Friday, May 15, 2009

Library Loot 5: A Decidedly Swedish Flavour

This summer, I'll be visiting Sweden for the first time and, as I like to make at least a preliminary acquaintance with the literature of a new destination before embarking, Swedish titles are beginning to dominate my reading list.

I'm already quite well versed in Swedish crime fiction, and on the children's literature front, Astrid Lindgren is an old friend. But I want to venture into other literary realms as well and I thought that Literature in Sweden, a slim paperback reference volume, would give me some ideas. Here's the back cover description: "What's going on in contemporary Swedish literature? Are there any clearly marked trends or tendencies? What themes interest Swedish authors? This book presents a selection of contemporary authors with the emphasis on the 1980s and 1990s. In separate sections, three writers give their view of contemporary poetry, prose and drama."

I also consulted an online survey of Swedish literature that delves further back, and the name that jumped out at me was Hjalmar Söderberg. He's described as "one of Scandinavia's most prominent modernist authors" and the back covers of his novels are peppered with such words as stark, brooding, bitter, and tragic. How could I resist? I've chosen The Serious Game ("Set against the bustling cafés, newspaper offices, parks and hotels of Sweden’s capital city at the turn of the last century, The Serious Game tells a compelling story of love and delusion, passion and despair.") and Doctor Glas ("A masterpiece of enduring power, Doctor Glas confronts a chilling moral quandary with gripping intensity.") as my entry points into Söderberg’s oeuvre.

Back in the realm of crime fiction, I also picked up Kerstin Ekman's Blackwater ("On Midsummer's Eve, 1974, Annie Raft arrives with her daughter Mia in the remote Swedish village of Blackwater to join her lover Dan on a nearby commune. On her journey through the deep forest, she stumbles upon the site of a grisly double murder—a crime that will remain unsolved for nearly twenty years, until the day Annie sees her grown daughter in the arms of one man she glimpsed in the forest that eerie midsummer night."). This was the first of Ekman's novels to be translated into English (in 1995) but by then she had already been well known and her books much lauded in Sweden for decades, and I'm curious to check out some of her earlier books as well.

And finally, another crime novel: Camilla Läckberg's The Ice Princess, and I've ordered a copy of the follow-up, The Preacher, as well. Läckberg was already on my radar, but it was Dorte H. who rocketed her books back to the top of my TBR list when she mentioned that Läckberg is another Swedish writer who has referenced an Astrid Lindgren character (Ronia this time) in a contemporary crime novel.

I've got plenty to work with for the moment, but I would be very happy to receive recommendations of other Swedish writers whose work I ought to include in my admittedly sketchy and idiosyncratic crash course in Swedish literature in the months leading up to my trip.


Dorte H said...

I am really glad I have made you interested in the Lindgren aspect of The Preacher. It is not exactly Ronia Läckberg uses, however, but the main theme of the novel. I haven´t seen others comment on it so perhaps it is just my obsession, but it would be interesting to see what you think if you read Ronia first, and The Preacher afterwards.
Läckberg writes well, but in my opinion Kerstik Ekmann is the better writer. Did you know she has written an outstanding trilogy which takes place in the same area as Blackwater? It is not crime, just wonderful literature, especially volume one and two. They are hereby recommended, and they should give you a sense of three generations of strong, Swedish women.
Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940), Nobel Prize Winner, is also worth reading.

Vicki said...

Hi Kate, love the blog. I do exactly the same when I'm on holiday - although with Cape Verde in mind this year, I'm somewhat stumped. Feel free to swing by my similarly book-mad blog...

Suko said...

Kate, I am not privvy to additional Swedish writers, but I am about to begin reading Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, because of your recommendation. You must be greatly looking forward to your trip to Sweden!

Kate S. said...

Dorte, I will definitely read Ronia first, then The Preacher. It will add an extra layer of interest to be able to read it with the connection you've drawn between them in mind. Thanks for your recommendations of Ekman's trilogy and of Selma Lagerlof. I look forward to reading both of them.

Vicki, Welcome! It's good to know that I'm not the only one that gets caught up in pre-holiday reading in this fashion. I look forward to checking out your blog.

Suko, I'm glad that you're going to give The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo a try. I really enjoyed it.

Melanie said...

I haven't read a lot of Swedish novels but I wholeheartedly second your choice of Doctor Glas. One of my favourite books ever!

"Reg" said...

Hi Kate, I would recommend Mari Jungstedt's books set on the island of Gotland: Unseen, Unspoken & The Inner Circle (or Unknown in the UK). Also anything by Per Olof Enquist (non-mystery) translated by Tiina Nunnally, especially Lewi's Journey.

Have fun, and do pick up The Girl Who Played with Fire while you're there.

