Alex Minnis and guest – editor, researcher and some-time writer Jessica from @lunchpoems – give us their favourite book recommendations by Nordic authors. Perfect for a late summer holiday (if you’re lucky enough to go on one), or in Alex’s case as he likes dark crime thrillers – perfect for winter too!
THE SUMMER BOOK
by Tove Jansson
My perfect Nordic summer read would be Scandinavian modern classic The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. The Swedish-speaking Finnish author and illustrator is perhaps best known for creating the Moomins, but throughout her life she also wrote ten books for adults. Translated into English by Thomas Teal and reissued in the UK in 2003 by Sort Of books, The Summer Book was originally published in the early 70s, following the death of Jansson’s mother. The novel is written in the form of short vignettes and features a fictional representation of both her mother and her niece Sophia as they summer on an island in the Gulf of Finland. Through the grandmother’s old age and the child’s young age, Jansson reflects on losing and gaining knowledge, creativity, nature, family and community.
It is a quiet book in which the author is clearly working through her grief, but in which there is also a lot of hope and joy, especially in the philosophy her mother passed on and that her young niece reacts to and absorbs. The Summer Book captures the mood of Scandinavian summers in its representations of the outdoors, sometimes unpredictable weather, an overriding sense of adventure and the communities in which memories are made.
THE CROW GIRL
by Erik Axl Sund
When this book first arrived in the post, I hadn’t appreciated just how big it was! A three-part thriller in one, it seemed a bit daunting at first, but I decided it would come with me to Greece in mid-July and would keep me going for 10 long days lounging on the beach. In the end, the decision to cram it in my hand luggage was a good one, as it barely left my hands for the whole trip and I ended up getting through all 786 pages!
I didn’t know much about the book when I bought it. Translated from Swedish into English, I knew it was almost a decade old, but is still known for being one of the best Swedish crime books ever written. I think it would be prudent to warn you that this is no laid-back Summer read. It is dark – really, really, really dark! The plot focuses on some uncomfortable subjects including child abuse, murder, and mental health, as the two main characters investigate multiple mutilated bodies and try to find out who is responsible for them. This is a thriller, horror, crime, revenge story – and despite its difficult subject matter, size, and the fact I was in Greek paradise – I simply could not put this book down!
Another novel on my Nordic favourites list, in contrast to the gigantic Crow Girl, is the more slimline novel translated from Icelandic called Hotel Silence. Released back in 2016, the novel follows a middle-aged man who decides that instead of committing suicide, he would travel to a war-torn city instead, and let his life be taken there. Only it doesn’t really go to plan that way.
Despite the beginning feeling a bit dark, it is a beautiful and poetic novel that really blossoms into something positive, and oozes with wonderful Icelandic humour. Winner of the Icelandic Literature Prize.
by Fredrick Backman
Ahead of an HBO series of the same name and based on the book being released this Autumn, I was quick to grab hold of this novel written by one of Sweden’s popular authors Fredrick Backman (the man behind the brilliant ‘A Man Called Ove’).
The first 100-or-so pages is one big tension build up, as the inhabitants of Beartown gear up for a vital hockey game. As the tension builds, a sense of dread comes with it…what is it all building to? When the book gets going it becomes hard to put down and due to the author’s excellent character building, you start to become very much emotionally attached to the people.
The book comes as part of a series, with a sequel ‘Us Against You’ already available. We are looking forward to seeing how this is adapted onto the screen when we watch the series in a few months.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
by John Ajvide Linqvist
This vampire novel is an absolute horror classic, that also boasts a brilliant adaptation to the screen which is still championed as one of the best international horror movies ever made. The book adds more depth to the characters, and some terrifying extra scenes that are missing from the film, so if you have only seen the movie it is well worth reading the book too.
For those who are fans of vampire stories but are not familiar with the novel, it is an absolute must – the story finds lonely Oskar, in the height of a Swedish winter in the 1980s, who befriends his neighbour Eli who happens to be a centuries-old vampire. Is their friendship doomed as they grow closer?
The author does well to provide the chills in both the environment the story is set and the sinister characters that circle our main protagonists. So despite the blazing sun on you this summer, this book is guaranteed to raise the hairs on your arms.
Feature by Alex and Claire Minnis