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Bridges to Scandinavia

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Andrea Meregalli
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Camilla Storskog

Nordic Crime Fiction in Italy. The Phenomenon Stieg Larsson and His Followers

Alessia Ferrari

Résumé

Following Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, Italy has been reached by an extraordinary wave of Nordic crime fiction. Numerous Italian publishing houses have subsequently begun translating and publishing crime fiction written by Nordic authors and large numbers of copies have been sold. Why is the Italian reading public so attracted to Nordic crime literature? A possible answer may be found in the exoticism of the Nordic culture, quite foreign to the Italian reader if one sets aside the most common stereotypes. For most Italian readers the real characteristics of Scandinavian society and culture are obscure, nonetheless it can be interesting to observe how the social criticism – since a fundamental characteristic of contemporary Nordic crime fiction is to raise social issues and to discuss them in literary form – and the ‘Nordic exoticism’ work together to create a successful literary product.

Texte intégral

1. Italian ‘neonoir’ as a pre-existent ground for the affirmation of Nordic Crime Fiction

  • 1   Though it must be said that the exponents refuse to recognise themselves as members of a cultural (...)
  • 2   “Noir cannot be reduced to a ‘category’ of books or movies. It is an inclination of the imagery t (...)
  • 3   See Grimaldi 1996; Macioti 2006.

1To understand the reasons behind the positive reception of Nordic crime fiction in Italy from 2007 (when the first novel of Stieg Larsson was published) onwards, it may be useful to consider the Italian literary scene of the same period. Within the rich production of crime fiction at this time, a special mention should go to a particular trend called neonoir, where ‘neo’ aims to stress the innovation within the classical noir tradition. Represen- tative names of this literary trend are Pino Blasone, Sabrina Deligia, Paolo De Pasquali, Nicola Lombardi, Marco Minicangeli, Aldo Musci, Claudio Pellegrini, Ivo Scanner, Antonio Tentori, and Alda Teodorani. In an essay entitled Il neonoir. Autori, editori, temi di un genere metropolitano (Neonoir. Authors, Publishers, Themes of a Metropolitan Genre), the Italian scholar Eli- sabetta Mondello shows that the interest in the literary stream of neonoir among publishers and readers alike in Italy has steadily increased since the second half of the 1990s (Mondello 2005, 15).1 Even so, it is not easy to draw clear borders for this genre. As the neonoir writer Ivo Scanner (alias Fabio Giovannini) states: “[i]l noir non può essere ridotto a una ‘categoria’ di libri o film. È una tendenza dell’immaginario che può attraversare generi e sottogeneri”(Giovannini 2000, 9).2 Apart from any discussion of genre classification and definition, what is interesting in this context is to find some points of intersection between Italian neonoir and another literary genre, crime fiction,3 intended both in general terms and, more specifically, as the one originating in the Nordic countries.

2One of the most important features that Italian neonoir shares with crime fiction is the primary subject, which is the dark side of human nature, and the way it acts in social contexts. Giovannini, while trying to define neonoir, observes:

  • 4   “Therefore noir becomes an elastic label, which can cover all violent, dark (but not supernatural (...)

Noir diventa così un’etichetta elastica che può coprire tutte le storie violente, cupe (ma non soprannaturali) e con personaggi centrali ambigui o negativi, spesso prive di lieto fine. Oppure può tramutarsi in sinonimo di ‘giallo’ (2000, 9).4

  • 5   “The notion of noir has vague features […] which from time to time have come to correspond with o (...)

3These words are interesting because they show that sometimes the terms noir (the French word for ‘black’) and giallo can be used synonymously, as they relate to the same literary universe, populated with similar characters – negative or ambiguous – acting in quite similar ways. As Mondello writes, “la nozione di noir ha tratti indistinti […] che finiscono di volta in volta per coincidere con l’idea di atmosfere efferate, di delitti sanguinosi, di ricerche affannose di assassini crudeli” (2005, 18).5 The same definition can apply to crime fiction, featuring dark atmospheres, bloody murders and cruel murderers.

  • 6   For the evolution of crime fiction from its origins to the present see Horsley 2010.

