Thursday, 19 November 2009

Nordic fingerprints

Reviewing Don Bartlett's translation of The Consorts of Death (Dødens drabanter), the thirteenth of Gunnar Staalesen's sixteen Varg Veum novels, in the Independent last month, Tone Sutterud relayed the news that Arcadia Books intend to publish all sixteen novels in English. This is welcome news, although I wonder why it has taken so long for Staalesen's work to reach an English-speaking public, when other Nordic crime writers, several of them somewhat less talented than the pioneering and innovative Staalesen, have fared so comparatively well. I have to confess an interest here: back in 1985 I translated an earlier novel in the Varg Veum series - At Night All Wolves Are Grey ( I mørket er alle ulver grå) - which attracted some favourable reviews in the British press, but  is now, more than two decades later, out of print.

I'm still equivocal about the rise of Nordic crime fiction in the Anglo-U.S. publishers' lists. When so little serious Scandinavian new writing and poetry is published in English translation, it seems wrong that quite so much attention should be given to what's really, in spite of attempts to characterize it otherwise, an escapist entertainment genre.  Also, when raising this point, I've constantly been struck by the intensity of the negative reaction that usually follows. There's a defensiveness in the reaction which suggests that some of the more central issues concerning the crime genre and the effects of its popularity are being avoided, and I feel that there's a reluctance to discuss those issues in public (though much is said in private).

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