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My feelings about Scandinavian Literature

March 11, 2012

In these Rooney Mara-filled days I have been thinking a lot about Scandinavian literature. My thinking has been fraught with a lot of conflicting feelings and tricky questions, such as:

Rooney Mara looks so different from what she used to.
Why does no one (apart from lesbians) pay attention to Noomi Rapace?
Why are the two actresses’ names so weird and similar?
Why is no one paying attention to all the other Scandinavian literature?

Oh wait, they are.

Why does everybody love Scandinavian crime fiction?
Does Daniel Craig really look Scandinavian?
Does the poster for Girl with a Dragon Tattoo need to be so sexy?
Is it good that it is sexy?
Should I have read Stieg Larsson?
Should I read Stieg Larsson?
Why have I not read Stieg Larsson?
Do I have to rethink my stance on Scandinavian fiction?  

A lot of these questions will never be answered (or at least, not in writing. Or out loud). But one think I did want to answer was the last question. My childhood was filled with English books, thanks to a half-english mother and a desperate need to devour everything that looked like a sentence. Growing up in Norway I did of course read Norwegian books as well, but less and less as I grew older. And so, after my last, Ibsen-filled Norwegian class I turned my back on Norwegian literature, and focused my attentions unbrokenly on the vast English canon. To me, Norwegian books had a whiff of the spartan, of the frugal, of the depressive. Even the funny ones were funny in a full-stop, don’t-talk-to-much-or-your-tongue-will-freeze, one-sentence-for-every-shot-of-vodka kind of funny. 

Norwegian literature also lacked (in my opinion) the delusions of grandeur that I so loved in fiction of other languages.

Does this man look like a big ball of fun to you?In Norway we have a law called the Jante Law. It goes

  1. Don’t think you’re anything special.
  2. Don’t think you’re as good as us.
  3. Don’t think you’re smarter than us.
  4. Don’t convince yourself that you’re better than us.
  5. Don’t think you know more than us.
  6. Don’t think you are more important than us.
  7. Don’t think you are good at anything.
  8. Don’t laugh at us.
  9. Don’t think anyone cares about you.
  10. Don’t think you can teach us anything.

Of course, it is not a law. It was ironically written, by a Danish-Norwegian author called Axel Sandemose. But it does suggest some of the mentality of the small, underpopulated, socialist Scandinavian countries. And in such an environment, delusions of grandeur are hard to come by.

Almost six years on though, six years living the life of an expat Norwegian, I was seeing Scandinavian culture thriving in the media, spearheaded by Stieg Larsson. And so I decided to rethink my stance on Scandinavian literature. I proclaimed to the world that Scandinavia was the best place in the world, yet wasn’t living there. So the least I could do was know what was going on in my home country’s literary scene.

So I will regularly be reviewing Norwegian books with this in mind, the first one will be Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Amy permalink
    March 11, 2012 6:30 pm

    I like it Hannah! Daniel Craig doesn’t look Scandinavian, but somehow he’s still pretty hot. Will be on your blog like a bad rash!

    • March 11, 2012 6:39 pm

      That is just the kind of thing I like to hear. And also – maybe it is just the blonde hair that had me confused. Or him in a scandi-style parka in The Golden Compass.


  1. Min Kamp/My Struggle, Karl Ove Knausgård « writingaboutbooks
  2. “Lesbianism makes everything more popular”, or, the Mysteries of Google Search « writingaboutbooks

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