Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The Fascination with Nordic Noir

Nordic Noir Book Club
Nordic Noir and Scandi Crime have already taken over a number of our TV channels and bookshops. I’m all for it, personally – but as a Psychotherapist, I’m interested to know what the fascination is. Why are we so enthralled by it?

 Nordic Noir is poles apart from the ‘cosy crime’ we’re so familiar with in Britain. Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple, Morse, Lewis, Murder she Wrote (US import),  Midsommer Murders, Rosemary and Thyme and so on - all depend on their sun-blushed, upper-crust settings. Integral to these stories are the elegant spires of Oxford or the idyllic scenes of chocolate-box villages, with pristine cricket pitches, tea-rooms and 'village green murders' shocking the elite classes. Maybe the British public were ready for something a bit grittier.

In Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Finland – the climate is harsher; there are prolonged periods of deep snow, heavier winters, relentless nighttime (parts of Sweden spend January in 24 hour darkness). There’s a brooding quality about the stark light and atmosphere. The resulting settings are sufficiently familiar for us to imagine, but are just off our radar in terms of actual experience. As a nation preoccupied with complaining about the weather, it’s a vicarious pleasure for us to visit a more demanding landscape in our minds, but to keep it at a distance in reality.
         The Nordic nations are successful, smart and efficient. We want to know how they solve crimes. How they deal with murder. Are they better at it than we are? Our cultures are sufficiently similar for us to identify with them (we wholeheartedly embraced ABBA!), but with discrepancies to make us intrigued about them. Their lifestyles and day to day details involving food, drink, transport, home interiors and managing the climate are new and fresh to the British reader.

The leading characters in many Nordic/Scandi novels are brooding males (Wallander) or flawed sexually active, highly intelligent females (not exactly the words you’d use to describe Miss Marple!). Lisbeth Salander (created by Steig Larsson) is a sociopath (probably as a result of her brutal abusive past). She’s super-intelligent, especially when it comes to the Internet and she’s a Goth. 

     Sarah Lund in The Killing is unsmiling and ruthless in her pursuit of the killer. Saga Noren, in The Bridge, appears to have Aspergers (although this is never explicit) and is unable to lie - she can’t even tell the odd ‘white’ lie - causing awkwardness at every turn. With her ‘socially backward’ nature comes an erotic ‘sexually forward’ trait – another fascination for us Brits. Swedes and their liberated attitude to sex and sexuality have always been an envied eye-opener for us, in a schoolboy ‘wink-wink-nudge-nudge’ kind of way.
Swedish mentality also seems unconventional and therefore intriguing to us. Swedes describe their own collective temperament as ‘detached, private and unemotional’. It is regarded as undignified to get angry in public, strangers don’t say ‘Hi’ or make eye-contact on the bus, they don’t interrupt each other in conversations and avoid confrontation. (I believe that Americans, in particular, find them very hard to understand…) It’s exotic for members of one culture to see how another fully-functioning culture operates - another reason why we find Nordic Noir captivating.

My ruminations have led me to want to read more crime fiction from this source. Apart from the sheer enjoyment factor, I have an intuitive sense that absorbing it will help my own writing improve and develop. As a result, I have a number of writers I’ve not read yet lined up on my wish list -Yrsa Sigurodardottir, Jorn Lier Horst, Jorgen Brekke and Carin Gerhardsen – for starters. In the meantime, I’ll sit back and enjoy the latest episode of The Bridge.

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AJ Waines is author of Psychological Thrillers: The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train

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