Friday, 3 July 2009

Out in the world

Writing in Hbl, Philip Teir observes that it's now 20 years since Ulla-Lena Lundberg published the first part of her powerful trilogy of novels set in the Åland Islands and based on the story of the shipping industry there. The three novels make up a kind of Nordic "Forsyte Saga", and although from a conceptual and stylistic point of view they might be seen as something of an anachronism, the books are extremely readable and engrossing. And interestingly, Teir sees in them similarities to the sea- and travel-inspired writing of Vilhelm Moberg and Tove Jansson. As historical fact-fiction these novels offer a welcome alternative to the steady flow of Nordic crime writing that now seems to be never-ending and unstoppable, obscuring the rest of contemporary Nordic writing for readers outside the region. Sadly, Lundberg's trilogy still awaits a complete English translation, though Neil Smith has published some excerpts in Swedish Book Review.

2 comments:

  1. What is the mechanism by which to get these books available in English? Neil Smith has clearly broached the subject by translating excepts. But there's many a slip twixt an excerpt and the publication of the whole novel (or trilogy in this case). Not least because, as I have said before, the Swedish Book Review does tend to get read by those already interested in matters Swedish.

    Neil runs a press himself - Norvik - and if subsidies were obtained, that may be one route. Or some British or American publishing house may take an interest. David does clearly state that the books are "extremely readable and engrossing", implying a straighforward realist approach. So this may not a matter of trying to persuade Peter Owen or Serpent's Tail to take on a weird postmodernist novel of Barth or Pynchon type.

    And I wholeheartedly agree when David says: "As historical fact-fiction these novels offer a welcome alternative to the steady flow of Nordic crime writing that now seems to be never-ending and unstoppable, obscuring the rest of contemporary Nordic writing for readers outside the region."

    History, region, context, and so on make for a much more rewarding read in the long run than a clever-clever whodunnit. Though the latter may be a more relaxing summer read on the beach.

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  2. I think part of the problem is the size and number of the books - there are 3 of them, and they're quite long.

    While FILI would subsidize the translation, they probably wouldn't help with the publication costs, which would be quite steep. At most, FILI would buy a fixed number of copies. And sales might be quite modest, compared to what can happen on the international crime fiction scene.

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