4It could be argued that, in the well-known crime stories of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the central character is a positive hero who lives in a world where rationality and balance unavoidably triumph in the end. But such novels, known as ‘whodunits’ or ‘puzzle mysteries’, are not the kind of crime fiction that the Italian noir can be compared to. It is in contemporary crime fiction, which goes back to the American hard-boiled school, where the common ground can be found.6 The massive presence of anti-heroes or not totally positive main characters, which brings into question the process of the identification between the hero and the reader, illustrates this point. Laura Grimaldi (1996) states that the fundamental difference is that crime fiction focuses on the investigator’s attempt to re-establish balance and order, while noir delves into the dark side of the culprit’s mind. But this is true only when considering authors such as Doyle, Christie or Sayers: in contemporary crime fiction one hardly finds a neat Manichean division between good and evil.

5With regard to happy endings, it can certainly be stated that such an ingredient is often lacking even in crime fiction, where the plot seldom concludes without further unresolved questions concerning unrestored justice (of a psychological, legal or ethical kind).

  • 7   An important exception should be mentioned: Swedish John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Låt den rätte komma i (...)

6A final common thread between noir and crime fiction is that supernatural stories do not belong to their literary family.7

7Even though Italian noir and crime fiction have much in common, it would be a mistake to think that they are one and the same thing. As a matter of fact, it is hard to define them in strict terms, in relation both to wider literary categories and to each other, since they are linked together by the choice of subjects, although they diverge in their treatment of it: as Mondello (2005, 19) points out, noir fiction and crime fiction are like relatives with independent identities.

8Furthermore, publishers play a crucial role in the troubled question of genre definition as they have the power to label books ‘noir novel’ or ‘crime novel’ and to promote them consequently. Mondello writes:

  • 8   “‘Noir novel’ is the definition suggested by the publishing house and/or perceived subjectively b (...)

‘Romanzo noir’ è la definizione che viene proposta dall’editore e/o soggettivamente percepita dal lettore. Poco importa se la struttura testuale sia piuttosto quella tipica del poliziesco, o la sua morfologia sia sostanzialmente identica a quella di un thriller declinato secondo i meccanismi della detection (2005, 19).8

  • 9   “The most important hallmark of crime fiction is that it is marketed and promoted as crime fictio (...)
  • 10   “A self-feeding loop.”

9This also applies when talking about crime fiction. When the Norwegian scholar Nils Nordberg states that “det viktigste av alle kjennetegn ved kriminallitteraturen er at den markedsføres og selges som kriminallitteratur” (quoted in Gripsrud 1995, 218),9 he gets it exactly right, despite adopting quite an unfaceted point of view. The real situation is in fact fuzzier, as Jostein Gripsrud highlights when commenting on Nordberg’s words. Gripsrud stresses the fact that the readers define the genre of a book through a number of characteristic features, which they recognise as distinguishing, a process that must be taken into account by publishers when they choose what label to put on a book to avoid falling short of the reader’s expectations (1995, 218). Mondello uses the expression “un loop che si autoalimenta” (2005, 24)10 on the subject of the success gained by neonoir novels, a success which, in turn, makes the publishing houses pay more and more attention to the genre through the publication of an increasing number of novels capable of attracting an increasing number of readers. This is exactly the same process that Nordic crime fiction underwent in Italy at the beginning of the new millennium.

10Therefore, a further common thread shared by noir and crime fiction is to be found in the extent of policies operated by publishing houses since the success of both genres has been inextricably linked with such marketing strategies. As regards Nordic crime fiction, a special mention should go to the Venetian publishing house Marsilio, for reasons I will explain later.

11Hence, it can be argued that the wave of neonoir flourishing in Italy in the second half of the 1990s prepared the ground for the affirmation of Nordic crime fiction both in terms of literary subjects and climates. This means that by then the audience had become familiar with a certain kind of themes and atmospheres, finding it easier to accept and appreciate them when they later came from the Nordic countries in a different shape, now labelled ‘Nordic crime fiction’.

2. The Stieg Larsson phenomenon and the importance of Lisbeth Salander as a feminist heroine

12Scandinavian crime fiction existed in Italy long before Stieg Larsson, as several journalists and literary critics point out when discussing Larsson’s books. Giuseppe Previti (2010) writes:

  • 11   “A couple of years ago it was thought that what in at least one case turned out to be a huge publ (...)

