Sunday, September 11, 2016

Why Is Most Nordic Noir Really Bad?

Well, first of all, as Ted Sturgeon says, 90% of everything is crap. 90% of
the actually rather good Mr Nesbo
mystery novels, 90% of science fiction, 90% of literary fiction. Maybe especially literary fiction where the measure of a book's worth is often how boring it is. But let's not get off topic. We're talking about Nordic Noir. Why is most Nordic Noir so particularly bad? The reason is this: the bar for publication of any Scandinavian mystery is very low because the commercial viability of these books is very high. Because of Dragon Tattoo and the success of Jo Nesbo, the Wallendar books etc. basically any old shit from Norway, Sweden, Denmark or Iceland can be published and there's a pretty good chance it will be commercially viable. The book's quality doesn't really matter, what matters is where the book is set. Nordic Noir outsells the noir fiction of any region in the world. It's trendy. Its cool. Everybody likes Denmark and thinks of it as a kind of liberal Utopia. Norway is a rich Denmark. And Sweden is a slightly less rich but much bigger Norway. Iceland? That's the land where the beautiful pixie like people live. 
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A bad Australian crime novel has no chance of being published in America or the UK but a bad Swedish mystery? It'll probably be a hit. A bad Danish mystery? Mega hit. A good Northern Irish mystery will have trouble finding an audience (even in Belfast) but some old corny crap from Copenhagen will be in every airport newsagent everywhere in the world because that's what the punters want and successful publishers are in the business of giving the punters what they want. NYRB press can give them what they need but everyone else has to give them what they bloody want. What they have wanted for the last 7 or 8 years or so has been Nordic Noir. And that's why there's a glut. And that's why most of those books are shite. I should know, I'm a professional reviewer and my neighbours have been complaining about the increasing number of books that get tossed across the living room and into our shared wall. Don't get me wrong: there are tons of really good Scandi/Nordic writers that I love but in the last few years we've been bombarded with a lot of terrible stuff too. 
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Ok vent over. Now, let me get a cup of tea to calm down and don't get me started about John Banville.