Discussing the current state of translated Nordic fiction with a publisher in the field recently, I ventured to suggest that a good deal of the really interesting, original and creative new writing from Scandinavia doesn't make it into English at all. The field as a whole is clearly marked out. Specialist houses like Norvik Press cater to the market in translations of Nordic classics, where the readers and buyers are often ethnic Scandinavians who have forgotten or never learned their mother tongue. The larger companies - Harvill Secker, Vintage, Orion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Random House, etc. - look for bestsellers, whether crime novels (from Henning Mankell to Kerstin Ekmnan) or cult fiction of the Saabye Christensen type. In the middle are smaller publishers like Arcadia or Graywolf Press, who do try to publish Nordic writers who fall outside these major categories, but whose sales and distribution are - of necessity - strictly limited.
The publisher with whom I was talking told me that, especially where serious literature is concerned, he thought the "Nordic" label almost by definition implies a specialized minority readership - one for which it's important that the books that are translated and published should be identifiably "Scandinavian" in character. I mentioned two recent examples of Scandinavian novels where most or all of the characters and settings don't meet those criteria - Olli Jalonen's 14 Knots to Greenwich and Kristina Carlson's Mr Darwin's Gardener. It seems, however, that while these books may be very well-written and deserving of being read, they wouldn't have much appeal to the general reading public, as they're not set in Scandinavia.
In the the field of poetry, the situation is a little more encouraging. The work of major poets like Tomas Tranströmer, Paavo Haavikko, Roy Jacobsen, Gösta Ågren, Pia Tafdrup and many others has been able to reach an English-speaking public largely outside any specfic Nordic context, as voices in the universal language of poetry. It's this kind of freedom in relations between author and reader that's currently lacking in the sphere of prose fiction, where the message is often lost in exotic details and carefully-mapped journalistic agendas. One wonders, perhaps, whether a writer like August Strindberg - who held wildly changing views on society and human beings but at the same time possessed an authorial sweep and magnificence of writing style that made such considerations appear irrelevant - could achieve an international reputation if he were producing his works in today's literary and publishing world.