Sunday, 21 March 2010
Stieg Larsson and Swedish Crime Fiction
On Thursday 18 March the Swedish Ambassador Staffan Carlsson played host to a wide range of crime fiction reviews, authors and other dignitaries when he hosted “Crimes of the Millennium – Stieg Larsson and the rise of Swedish Mystery Fiction at the Swedish Embassy. Radio presenter Mark Lawson chaired the event whilst the panel members were crime fiction critic Barry Forshaw who has just finished writing a biography of Stieg Larsson, (The Man who Left Too Soon), Eva Gedin (Larsson’s publisher), crime writer Lynda La Plante and Swedish author Håkan Nesser. The event was also being recorded for the British Library.
In a wide-ranging discussion they discussed the success of the Millennium Trilogy. Barry Forshaw wondered whether the poignancy of his early death could have had something to do with it. His publisher Eva Gedin dismissed this as she pointed out that Larsson died in November 2004 before any of the books had in fact been published. She informed the audience that she had immediately been enthusiastic about the manuscripts when she had seen them but at the Frankfurt book fair in 2004 she was not sure about the buzz that had been created. Surprisingly, they had been pre-empted by German publishers and there had been a lot of interest from Scandinavian countries. They had been pleased that Random House had picked up the series because they published some of his favourite US authors. Another question that arose was whether or not we the reader are getting the manuscripts as Larsson wrote them. His publisher explained that they were very well written but he wanted to be edited. However she did not agree that his death caused his success. She believed that he was a great crime novelist. Author Håkan Nesser also agreed as he commented, “hype is a hype is a hype”. He felt that it was Larsson’s time and that there are times when hype was needed.
Lynda La Plante expressed the view that she felt that the title was attention grabbing. The Girl With the Dragoon Tattoo was published in Sweden as Män som hatar kvinnor; the closest translation to the original title is Men Who Hate Women. As she went on to explain, the book comes through and hits you. She did not feel however that The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest were as good as the first book. It was unlike the Da Vinci Code, which was aimed at a specific audience. Lynda La Plante did however agree with Håkan Nesser and his publisher that his death had no sway in the popularity of the books. Eva Gedin also explained that on his death it became difficult to sell the rights to his books. France was apparently the first to buy the rights outside Scandinavia. In Germany however they have one-word titles, which are felt not to be expressive.
The question of who his influences were also arose and Gedin explained that two of them were Pippi Långstrump (Longstocking) and also the Twin Detectives.
The Chair Mark Lawson wanted to know whether or not Larsson was an economical writer. Håkan Nesser thought that he was not. But as he explained, you tended to read quickly and therefore not notice the language. He felt that he was not economical with words. Lynda La Plante felt that in book 3 there were too many characters. In contrast to this Eva Gedin said that she had liked book 3 and that Larsson had wanted a group of people and did not want there to be only 2 and that she felt that he had plotted the characters right. Håkan Nesser on the other hand felt that in the film there were too many characters and thus one got lost, as you were unable to keep track of them. He also commented that things were now changed in the 90s and that good crime fiction was getting closer to the main stream. Larsson’s publisher also expressed the view that he was aware of the fact that he was writing crime fiction and that what he wanted to do was to entertain especially since he had been reading the genre since his early teens.
Lynda La Plante expressed the view that he had created in-depth characters. Barry Forshaw also commented that he felt that Larsson was fully aware of tradition but that he wanted to do things differently from someone such as Henning Mankell for example.
Mark Lawson also raised the issue of themes that could be found in his books and these included cyber crime, political corruption and domestic violence. Barry Forshaw raised the point as to whether or not Larsson had feminist pretentions? Eva Gedin pointed out that the serial killer in the book was based on real cases. She also acknowledged that there had been some critics of the film due to the amount of violence.
Of course the perennial question as to whether or not there were any other novels was also arose. Gedin informed the audience that whilst it may be possible there were none that she knew of and that she was quite content with the 3 that had been published. Barry Forshaw also said that he felt a sense of closure and that his conclusion was that he did not think that there were any other books.
Mark Lawson also raised the topic of Swedish crime fiction in general and asked what were its particular qualities. Håkan Nesser explained that his books were not political in contrast to Henning Mankell’s, which were political, and Stieg Larsson’s, which were extremely political. He also explained that it was felt that their characters were not supposed to have any emotion. Barry Forshaw also pointed out that they had strong women characters. Mark Lawson also pointed out the fact that landscape and setting were also very important and had been used by Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell very strongly. Gedin also identified the fact that Swedish crime tended to be set in small cities and towns. Barry Forshaw also said that one should not forget the social analysis that is also pulled apart in their books. According to Håkan Nesser they show the political decline of Swedish society. Lynda La Plante confessed that she found Henning Mankell boring and depressing as crime was everywhere in the world. She also felt that whilst they were trite they were well written.
The event at the Swedish Embassy was well attended and amongst those in attendance included my fellow Shotsmag contributor Ali Karim, Karen Meek from Euro Crime, critic Jessica Mann, CWA Diamond Dagger Award winner Andrew Taylor, CWA Gold Dagger Winner Ann Cleeves, Andrew Clark and Chris Simmonds from Crime Squad, Selina Walker from Transworld Publishers and freelance journalist Jake Kerridge to name a few. With members of the audience also given the opportunity to ask questions and from the type of the questions that were asked, as well it is clear that the phenomenon that is Stieg Larsson and his books still have a long way to run.