Un anno, due anni fa si pensò che quello che poi si è rivelato almeno in un caso un enorme successo editoriale, vedi la Trilogia di Larsson, abbia fatto da traino al lancio o al rilancio di tanti autori. Badate bene, per gli intenditori e gli appassionati di gialli era un po’ come scoprire l’acqua calda, Sjöwall e Wahlöö, Mankell, Persson, Lindqvist, Läckberg, Holt, [Arnaldur] Indriðason, Marklund, Nesser erano e sono nomi noti con un loro pubblico di lettori affezionati. Con Larsson il fenomeno è esploso in maniera eclatante.11

  • 12   “The Stieg Larsson phenomenon does not come out of the blue.”
  • 13   Cf. http://www.letteraturenordiche.it/giallonordico.htm.
  • 14   “One must debunk the idea that this boom is to be linked to the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larss (...)
  • 15   Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö were Swedish crime writers that wrote together, inspired by Marxist-so (...)

13Similarly, Gian Giacomo Migone points out that “[i]l fenomeno Stieg Larsson non nasce dal nulla” (2010, 1),12 referring to a solid preexisting literary tradition. In fact with Larsson, Scandinavian, and in particular Swedish, crime fiction became a trademark, although this kind of literature from the Nordic countries was appreciated in Italy even before, as can be observed in an exhaustive website created and updated by Riccardo Marmugi, which lists all Scandinavian crime fiction translated into Italian from the 1970s to the present.13 As Aldo Garzia, an Italian journalist and writer interested in Swedish culture and a connoisseur of Ingmar Bergman, says, “[b]isogna […] sfatare l’idea che il boom sia da collegare alla trilogia Millennium di Stieg Larsson” (2011),14 arguing that the quality of Swedish crime fiction had already been established in Italy with, e.g., the novels by the writing duo Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö.15 On the other hand, it is a fact that, with Larsson’s novels, Scandinavian crime fiction gained unprecedented visibility within the Italian book market.

  • 16   The trilogy consists of Män som hatar kvinnor (2005), Flickan som lekte med elden (2006), Luftslo (...)
  • 17   “The plots were soaked in violence, murders, tricks and mysteries. But there were also the tensio (...)

14In 2005 the Venetian publishing house Marsilio bought the rights to Larsson’s Millennium trilogy after hearing about this promising and politically active Swedish journalist at the Frankfurt book fair the year before (Fumagalli 2010, 40).16 Marsilio had already been publishing Swedish crime fiction for twelve years: it began with Henning Mankell in 1998, when its founder Cesare De Michelis heard about him being appreciated in Germany, a country that has always been keen on Nordic literature (Crispino 2011, 48). Mankell’s books feature what would turn out to be one of the main reasons behind the success of the genre: the strong emphasis on social engagement. As De Michelis states, “le trame erano intrise di violenze, omicidi, intrighi e misteri; ma si coglievano anche le tensioni di una società moderna, in trasformazione, permeata da corruzione, decadente” (quoted in Fumagalli 2010, 40).17

15About the role played by Marsilio, the reviewer Alessandro Centonze writes:

  • 18   “It must be stressed that Nordic crime fiction represents a genre which in the last ten years has (...)

Occorre segnalare come il giallo nordico rappresenta un genere che, nell’ultimo decennio, ha goduto di una grande fortuna, dando origine, grazie alla lungimiranza della casa editrice Marsilio di Venezia, a un fenomeno editoriale che non ha eguali nel mondo letterario nostrano. Grazie al grande successo ottenuto, dapprima, con la pubblicazione dei romanzi di Henning Mankell e, successivamente, con la pubblicazione della trilogia “Millennium” di Stieg Larsson, la Marsilio ha dato vita nel nostro Paese a un vero e proprio fenomeno culturale, creando una collana intitolata ‘Giallosvezia’ e ponendo le basi per una riscoperta del mondo scandinavo e della Svezia in particolare, che costituisce l’epicentro culturale ed editoriale di questo fenomeno (2012).18

16The Italian translation of the first volume of the Millennium trilogy, Uomini che odiano le donne, was published in 2007 and immediately became a publishing phenomenon. The first volume was soon reprinted and the second part, La ragazza che giocava con il fuoco, followed the year after, preceding the third and last novel, La regina dei castelli di carta (2009), all of which have been translated by Carmen Giorgetti Cima. At the end of 2009, the trilogy had sold two and a half million copies in Italy (Bozzi 2009, 41).

  • 19   Cf. Pasini 2009 for an analysis of the relationships between men and women in the trilogy.

