Friday, November 06, 2009

On Stieg Larsson and Swedish crime fiction

I'm not very interested in the current trend of Scandinavian crime writers, as almost everyone else seems to be. Admittedly I haven't read any of, for example, Stieg Larsson's books, but they just seem too damn long to my tastes. I can take Ellroy, but his stakes are a bit higher than Larsson seemingly has - and I'd like to point out that the American private eye writers, like Stephen Greenleaf and Jonathan Valin, dabbled the same issues with a considerably lesser amount of pages in the late seventies and the eighties.

So, I was pretty pleased to note that Swedish science fiction critic John-Henri Holmberg said this on the Fictionmags e-mail list some days ago:

Two days ago the final vote was taken to finalize the shortlist for the Swedish annual best crime novel and best first crime novel awards. As a member of the selection panel, I've read -- as far as necessary -- over a hundred original Swedish crime novels published this year. It's not been an experience I'm keen to repeat. Why is it that because Stieg Larsson has by now sold 22 million copies of his three books (now contracted for in 41 countries), seemingly every publisher in the country will publish seemingly even the worst manuscripts to be found in their submissions as long as they're crime? In my experience, it is sadly true that the vast majority of readers is blind to stylistic abilities. But I've never found it true, as it seems current publishers believe, that readers are also blind to the absence of any storytelling ability.


PS said...

The situation in Sweden is problematic, to say the least. Crime fiction has become a veritable carcinogeous growth on literature. They sell too well. Therefore they are published be they shite or even more shite. Which of course does not mean that the best books aren't or cannot be sound. One really can't judge a whole genre by the weakest examples.

Anders E said...

PS is onto something here - crime fiction is more likely to make a profit than any genre. Hence, output galore.

Not that I understand why the Swedish stuff sells wo well. It's not like Deve Zeltserman or Jason Starr are bestsellers here, you know. I am actually astounded that we have had more than a hundred crime novels published this year alone. However, quantity is certainly not a quality and I love the way Holmberg points out that he have read all these books "as far as necessary".

I've never felt inclined to check up on our domestic crime writers since I gave up on Henning Mankell more than a decade ago.

Anders E said...

Pardon this late comment, but I came across a rather interesting take on Larsson's books today.

If you don't want to exercise your Swedish capabilities, the gist of it is that while the writer can understand somehow why the books sell so well, whe can't for her life understand why they are considered to be among the better ones in the genre. She then points out why she thinks they are rubbish, and the way she describes them is basically how I always suspected them to be.

The last paragraph is perhaps the most interesting. She suspects that the reason for the international success is because poor writing may not translate too well; that somehow stylistic awkwardness is smoothed out when presented in another language.

Juri said...

Thanks, Anders, I'll post this also on top.