Reg Keeland

P.S. to Vicki: I did just see a mystery set on the Cape Verde Islands, check!

David Ekstrand said...

Like many countries, we're probably still looking for The Great Contemporary Swedish Novel. The novels that came to my mind immediately as I thought about good Swedish novels were all about the 19th century: "The Red Room" by Strindberg (his "Natives of Hemsö" is almost equally as popular in Sweden), "The Emigrants" by Vilhelm Moberg and "City of My Dreams" by Per Anders Fogelström. All are in some way about the great social transformations of the 19th century, and all are considered among the most beloved Swedish novels. They can be complemented with "Martin Birck's Youth" by Hjalmar Söderberg, which is considered to be the definitive prose depiction of fin de siècle Stockholm, and "Gösta Berling's Saga" by Selma Lagerlöf.

It's not entirely easy to find Swedish works that (1) are translated into English, (2) say something interesting about post-war Swedish society,and (3) aren't crime fiction. But here are a couple:

"Popular Music" by Mikael Niemi (also translated under the title of "Popular Music from Vittula").

"Let the Right One In" by John Ajvide Lindqvist (there's a film version too).

"Hash" by Torgny Lindgren.

Hope you enjoy your stay!

Eva said...

How interesting! And it sounds like a fun trip. :) I loved Pippi Longstocking when I was of these days I'll have to revisit her.

kimbofo said...

Hi Kate, try Karin Alvtegen, she's the great niece of Astrid Lindgren. I can recommend "Missing" and her latest one "Shadow". Both are crime novels.

Then there's Liza Marklund (another crime novelist) and the writing duo Maj Sjöwall and Peter Wahlöö of "The Laughing Policeman" fame.

Hope you have a great time in Sweden. I have been to Sweden for the sum total of about one-hour. I did a quick ferry crossing from Denmark one afternoon and then had to rush to make the return crossing!

CLM said...

Even more than Pippi, I liked the books of Karin Anckarsvard, particularly The Mysterious Schoolmaster. I wouldn't be surprised if you could find it or its sequels in a local library.

Seachanges said...

I've just bought The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. this is the first one in a trilogy (the third one is to be published soon, although the author recently died). I think I read somewhere that 1/3 of Sweden has read his books, so that may be a recommendation? Enjoy Sweden!

Kate S. said...

Melanie, Given the random fashion in which I lit upon it, I'm glad to hear that you recommend Doctor Glas so highly.

Reg, Thanks for the recommendations. I've put copies of Unseen and Lewi's Journey on hold at the library. And as for The Girl Who Played With Fire, I was so impatient to read it that I ordered a copy from England rather than waiting for the North American edition. But then, good daughter that I am, I passed it on to my dad first, so I'm still waiting to read it!

David, Thank you for your recommendations. I have come across a few intriguing descriptions of books only to find that no English translation is available. But you've given me lots of tantalizing options there!

Kate S. said...

Eva, I recently revisited Pippi, and I'm glad to say that she holds up well to adult rereading.

kimbofo, I read the first installment in Sjowall & Wahloo's Marin Beck series last week and I can't wait to read the rest. I haven't read any Karin Alvtegen or Liza Marklund yet though, and I will definitely add them to my list.

Kate S. said...

CLM, The Mysterious Schoolmaster sounds intriguing. Sadly my library has only two Karin Anckarsvard novels and both are available only in Swedish. I'll have to look a bit farther afield!

seachanges, I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo recently and though it was marvelous. I look forward to hearing what you think of it.

Pete said...

I'm not at all up on contemporary Swedish fiction, but as far as older titles go I re-read Soderberg's Doctor Glas last summer for the first time in twenty years, and was blown away by how great it was. Also, I've loved everything I've read by Par Lagerkvist, though most of that hasn't been set in Sweden but in medieval or even Biblical times. Barabbas is his best, I think.

Kate S. said...

Pete, I knew that Par Lagerkvist was a must-read but my university library had a whole shelf of his books and I didn't know where to start. Thanks to your recommendation, I'll pick up Barabbas first. And I'm looking forward to Soderberg's Doctor Glas even more now!

Anonymous said...

What a coincidence--I just ran into someone at the library who was recommending crime fiction from Northern Europe. Unfortunately I can't read my handwriting! I was scribbling on the back of something. But I'm not at all familiar with Swedish literature and curious now. Something else to add to my list!

Kate S. said...

Lilian, There truly is an amazing wealth of options in northern European crime fiction available to English-language readers now. Two of my long-time favourites are Henning Mankell (Sweden) and Arnaldur Indridason (Iceland), but there are so many more, I'm making fantastic new (to me) discoveries on a regular basis.