Monday, November 21, 2011

How do you write crime fiction in the wake of a massacre?

The mass slaughter on Utøya in July shook Norway to its core. Now the country's crime writers must come to terms with what happened…

 -The Observer,

Utoya corpses
Covered corpses lie on the shore of the small Norwegian island of Utoya, following Anders Behring Breivik's shooting spree. Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/REUTERS

Oslo is not a city whose streets hum with urban tension and social decay. To the casual observer, the Norwegian capital is a study in frictionless living: clean, well-ordered, civic-minded, affluent yet essentially egalitarian in spirit. There are more paintings by Edvard Munch here than there are graffiti, and Saturday night in town can seem about as frenetic as a bank holiday in Sunningdale. The locals speak with metropolitan pride about the edginess of the "east side", where most of the city's non-European immigrants live, but from a British perspective even that neighbourhood seems like a model of residential tranquillity.
Yet these placid streets have produced countless psychopaths, serial killers, political assassins and degenerates of every conceivable stripe. Or at least they have in the work of Norway's many bestselling crime writers, such as Jo Nesbø, Anne Holt, Thomas Enger, KO Dahl, Gunnar Staalesen (who mostly focuses on Bergen) and Karin Fossum. Along with one of the world's lowest rates of real-life crime, Norway boasts one of the highest rates of fictional crime.
If this disjunction between an apparently settled state and a violently restless literary imagination is a well-established Scandinavian phenomenon, it is most pronounced in Norway, the most benign of the Nordic nations in practice and the most malevolent in prose. It's as if a generation of Norwegian crime writers took the advice of the nation's two giants of literature a little too literally. "Wake the people up and make them think big," said the dramatist Henrik Ibsen, and the Nobel laureate Knut Hamsun declared that writers should describe the "whisper of blood, and the pleading of bone marrow". The result has been as vivid and incongruous as spilt guts on virgin snow.
Norwegian crime writers have got used to defending themselves against the charge of pure fantasy. They usually respond by pointing out that, contrary to the global image, Norway does suffer from crime and social dysfunction, and there are dark forces abroad behind the facade of the social democratic idyll. But taking into account the vast oil and gas reserves that make Norway (tiny tax havens aside) Europe's wealthiest per capita nation, a princely welfare system, and murders running at a world-historic low of 0.6 per 100,000 people, no one took them very seriously. Not until 22 July this year. At around 3.30pm on that long summer's afternoon, a 32-year-old man named Anders Behring Breivik set off a car bomb outside government buildings in central Oslo which killed eight people and injured many more.
Visiting his widowed mother at her flat in the city, the novelist KO Dahl heard the explosion. Dahl is the author of a series of crime novels featuring two Oslo detectives, Gunnarstranda and Frølich. He approaches the genre from a socio-psychological angle, examining social conditions and character motivations in robustly gripping narratives.
Like many Norwegians, he turned on the television, followed the reports and speculated that the bomb was the work of Islamic extremists. Then a message flashed on screen that there had been a shooting on the tiny island of Utøya in the Tyrifjorden lake about 25 miles north-west of Oslo. The island is owned by the Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylking (AUF), or Workers' Youth League, which is the youth wing of the Norwegian Labour party. The AUF was holding a summer camp for around 500 members of the organisation, most of whom were teenagers.
Full story at The Observer

1 comment:

Geoff Churchman said...

Norway has had a strong "death metal" scene for some time; the surface isn't always a reliable picture