There’s More Than Crime in Scandinavia

December 15, 2011

If you’re a connoisseur of fine Scandinavian crime fiction, 2011 has given you plenty more to enjoy.  Back in March, for instance, genre forefather Henning Mankell wrapped up his wildly-popular Kurt Wallander series with The Troubled Man, and a mere two months later rising star Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman finally hit U.S. shores.  Now with Hollywood’s take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo hitting theaters in just a few short days, crime fiction lovers are likely giddy with their good fortune.  But what if you’re not a fan?  What if you’ve yet to acquire that particular taste for dark Nordic mysteries?  Well worry not, gentle reader, for there’s more than one dish cooking in Scandinavia’s literary kitchen.  Truth be told, the Scandinavian lit scene is a veritable smorgasbord of top-notch sci-fi, satire, historical and literary fiction, horror, and more.  So don’t delay in sampling Scandinavia’s full fiction menu.  The following list will get you started, but there is still plenty more to discover.

Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion? by Johan Harstad

Written by an acclaimed Norwegian author and playwright, this extraordinary epic novel tells the moving story of Mattias, a 30-something gardener who retreats to the Faroe Islands after a break-up plunges him into a harrowing depression.  Inspiring, heartbreaking, and pop-culture hip, this complex exploration of love, friendship, and sanity is a unique, essential read named one of 2011’s best by Kirkus Reviews.

The Royal Physician’s Visit by Per Olov Enquist

This fast-paced historical novel from the veteran Swedish writer travels back to the 1770s Danish court when German physician Johann Friedrich Struensee quietly wrested power from the deranged King Christian VII before beginning an ill-fated love affair with young Queen Mathilde.  An explosive romantic tragedy named a 2001 NY Times Notable Book.

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi

This brilliant 2011 sci-fi debut from a Finnish string theorist tells the complex tale of Jean le Flambeur, a master con man who travels to the moving cities of Mars to assist the mysterious Mieli with the ultimate heist.  An inventive cosmic caper that sci-fi heavyweight Charles Stross called “the best first SF novel I’ve read in many years.”

Independent People by Halldor Laxness

Originally published in 1946, this satirical epic was a bestseller for the Nobel Prize-winning Icelandic author.  Set in rural Iceland in the early 20th century, the poetic story is a merciless critique of upper class hypocricy that centers on a stubborn sheep farmer’s struggle for financial independence.

Doghead by Morten Ramsland

Winner of the 2005 Danish Best Novel award, this tragicomic saga tells the story of three generations of the outrageously dysfunctional Eriksson family.  Stretching from World War II to the present, this hilarious, haunting read is touched with magical realism and a must for fans of T.C. Boyle.

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

Winner of the 2007 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, this quiet, compelling novel tells the story of 67-year-old Trond Sander.  Retired to a remote Norwegian cabin, his solitude is shattered when a familiar neighbor forces him to confront painful memories.  A book of astonishing power on par with the work of Hemingway and Steinbeck.

The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna

From one of Finland’s most popular authors comes this back-to-nature picaresque about an unhappy Helsinki journalist who accidentally hits a hare with his car.  Moved to rethink his life, he quits his job and embarks on a year of wandering adventure with the bunny by his side.  Inventive and hilarious.

The Hurricane Party by Klas Ostergren

Written by an acclaimed Swedish screenwriter, this somber modern fantasy is the tale of Hanck Om’s search for justice after his son’s mysterious death in the City Under the Roof.  Set in a dystopian future ruled by Norse gods, this is the memorable story of a father’s overwhelming love and the power of myth.

Before You Sleep by Linn Ullmann

This assured 1999 debut from Ingmar Bergman’s daughter tells the stories of three generations of eccentric and formidable women in the Blom family.  Gathering in Oslo for a family wedding, the mothers and daughters explore the tricky terrain of marriage and motherhood.  Playful, candid, and witty.

Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen

Originally published in 1934, this modern classic is the debut book from one of Denmark’s greatest novelists, playwrights and lyric poets.  Included are seven mysterious tales in the haunting Gothic tradition of Goethe and Poe.  Also try her 1937 book Out of Africa which inspired the Oscar-winning film.

Russell J.


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