Sunday, July 29, 2012

Larsson-y: I review Lars Kepler in the Philadelphia Inquirer

My review of The Nightmare by Lars Kepler in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer posits the existence of a school of Nordic crime writing called Stieg Larssonism (its practitioners are Larssonists) that
"combines potboiler thrills and righteous anger in a fat, sprawling tosh-filled package, often with 475 or more pages plus a didactic, statistics-filled epilogue in case the reader doesn’t get the point – or in case he or she thinks the point was just to have some fun. That way the reader get dirty thrills but feels morally uplifted at the same time."
While preparing the review, I came across a comment by Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril, the female half of the couple that writes as Lars Kepler, that Stieg Larsson had revitalized crime fiction and that the Lars part of their pen name was a tribute to him.

At the same time, I was reading Barry Forshaw's Death in a Cold Climate, which includes a chapter on the Larsson phenomenon but also another called "The Anti-Larsson Writers."  Finally, my post on realism, naturalism, and their opposite in crime fiction elicited this comment in Larsson's defense:
"[Larsson] was doing something different. He loved potboilers. He wrote fanfic when he was young and omnivorously consumed pop culture. He wrote a mashup of everything he loved and borrowed from Modesty Blaise to Sarah Paretsky but he also threw in everything he cared about in his day job as a journalist."
That commenter and I analyze Larsson and Larssonism in substantially identical terms, in other words, though her assessment is more positive than mine.

This, plus Forshaw's chapter on anti-Larsson writers, leaves me with a bracing feeling that I and the world now understand Nordic crime fiction better than we once did and the hope that we'll be spared further silly invocations of this, that, or the other utterly un-Larssonian writer as the next Stieg Larsson.

But mostly I liked writing the review because I got to define Stieg Larssonism as "potboiler plots with didactic political intent; call it Harold Robbins meets Noam Chomsky."

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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24 Comments:

Blogger verymessi said...

Hello Peter,

Never thought I would ever see Noam Chomsky and Harold Robbins used in the same sentence!

I wonder if you have ever read Manufacturing Consent by Chomsky and Herman? Given you work in the press I would find your views interesting.

Messi's first game of the year yesterday. Another hat trick..only an exhibition game.

July 29, 2012  
Blogger Maxine Clarke said...

I haven't read The Nightmare and probably shan't, as The Hypnotist was definitely a potboiler, without even the politics. It started out OK but degenerated into logical idiocies, plot ludicrousness, themes started & dropped, & then the mad axeman jumping out of the woodshed --- all very below par, well below S Larsson for sure.

There is something to be said for your definition of Larsson. It is interesting to compare his third novel (the one I presume you are referring to by the "politics" as it is the one with the overt political theme), TGWKTHN, with a much more mature book about the origins of SePo and the interactions of the police force(s) with government in Sweden, as well as international relations --- Another Time, Another Life by Leif G W Persson. This is intelligent crime fiction at its best.

In other words, one swallow does not make a summer (one example does not make a whole case)!

July 29, 2012  
Blogger C.B. James said...

I love your definition of Larssonism. Put me down in the anti-larssonism camp. Firmly anti-larsson.

July 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Verymessi, I have a feeling that the only time European football teams don’t play is when I visit their countries.

I have not read Manufacturing Consent; thanks for mentioning it. I’m not sure my profession would affect my views as much as you think. Copy editors occupy their own strangely detached positions within newspapers.

I admit a certain childlike delight in having invoked Chomsky and Robbins together, so I’m pleased that you noticed the line.

July 29, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

In the right mood, I have nothing against a good potboiler. Not great as regular fare, though.

July 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maxine, The Nightmare is worth a read. I omitted mentioning some its plot strands, but several on their own are nicely potboilerish. I just don’t quite see where everything fits together. True I read the novel because I had a deadline to meet, but I had little trouble reading it in two days, no mean trick for a book that size. Or maybe it was just excitement over this new analysis I was developing that kept me going.

You’re right that one example does not make the case, and that’s one of two reasons I think my analysis of Larsson might be useful: It might appeal to both pro- and anti-Larsson forces, and, by defining a distinct Larsson school, it might end the annoying tendency to assume that Larsson is like all Scandinavian crime writing and all Scandinavian crime writing like Larsson.

The Nightmare. by the way, makes and amusing reference to Leif G W Persson by name.

July 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the note, C.B. Larsson's phenomenal success forces the issue of pro- and anti-Larsson camps. Such a delineation is useful or necessary only to remind people that "Stieg Larsson" and "Scandinavian crime fiction" are not synonymous. Larsson needs to be put in his place, you might say.

July 29, 2012  
Blogger verymessi said...

Peter,

Below is a brief overview of Chomsky and Herman's view of the mainstream corporate media. Its an institutional analysis of the media that basically says that the dominate picture of the world presented is one in the interests of the owners and advertisers, or of the dominate political/economic elite in general.

"Manufacturing Consent.." was first published in 1988 and has become the model for left analysis of mainstream corporate media.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manufacturing_Consent:_The_Political_Economy_of_the_Mass_Media


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manufacturing_Consent:_The_Political_Economy_of_the_Mass_Media

July 29, 2012  
Blogger verymessi said...

Sorry. The link below was to be the second one listed.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_model

July 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maxine, I would also leave open the possibiity that Lars Kepler are still perfecting their Stieg Larssonism; that "The Nightmare" may be a better book than "The Hypnotist."

July 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, a good potboiler is all right, but I'm not sure such writing lends itself well to seriousl political and moral intent.

July 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

VM, thanks for the links. They could make good reading on my dinner break at work.

July 29, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

I'm not sure why a potboiler couldn't have serious moral intent. It might be heavyhanded in the rendition, but some people (ie, almost everyone) seem to like that.

July 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Serious, yes, but hectoring and morally superior, I'm less certain about. If it's heavy-handed AND people like it, now, there's an interesting question, one I think I may have addressed in the excerpt I reproduce in the post.

July 29, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Let me be politic for once and say that subtlety is not what everyone has been educated to understand.

July 29, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Trying to edge from saying people are sheep, are you?

July 29, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

No, people aren't sheep, but they are highly impressionable and highly imitative. Sometimes, these are good things. I suppose they must have an evolutionary advantage.

July 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

What, you mean it's an evolutionary advantage that leads people to read Stieg Larsson instead of Adrian McKinty and Declan Burke?

July 30, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

That could never be an advantage on any front. This is why God invented booksellers.

Although why a better wage for booksellers wasn't invented at the same time eludes me.

Charitably, we could say that at least they read...

July 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I can't hope that everyone will follow the right road, but it would be nice if they looked at a damn map once in a while.

Meanwhile, I have just now finished reading a wonderful novel called Claire de Witt and the City of the Dead, by Sara Gran, that mentions Santa Cruz a time or two, though its action takes place in New Orleans.

July 30, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

I'll have to get to that one. I read her more horror style book Closer, but not this one. She walked in off the street one day and I took her to sign our copies of this one.

July 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Her author's biography does say that she's lived around the country. Does she live in Santa Cruz these days?

July 30, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

No, I think she was just passing through.

July 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Just passing through makes sense, as you might gather when you read the post I've just put up.

July 30, 2012  

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