17The three novels tell the story of the young and troubled hacker Lisbeth Salander, an antisocial character and a victim of a conspiracy organised by various public figures within the Swedish state, and of the journalist Mikael Blomkvist, a sort of alter ego of Larsson himself. The main story concerns these two characters, but there are several sub-plots, which give the author the chance to treat subjects such as the disintegration of the patriarchal model and the consequent modification of the relationship between men and women,19 the trafficking of prostitutes from the former USSR to Scandinavia as well as far-right movements and xenophobia.

  • 20   “The trilogy is perhaps the greatest feminist novel ever written and Lisbeth Salander is the firs (...)
  • 21   Official Istat data 2014, http://www.istat.it/it/archivio/108662. The Norwegian crime writer Kjel (...)
  • 22   “There is the market principle. Because many female readers need to identify [with Lisbeth]. But (...)

18The Italian journalist Antonio D’Orrico, in his article Le undici strane ragioni di un successo inatteso (The Eleven Strange Reasons behind an Unexpected Success), takes into consideration the strong feminist message underlying all of Larsson’s work: “La Trilogia è forse il più grande romanzo popolare femminista mai scritto e Lisbeth Salander è la prima eroina femminista a tutto tondo nella storia del romanzo popolare”(2010, 41).20 Feminism and women’s emancipation are a hotly debated question in Italy. It is possible that the central role of this theme is one of the most appealing reasons behind the success of Larsson’s books, especially among women, who read more than men in Italy.21 Sebastiano Triulzi, too, asserts that behind Larsson’s success is the Lisbeth character, a pale and skinny girl who does ‘masculine things’: “C’è una logica di mercato, perché ci sono tante lettrici che devono identificarsi. Ma non solo. Perché il tema della violenza sulle donne, centrale in Larsson, è un dramma sociale” (2010).22 Triulzi also argues that the act of creating strong female protagonists represents a political instrument that can teach the new generations that violence against women and female subordination are unacceptable. Against this background, one should also mention the important literary sub-stream of Scandinavian female crime writers (e.g., Liza Marklund, Camilla Läckberg, Åsa Larsson, Anne Holt, Gretelise Holm), all of whom exploit the plot of the detective novel to redefine the actual condition of women.

  • 23   “Male chauvinism, i.e., the end of male chauvinism.”

19If feminism triumphs, then an inevitable decline in male chauvinism is likely to occur. In D’Orrico’s opinion, the sixth reason for the trilogy’s success is in fact “il maschilismo, cioè la fine del maschilismo” (2010, 41).23 He claims that if Lisbeth Salander is a strong and emancipated female heroine, then the main male character, Mikael Blomkvist, plays the role of the quite stupid blonde girl portrayed in classic hard-boiled novels. He is the sexual object of desire for several women and he seems rather comfortable with that. On the other hand, the Italian journalist Francesca Pasini (2009, 48) expresses herself more favourably about Mikael: in her opinion, he offers the readers a different behavioural model in his relationships with women, as he does not act like an unscrupulous Casanova, but instead can show respect and companionship.

20Thus, in Pasini’s and D’Orrico’s interpretations, it is clear that an interesting and appealing element in Larsson’s trilogy is the great deal of attention paid to the changes taking place in the relationships between men and women. While discussing an Amnesty International report from the year 2010, Nicoletta Tiliacos points out that, if in Sweden women have reached certain goals in the public sphere, violent and discriminatory attitudes still seem to survive in the private one:

  • 24   “The huge phenomenon of the ‘crime fiction from the cold’, beginning with the ‘forefather’ Stieg (...)

Il gigantesco fenomeno editoriale dei ‘gialli venuti dal freddo’, a partire dal capostipite Stieg Larsson e dalla sua trilogia da trenta milioni di copie […] può essere interpretato come il frutto letterario di un problema reale, di un malessere crescente nel rapporto tra i sessi (Tiliacos 2011).24

3. Nordic Crime Fiction in Italy as a forum for social discussion

  • 25   “Maybe the readers find it intriguing to observe that this oasis of happiness is not that happy a (...)
  • 26   “It is extremely stimulating to write about a paradise that is crumbling to pieces.”

