Posts Tagged ‘Stieg Larsson’

The Book Haven goes to Sweden’s Sigtuna Literary Festival!

Friday, August 26th, 2016

Sweden’s oldest city…

Sweden has about 10 million people –about half the size of the New York metropolitan area. It’s language has about the same number of native speakers as the Czech language has. Compare that, however, to the plight of a noble language like Lithuanian, which has a mere 3 million native speakers. It’s something to think about in a world where the big languages are swallowing up the small – English has 340 million native speakers, by comparison, and half a billion when you include those who have it as a second (or third or fourth) language. It’s roughly the same for Hindi, though no one talks about Hindi being the universal Latin of the modern world. Both English and Hindi are dwarfed by Mandarin Chinese, with about 873 million, with more than a billion including second language.


Ingemar Åkesson, Alexander Deriev, and Humble Moi

I ponder this as I sip my morning Gevalia (“Intensivo”) coffee and sample some Präst and Västerbotten cheese in the home of Alexander Deriev in Märsta, outside Stockholm. These smaller language groups are wise to choose to celebrate their own literary glory in the splashiest way they can. In the case of Sweden, that’s a significant literary legacy.

I’m a guest of the Sigtuna Literary Festival, based in Sweden’s oldest city (established in 970). The festival is one of Scandinavia’s largest literary festivals.  This year is its fifth consecutive year – but they don’t just celebrate their own literature; they celebrate everyone’s.

“To arrange and host a literary festival feels completely natural to us in Sigtuna. As Sweden’s first city, we have a unique history as a multicultural place with a long narrative tradition,” according to the festival’s website. “Sigtuna was an important meeting place where people from near and far gathered to network and exchange thoughts and ideas, as far back as a thousand years ago. We want to build on that. ‘Word power’ is simply in the Sigtuna soul.

“In today’s society, characterized by a fast, steady stream of information and opinions, we feel that there is a need for context to slow the tempo –  to provide scope for further thinking and not least of all, time for reflection. We need to discuss and reflect on important issues. In Sigtuna, we lean on more than a thousand years of history, so we prefer take a longer perspective. We want to continue to build on our history as a place of public debate for another thousand years.”

Sweden has a lot to celebrate: I flew in on Norwegian Airlines, which features leading Scandinavian figures on its tailfins. The nation has seven Nobelists (being the home of Alfred Nobel helps, for sure), including Selma Lagerlöf, Pär Lagerkvist, and Tomas Tranströmer – and the tailfins include writers from neighboring Scandinavians as well, such as Denmark’s Søren Kierkegaard and Norway’s Nobelist, Sigrid Undset. (I didn’t see playwrights Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg listed for the tailfin honor in my quick scan of the list – curious omissions if so.)

Clearly they have to catch up, given for the current rage for Swedish noir, the international popularity of Swedish crime fiction. Will Stieg Larsson be featured on an airplane anytime soon?

More from the festival in days to come… Previous guests include Lithuania’s Tomas Venclova and Sweden’s Bengt Jangfeldt, so I’m in good company.

Feminist voices in Sweden’s crime fiction

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

Crime fiction scholar Rosemary Erickson Johnsen

There’s more to Swedish crime fiction than internationally best-selling author Stieg Larsson, but the casual visitor browsing the bookstores might not know it. He seems to dominate the cover blurbs, even a dozen years after his death:

If you’re a fan of Stieg Larsson, you’ll LOVE this,” blares a red circle on one cover, while another volume claims to have “a dangerous edge to gladden fans of Lisbeth Salander.” Åsa Larsson, whose series is set in the far north of Sweden, was crudely hailed as “the new Larsson” on one cover. When “translated by Stieg Larsson’s and Henning Mankell’s Steven T. Murray” is printed on a book cover as a selling point, readers may begin to suspect that a shared language is all these writers have in common. Crime fiction readers are alert to distinctions among subgenres, but the massive influx of Nordic noir — a term that itself eclipses any number of meaningful distinctions — has blurred important boundaries in marketing these titles in English translation. Comparisons are a practical device for signaling subgenre to potential readers, of course, but the Stieg Larsson effect has overwhelmed normally observed distinctions.

treacherousSo begins an article by Rosemary Erickson Johnsen, a crime fiction scholar, in the Los Angeles Review of Books, “Hej, Men Nej, to ‘The Girl’ and ‘Girl’s Books’: Three Swedish Women Crime Novelists.”  She considers three new Swedish authors – and all three have books in English, too: Liza Marklund, Camilla Läckberg, and Helene Tursten:

Each author has her own brand of feminism, authentic yet inflected by different strands within feminism and crime fiction. One fundamental marker of their difference from the putative feminism of the Larsson books is the presence of fairly ordinary families in the sleuths’ lives and the integration of their central characters’ personal and professional autonomy. Marklund’s Annika Bengtzon, Läckberg’s Erica Falck, and Tursten’s Irene Huss are presented as characters balancing motherhood, personal life, and career, all while being involved in criminal investigation. Their developing characterizations are central to their respective series, and are interwoven with the crime-fiction plots and tied to social commentary. All three writers are blending genres, borrowing from other genres including romance, suspense, and thriller, and those borrowings shape their female investigators in ways that impact reader experience and probably contributed to the backlash they inspired.

She concludes:


Not the only party on the block.

Some of the more romance-novel elements might be distracting to crime-fiction purists, but even the silliest of the main characters’ struggles reflect something real, and not all women are feminists. The detectives in most other police procedurals may not worry about their children’s homework or reflect on their long-time marriage, but there’s no reason why such ordinary features cannot be included. As I have already suggested, the genre blending that includes these elements calls for a different relation of reader to text; perhaps this, as much as anything, contributes to the annoyed dismissal by both the male traditionalists and Maj Sjöwall. Marklund, Läckberg, and Tursten are not Stieg Larsson; nor are they sisters of “the Girl” or writing “girls’ books.” Instead, these authors suggest there are many ways to inhabit a feminist worldview, many ways to situate oneself as an independent woman, whether that’s in Sweden or anywhere else.

Read the whole thing here.