Autumn is upon us, and what could be better than a spine-chilling murder mystery as the darkness closes in? Scandinavian and Nordic crime novels have been a success abroad, and also within the Alumni Network’s book club! September and October have brought interesting talks and lectures from our novel-writing alumni. But why do we want to read about murders and misery set in the Nordic countries in particular?
Schadenfreude that not all is perfect
It is not just the deep forests and lakes that fascinate international readers. Nordic noir gives a glimpse into the Scandinavian lifestyle and the reputable welfare state, even when the landscape is dreary. And the darker side of society has proved especially interesting. Probably there is a small aspect of schadenfreude in seeing that everything is not as perfect as it sometimes seems, argues Kerstin Bergman, expert in the crime genre and Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at Lund University. The social criticism aspect is also appreciated by Swedish readers. It is a safe way to examine other parts of society and contextualise complex social issues.
Violence and gender equality
Nordic gender equality also contributes to the popularity of the genre, which has a large female readership. Early Nordic noir was often populated by brooding policemen beset by relationship or health problems, which made the characters relatable, realistic and beloved. The last decade has seen more multidimensional female characters, whose priorities are not merely (or not at all) family, but also their careers, as well as men who are more likely to stay at home. Another aspect is that Nordic noir regularly explores crimes that impact women, and just as we seen with fans of true crime, this can be a way for a reader to work through their fears.
The Stieg Larsson effect
Stieg Larsson’s beloved character Lisbeth Salander has become a feminist icon. According to Bergman, the popularity of Larsson’s books comes from his playing with genre, which results in an unexpected crime novel. Salander is not just a victim and an outsider, but also a superhero. The Millenium books were pioneers for Scandinavian crime novels abroad and have spawned a new term, the Stieg Larsson effect. Bergman explains that Millennium’s immense popularity has meant that international publishers are constantly looking for the new Stieg Larsson, and his writing has become a mark of quality that other writers are compared against and aspire to. The “new Stieg Larsson” may not yet have made themselves known, but the genre remains popular. And maybe we will see a different type of superstar. Bergman argues that as not only more women, but also writers from other cultural backgrounds and experiences take up crime writing, we are also getting to read about entirely new types of characters and even new landscapes, ones we may rarely think about.
Text and research: Ida Andersson