February 16, 2009


Nordic exposure (Katie Boucher, February 17. 2009, The National)

[Henning] Mankell, the author of numerous plays and novels, is causing the biggest stir among booksellers [at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair]. He has enjoyed a huge spike in popularity since Wallander – the grumpy, middle-aged, fast-food-loving detective at the centre of 10 of Mankell’s novels – made his small screen debut. With the lead character played by Kenneth Branagh, Wallander was screened by the BBC last November and has piqued British interest in an author who already enjoyed a huge following across the rest of mainland Europe.

Wallander is an impressive fictional creation: a dour but quick-minded slogger, slightly flabby and melancholy, but ultimately loveable. Starting with 1991’s Faceless Killers, Mankell’s books have been published all over the world, winning many prominent fans along the way. They are said to be read by presidents and politicians, and an entire industry in the Swedish city of Ystad, where the books are set, is dedicated to the sleuth. From location filming to guided tours of landmarks that feature in the stories, Wallander is far more than a fictional character: he is a franchise in his own right.

As for Mankell, the author’s childhood was spent amid the snowdrifts of northern Sweden. No surprise, then, that his writing is filled with the bleached landscapes and industrial wastelands of his youth. As the son of a judge, his family lived above the town law courts – an experience which marked the beginning of Mankell’s fascination with the justice system.

After a brief spell in Paris during the student uprisings, he returned to Sweden to start a career in theatre. These days, though, he divides his time between Sweden and Mozambique, where he works with the Teatro Avenida theatre, in the capital city of Maputo, and dedicates considerable time to Aids-awareness projects.

Mankell is not the only Scandinavian author in the spotlight, either. Interest in crime writing from the region has been steadily rising for over a decade, ever since the rave reviews picked up by the Danish writer Peter Høeg’s 1994 novel Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. Others followed, including Karin Fossum and Jo Nesbø, both from Norway, and Sweden’s Håkan Nesser.

The Branagh adaptation (available at The Box), but the Swedish tv versions are terrific.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 16, 2009 7:38 PM
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