21It seems that the Italian readership derives a voyeuristic pleasure in observing a socially emancipated nation like Sweden facing sexual discrimination, violence, corruption, organised crime, something the Italians themselves have been familiar with for a long time. It appears somehow comforting to know that the Nordic welfare paradise shares our troubles. Francesca Varotto is the literary scout who imported Stieg Larsson to Italy. According to her, “[f]orse intriga i lettori constatare che l’isola felice così felice non è, e che intrigo e crimine attecchiscono anche in una società di benessere diffuso” (Crispino 2011, 49).25 It is also interesting to observe that a hint of schadenfreude is shared by Scandinavian writers themselves, who find that “è estremamente stimolante scrivere di un paradiso che cade a pezzi”,26 as the Swedish crime writer Arne Dahl says in an interview (Oliva 2009).

  • 27   Cf. Brodén 2008; Kärrholm and Bergman 2011; Tapper 2011.

22This point of view can be true, though only partially. In fact, the picture of a disintegrating society coping with a variety of problems can also spark an interesting discussion on crucial social problems. Scandinavian crime authors write also to encourage collective reflection and deal with issues that their readership finds interesting to delve into. This is the most common interpretation among Scandinavian critics,27 one that has reached Italy as well. In fact, Italian journalists and reviewers, too, agree that Nordic crime fiction stands out for the skilful manner in which these social matters are treated while still delivering a gripping mystery story.

23Centonze focuses his attention precisely on the social dimension of the genre:

  • 28   “The authors that represent [Nordic crime fiction] use noir literary models to describe the incre (...)

Gli autori che rappresentano [il giallo nordico] utilizzano modelli letterari noir per descrivere le crescenti insofferenze, sociali ed economiche, del mondo occidentale – di cui la Svezia ha sempre costituito un esempio di welfare state difficilmente comparabile con altre parti del pianeta – che influiscono sulla vita degli individui, alienandoli e portandoli a condizioni di disagio individuale tali da indurli a commettere un delitto (2012).28

24First, it can be observed that Centonze here uses “noir” as a synonym for “giallo”, showing once more that the line between these two terms is quite subtle. It is also interesting to note the way he links the social sphere of an individual to the private one by recalling Sjöwall-Wahlöö’s tradition of Marxist criticism.

  • 29   “Nordic crime fiction is social fiction par excellence, the crime plot being the means to engage (...)
  • 30   “The ingredients of the traditional Scandinavian crime novel […]: crude realism, social criticism (...)

25Similarly, Francesca Varotto states: “Il giallo nordico è il giallo sociale per eccellenza, il plot poliziesco è il mezzo con cui coinvolgere il lettore per parlare di attualità e trasmettere un messaggio” (Crispino 2011, 48).29 Roberto Iasoni expresses the same opinion when he writes: “Gli ingredienti del tradizionale giallo scandinavo […]: il crudo realismo, la critica sociale, lo scavo nella realtà contemporanea” (2010, 34).30 Whereas Previti points out:

  • 31   “It is typical of Nordic authors to be able to ‘read’ society, a society facing endless social pr (...)

È una costante tipica degli autori nordici, sapere ‘leggere’ la società, una società alle prese con infiniti problemi sociali, dal razzismo all’alcolismo, dalla violenza sino alla pedofilia, una società che qualche decennio fa era presa a modello da seguire e che poi si è rivelata ben diversa (2010).31

  • 32   “The passion for crime fiction in general and for Nordic fiction in particular seems to refer to (...)
  • 33   “Swedish crime fiction represents the moral conscience of Europe, one of the few literary forms w (...)

26Dina Lentini considers the possibility that crime fiction could work as a means to better understand reality: “La passione per il giallo in generale e per quello nordico sembra da riportare ad un’esigenza di comprensione della realtà che la finzione letteraria tradizionale fatica a soddisfare” (Lentini s.a.).32 Lentini thus believes that crime fiction tries to give an answer to a gnoseological need of the contemporary Western human being. Interestingly, Cesare De Michelis adds an ethical and moral element to this reflection: “Il giallo che viene dalla Svezia rappresenta la coscienza morale dell’Europa, una delle poche forme di letteratura che affronta domande di carattere morale, politico, sociale, ponendosi interrogativi sulla complessità della società globalizzata” (Fumagalli 2010, 40).33

  • 34   “A rich literary production of high quality, not so distant from our culture after all.”
  • 35   “Able to combine quality writing with the pleasure of entertainment.”
  • 36   “A good prose, with well-calibrated characters and atmospheres.”
  • 37   “Nordic writers seem to have an inspired inclination for telling stories.”

