Scandinavian literature is my new obsession. Surprising, isn’t it? For years and years I mostly… no, only read American and British literature. Ok, so I may have thrown in the odd PoCo novel here and there. But if it hadn’t originally been written in English, chances were I’d scoff and turn up my nose at it. There was no use in trying to convince me that any Danish writers were worth spending time on. Maybe I would have conceded that H.C. Andersen is alright, but I wouldn’t have bothered actually reading anything by him voluntarily.
Then something happened. I was given Eksil (Exile) by Jakob Ejersbo for my birthday a couple of years ago. I read it, thought it was ok, but I wasn’t head over heels about it. Still, I like to finish what I start (unless we’re talking about that time when I tried reading the first Twilight book), so I went and got Evolution and Liberty, the two other parts of Ejersbo’s Africa trilogy. And something just clicked. The genius I hadn’t spotted in Eksil suddenly became apparent and I fell completely in love. I was, of course, heart-broken that Ejersbo had passed away (years before) and concluded that Denmark had lost its best author and the only one who had the potential to put Denmark on the literary map… again. Sure, I could have concluded this on my own without reading any other new authors, but a friend agreed with me, so it was pretty much settled.
I returned quickly to my old ways and another year passed. Then something else happened, would you believe it?! Of course, I had heard about Knausgård and his Min Kamp (My Struggle). Several of my friends and co-workers had been reading it and it was all over the bookstores. But I was convinced Knausgård was old and boring, so I scoffed and… well, you get the idea. But once again I had a birthday and I got Min Kamp volume 1. And this time I was hooked from page 1. I’ll review the whole thing soon, but I can tell you now that Knausgård is now one of my all-time favorite writers.
He became a kind of gateway author, introducing me to other Norwegian writers, which in turn put me onto other Scandinavian literature. Jon Fosse is worth mentioning as he writes like no other I’ve encountered and I am continously astounded that he isn’t as big as Knausgård or other great current writers. I’ve done a few laps with Kim Leine too and have found him fascinating and kind of disgusting at the same time. He sure loves bodily functions. Jón Kalman Stefánsson also deserves a nod, even though I’ve only read one book by him so far. His portrayal of life in Iceland around 1900 is beautiful, and even with the deadly sea and harsh winters I feel drawn to that time and place. I’ll have to go to Iceland some day!
I’m reading as many of these Scandinavian books as I can. Some are amazing, some are ok, none are terrible (yet). That could be because I’ve steered clear of crime fiction (looking at you, Jussi!) and have stuck to books with great reviews and/or awards. It could also be because this new Scandinavian literature just appeals to me. The books are short, but manage to say a lot about life all the same. And Norwegian nature is just the perfect setting for… pretty much anything. The style is often simple and even terse, but it’s almost musical. I’ve always thought English was way superior when it came to musicality, flow, expressiveness and beauty, but I must say, Danish isn’t half bad. Just read Kongens Fald (The Fall of the King), which I didn’t read until this Christmas break. The Danish language in that is probably as amazing as it gets. I read the whole thing aloud and loved every minute, even if I did get a bit hoarse.
So I’ve seen the error of my ways and have come to acknowledge that there is a lot of amazing literature coming out of Scandinavia right now. I honestly can’t recommend these books enough.