Academic journal article Journal of Aesthetics and Culture

Nordic Noir in the UK: The Allure of Accessible Difference

Academic journal article Journal of Aesthetics and Culture

Nordic Noir in the UK: The Allure of Accessible Difference

Article excerpt

In the twenty-first century, Scandinavian crime fiction or "Nordic noir," as it has become labelled in the United Kingdom, has become a local as well as a global obsession described as forming a recognisable international brand. Books and TV series have spread like a wave from the Nordic epicentres to the mainstream European markets and beyond. Several crime series have been translated into more than thirty languages and authors such as the Swedes Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson and Liza Marklund, the Norwegian Jo Nesbø and the Dane Jussi Adler-Olsen are selling millions of copies of their crime novels outside of Scandinavia.1 The Danish TV crime series Forbrydelsen (The Killing, DR1, 2007-2012) has been exported to more than a hundred countries and territories on all continents and was awarded an Emmy for best international drama in 2010 and the International BAFTA in 2011.2 As such, Nordic noir is currently the most prominent and telling example of a seemingly global obsession that has made crime fiction a "top-ranking literary genre."3

The international success of Nordic crime fiction initiated with translations of Sjowall and Wahlöo's police procedurals in the early 1970s and reached a wider Anglo-American readership in the early 1990s with translations of Peter Høeg's postcolonial crime thriller Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne (1992; Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow, 1993). Henning Mankell's Wallander novels reignited the popularity of Swedish police novels in the same decade, and in the twenty-first century Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 2005 [2008], The Girl Who Played with Fire, 2006 [2009] and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, 2007 [2009]) became a global publishing phenomenon. Together, these examples of international bestsellers, originating in the European semi-periphery of Scandinavia, exemplify Franco Moretti's general theory about the historic spread of novelistic genres. Emanating from the literary and cultural centres of the twentieth century, predominantly Anglo-American crime writing spread to the linguistic peripheries through translations, adaptations and mimicry, eventually resulting in original local variants that would add to and innovate the global form of the genre itself.4 In an age of globalisation, the Nordic noir phenomenon demonstrates that crime fiction is a particularly mobile and adaptable genre able to spread and take root throughout the world by adapting internationally recognisable literary forms to local circumstances, languages and traditions.

Arguably, over the recent decades Scandinavian crime fiction has played a central role in opening up the doors for crime writers around the world to the global and much coveted yet notoriously impermeable Anglo-American markets. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal about "Fiction's Global Crime Wave," published at the height of the Stieg Larsson craze: "Detective novels from Japan, Nigeria, Germany and Korea are pouring into the U.S. as publishers hunt for the next 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."'5 This "global crime wave" however needs to be seen in the context of an Anglophone publishing market, such as the British, where translated fiction represents only about 4% of all published titles.6

This article will take a closer look at the recent success of Nordic noir in the United Kingdom considering especially the ways in which this particular aesthetic or popular cultural form has come to function as a medium for intercultural communication wherein the perceived Nordicness of the genre plays a central role in negotiating social and cultural desires and challenges pertaining mostly to the receiving culture. Nordic noir, I shall argue, is not merely a fleeting fashion but a publishing and media phenomenon that tells us something about particular patterns of cultural consumption in the first decades of the twenty-first century United Kingdom-a period marked by growing social inequalities, unequal globalisation, financial crises and austerity. …

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