird is demented, but only because of the horrible abuse it endured at the hands of duckish oppressors. In fact, the Bird is an empowering figure for suffering Aracuan Birds iin Sweden, where statistics reveal shocking treatment of Aracuan Birds by the system.

January 02, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Sadly, "The Aracuan Bird with the Dragon Tattoo" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

January 02, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The original title was The Duck That Hated Aracuan Birds, but the publishers softened that for American and English audiences they feared would be unable to handle the brutal truth the cartoon exposes so fearlessly.

January 02, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Have to leave it to those brave Swedes for that kind of truthseeking, Peter.

January 02, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ja, ve remain stolid in the face of fects vere yu Americans would get all emotional.

January 02, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Let's face it, we Americans are all girly-girls. I think our last Californian governor may have seen this before anyone else.

January 03, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I suspect the British may be at fault here, since the English version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was semi-famously purchased by a British publisher first.

January 03, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I posted a few years ago about the English title standing alone in softening the tone of the original. English was and remains the only language I know of that did so.

January 03, 2012  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Agree about the writing of Arnaldur Indridason; it's superb, stands head and shoulders among many writers, both Scandinavian and worldwide.

His latest book Outrage is quite good as well as the prior books in his Erlendur series, although Hypothermia is an all-time favorite of mine.

January 04, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Outrage" is on my list. I'm curious about whether "outrage" refers to the word's older meaning of "excess" or the newer, far more widespread meaning of "anger" -- the result of mistake, one might say, since "outrage" has nothing to do etymologically with "rage."

This matters little. I'm glad Arnaldur has turned to the Erlendur series.

January 04, 2012  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

"Outrage" means an "outrageous" act has been committed, in this case.

Yes, Erlendur is out trying to resolve his childhood trauma, while his associate, Elinborg, solves a murder case.

Here, as in Helene Turston's books, Elinberg is a rational, contented person with a family. The family has a few more problems than that of Turston's books, i.e., teenage angst, but it's refreshing to read about another character who has a stable life to return to every night and who is not dysfunctional.

January 04, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

In that case, congratulations to Arnaldur's publishers for preserving the good, old meaning of the word.

Speaking of Helene Tursten, Soho has just published or is about to publish another novel of hers.

January 04, 2012  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Yes, I have been waiting for Tursten's book.

Glad it's almost ready.

Also, I read The Boy in the Suitcase, which I liked and wonder why publishers are not translating and publishing the other books in the Nina Borg series.

January 04, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, The Boy in the Suitcase is the first of three novels in the Nina Borg series. If it sells well in English translation, I expect further books will be translated.

Here's a discussion in Danish and English of one of the subsequent books in the series.

January 05, 2012  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Good. This sounds like it's right up my alley with a compelling protagonish, story and social issues around the Roma people.

And, even better, Dorte's blog says that the trilogy was sold to Soho Press, so we should be seeing two more books featuring Nina Borg.

I, for one, will even buy the books, if my library fails to do so.

Did you read Mercy (The Keeper of Lost Causes)?

January 05, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I haven't read Mercy (The Keeper of Lost Causes). I should see if I have a copy lying around.

Soho seems to be putting lots of promotional muscle behind The Boy in the Suitcase. I hope it does well, Soho must have confidence that the books will sell. I'm not sure many three-book deals are being handed out these days.

January 05, 2012  

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