Bloomsbury has recently published the book Noir in the North, a collection of scholarly essays on Nordic crime fiction. Gunnþórunn Guðmundsdóttir, professor of comparative literature at the University of Iceland, is one of its two editors and recently told Lestin radio show that one of the biggest issues tackled in the book is the question of how noir Nordic crime fiction really is.
For the past few decades, some of the world’s most famous crime writers have come from the Nordic countries. Recently, Scandinavian tv series have continued developing this tradition and aesthetic, telling tales of crimes and the dark sides of the nordic welfare system, shows like Broen, Forbrydelsen, Wallander, Trapped, and Brot. Scholars show the genre increased interest. The book’s origin is a conference that took place in the University of Iceland in collaboration with the University of Newcastle and the Iceland Noir crime fiction festival. Among the topics discussed at the conference was the name of the genre. Icelanders talk of the Nordic crime novel, but abroad, it’s knowns as Scandinoir or Nordic noir.
“That’s what we’re wondering about in the book, why the noir? Is it just because Nordic Noir has a ring to it and stuck? Or does it have deeper roots? That’s one of the main topics in the book,” Gunnþórunn told Lestin. “Is Noir a helpful term to understand this genre, or is it a superficial marketing term? Björn Norðfjörð’s essay mentions that there’s very little connection between the American noir we are familiar with and the Nordic crime novel. Others take a broader understanding of noir and reason that some elements of Nordic noir are similar to Hollywood noir. Such as how tv series such as Broen and Forbrydelsen portray cities – focusing on their darkness and frayed edges.
What most notably separates Nordic crime fiction from the rest of the world is the societal angle, that crime fiction can be a mirror to society. Another thing is the North’s image in the minds of the public. “It’s the mystical north and its darkness. We also have a subgenre of the Nordic crime novel that’s set in very remote places and deal with terrible weather and darkness and so on. Shows like Trapped work with the cliches of the north – the isolation, and the edges and boundaries. The market, as well as people’s imaginations, have welcomed these shows.”
Gunnþórunn also says that you can note that the cliches of the North and the world’s interest in them affect the Nordics’ production nations of their tv shows. “Some have suggested that Danish tv is using this much more markedly to sell their series internationally and that they have started to see their tv productions, which were originally only intended for the local market and the nordic one, as an international product. This international interest makes it a little self-exoticising.”
The popularity for the past few decades has been immense, but it looks like the international market of the Nordic noir is slowing down a bit. “The tv shows are slowing down. They still exist, but Broen is over and Forbrydelsen as well.” But then someone makes a new series, changing the landscape again. We’ve also seen non-nordic series taking on the aesthetics and topics, such as the Uk’s the Fall and The River. Other countries are developing their noir as well, Scotland’s tartan noir, iris noir and so on.”