Wednesday, January 26, 2011
The Scandinavians are taking over the world... or at least the world of crime fiction.
Henning Mankell's biopic of his late father-in-law, Ingmar Bergman, has generated enough drama to fill one of his Wallander novels – and it hasn't been shot yet. He talks to Geoffrey Macnab. Author photo by Bertil Ericson.
(Note from The Bookman.This story was first published in The Independent on Wednesday, 6 October, 2010 but as I read several more Scandinavina crime fiction titles over the holidays, and in fact am just finishing yet another which I shall write about shortly, the story seemed even more relvant now so I am republishing it here for your interest).
The Scandinavians are taking over the world... or at least the world of crime fiction. Walk through a British railway station or airport or anywhere where they still sell books and you will see the volumes of Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbø novels piled high. You're also very likely to find several of Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell's Wallander stories, which are said to have sold more than 30 million copies.
Put it to Mankell that the whole of Britain seems obsessed with yarns about Scandinavian detectives and he wryly observes: "I can assure you it's not only England." He tells a story to illustrate his point. Last year, he was on a book tour in Argentina. He was due to give a speech and was very nervous that no one at all would turn up. In fact, more than a thousand Wallander lovers appeared as if from nowhere.
Speaking from Sweden, where he has been attending the Gothenburg Book Fair, Mankell ponders the reasons for the extraordinary global popularity of Nordic detectives. "Naturally, I've been thinking about it," he tells me. "One [reason] must be pure coincidence. The second is that I guess I worked as a locomotive in some ways. My success has been an inspiration for others. You remember the tennis player Björn Borg? Before that, Sweden had very few good tennis players. After that, we suddenly had a hell of a lot. Maybe that is one kind of explanation."
The main subject of my interview isn't Larsson or Björn Borg. Nor is it the psychology and unlikely appeal of the morose Detective Kurt Wallander. It is Mankell's ongoing attempts to make an ambitious TV drama and feature film about his father-in-law, Ingmar Bergman – a project interrupted in surreal fashion by the Israeli army.
Earlier this summer, Mankell was aboard the Gaza-bound aid flotilla that was attacked by Israeli forces. To his consternation, part of the screenplay for his new film about Bergman was confiscated by the Israeli soldiers.
"Whatever I do, I am always working on something," says Mankell, explaining how he happened to have the Bergman screenplay in his possession at the same time as he was taking part in a mission to bring aid supplies to Gaza in defiance of the Israeli blockade. "When everything was stolen and confiscated, they [the Israeli troops] also took the manuscript," he recalls. "What the hell are they supposed to do with that?"
Four months later, the Israelis still haven't returned Mankell's screenplay. He jokes that the Israelis must have thought the screenplay – called Crisis in deference to Bergman's directorial debut – was written in code. Mankell very much doubts that the young commando soldiers who took the screenplay even knew who Bergman was.
Full story at The Independent.