Sunday, 24 May 2009

Crimes of Fiction

Those interested in developments in the world of Scandinavian crime fiction may like to follow the posts at — yes, Scandinavian Crime Fiction, a Minnesota, U.S.-based blog that tracks the latest news and gossip in the field. Recent items include discussion of an interview with Håkan Nesser, an account of a translators' panel at CrimeFest, the international crime writers' convention recently held in Bristol, U.K., and "a sad story in the Times about the bitter dispute over Stieg Larsson’s literary estate (and the rather outsized amount of money involved) between his all-but-married partner and his family). "

Although our interests here at Nordic Voices lie firmly in the direction of "serious" literature, we have no objection to the crime genre as such, which, as Håkan Nesser is quoted as saying, is universal: "people are people everywhere. And when it comes to important matters — e.g. good stories—we understand each other." However, Nesser's recent strictures regarding the poor quality of much contemporary crime writing are also relevant to the topic.

Hat tip: Kate's Book Blog


Eric Dickens said...

Personally, I will read a crime novel to relax, though TV often does it better, in the same way that a quick-moving sitcom seems more suited to TV than reading a comic book in that genre.

I would have no objection to translating crime fiction if I needed the money. But that is the commercial, not cultural, side of me.

My objection to Scandinavian Crime Fiction is that it has become too dominant, when it comes to translated literature, leaving less room in publishers' lists for non-crime novels. There appears to have been an attempt to brand Scandinavian Crime Fiction as a specialist genre. Why specifically Scandinavia, and not other countries, mystifies me. Britain and the USA already have loads of home-grown crime fiction, so I cannot see why we import it.

Crime fiction does not tend to deal in depth with where the book is set, except as a little rather tacked-on couleur locale. I like books where the setting counts for a lot.

A further tendency is that authors of general fiction in Scandinavia are beginning to see which side their bread is buttered on and have started writing crime novels themselves. Authors such as Kjell Westö and Frode Grytten seem to have written one-offs (both translated into English), novels which don't fit in at all with their usual genre. Kerstin Ekman is one instance of an author going in the other direction, starting with crime fiction and moving on to other things.

One term I don't quite understand is "noir fiction" (derived, presumably, from "film noir"). What is the difference between it and crime fiction? I've read comments about hard-boiled and the like, but the term itself seems parboiled or maybe half-baked, to continue on a culinary note.

I have a live-and-let-live attitude to novels which ultimately seem to me like a kind of puzzle where the only inevitability is that someone gets murdered.

David McDuff said...

The Minnesota blog is quite an impressive venture - it's a team effort based at Gustavus Adolphus College, and it's only part of a project - there's also a website, covering the five main Nordic countries, and listing huge amounts of translated Nordic crime fiction, with reviews and commentary.

Re a definition of Noir: the Wikipedia article on the subject quotes George Tuttle, who ought to know, I guess:

"In this sub-genre, the protagonist is usually not a detective, but instead either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. He is someone tied directly to the crime, not an outsider called to solve or fix the situation. Other common characteristics...are the emphasis on sexual relationships and the use of sex to advance the plot and the self-destructive qualities of the lead characters. This type of fiction also has the lean, direct writing style and the gritty realism commonly associated with hardboiled fiction."