27All these voices unanimously recognise that Nordic crime fiction aims to show the audience some relevant problems of contemporary society in order to stimulate a collective reflection. This fact is particularly interesting in the context of formula fiction, widely considered an entertaining and unengaged genre. It must be said on this score that some voices have expressed doubts about the literary quality of this kind of formula fiction. On the other hand, Italian critics seem to agree on the quality of the genre when coming from the Nordic countries. The Danish to Italian literary translator Bruno Berni talks about it in the following terms: “Una produzione letteraria ricca, di elevata qualità, tutto sommato non troppo distante dalla nostra cultura” (Agrosì 2012).34 Francesca Varotto goes on to say that the Nordic crime authors are “capaci di unire qualità di scrittura al piacere dell’intrattenimento” (Crispino 2011, 48),35 while Giuseppe Previti talks about “una buona prosa, con una buona calibratura dei personaggi e dell’ambiente” (2010).36 Finally, Dina Lentini thinks that “[i] nordici sembrano dotati di una vena molto felice nel raccontare storie” (Lentini s.a.).37

4. Conclusions

28In this essay I have tried to shed some light on the successful publishing phenomenon of Nordic crime fiction in Italy. The first element is that the genre of the Italian neonoir, which has been flourishing from the second half of the 1990s onwards, created positive pre-conditions in terms of subjects and literary moods, bringing to the bookshop shelves dark atmospheres and violence. A crucial role has also been played by Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, which features a good mix of innovation (within the frame of the classic crime plot) and social debate (with a particular mention for the main character Lisbeth Salander and her innovative feminist message). The most significant common thread between Larsson and all his numerous followers seems to be, in the opinion of several critics, the fact that Nordic crime fiction, while narrating riveting mystery stories in a masterly style, analyses and criticises the current globalised society, thus stimulating the readers to reflect upon what is happening in contemporary Europe.

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Notes

1   Though it must be said that the exponents refuse to recognise themselves as members of a cultural school or an organic movement, cf. Grimaldi 1996, 31; Giovannini 2000, 16; Mochi 2003, 25-26.

2   “Noir cannot be reduced to a ‘category’ of books or movies. It is an inclination of the imagery that recurs across genres and subgenres.” All translations are mine.

3   See Grimaldi 1996; Macioti 2006.

4   “Therefore noir becomes an elastic label, which can cover all violent, dark (but not supernatural) stories featuring negative or ambiguous central characters and often lacking a happy ending. Or it can become synonymous with giallo.ˮ The use of the Italian word giallo (‘yellow’) as a synonym for the genre of crime fiction originated in the colour chosen for the covers of the first crime book series published by Mondadori (Grimaldi 1996, 10).

5   “The notion of noir has vague features […] which from time to time have come to correspond with odious atmospheres, bloody murders and frantic searching for ruthless murderers.”

6   For the evolution of crime fiction from its origins to the present see Horsley 2010.

7   An important exception should be mentioned: Swedish John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In, 2004), a vampire story commonly featured among crime books. In 2010, the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera sold, together with the newspaper, a selection of thirteen Swedish crime novels, including such authors as Lindqvist, Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, and Liza Marklund. This fact shows to what extent the definition of a book’s genre depends on external labelling.

8   “‘Noir novel’ is the definition suggested by the publishing house and/or perceived subjectively by the reader. It is not that important whether the text has a structure typical of the crime novel or whether its morphology essentially equals that of a thriller by resorting to the mechanisms of detection.”

9   “The most important hallmark of crime fiction is that it is marketed and promoted as crime fiction.”

10   “A self-feeding loop.”

11   “A couple of years ago it was thought that what in at least one case turned out to be a huge publishing success stimulated the launch or relaunch of many authors. One should be careful, though, since for connoisseurs and keen readers of crime novels it was kind of like reinventing the wheel, Sjöwall and Wahlöö, Mankell, Persson, Lindqvist, Läckberg, Holt, [Arnaldur] Indriðason, Marklund, Nesser were and are famous names with their own loyal readership. With Larsson the phenomenon took on epic proportions.”

12   “The Stieg Larsson phenomenon does not come out of the blue.”

13   Cf. http://www.letteraturenordiche.it/giallonordico.htm.

14   “One must debunk the idea that this boom is to be linked to the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson.”

15   Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö were Swedish crime writers that wrote together, inspired by Marxist-socialist ideology. They are known for their ten-novel cycle Roman om ett brott (The Story of a Crime, 1965-75) featuring police inspector Martin Beck, where they wanted to show the dark side of the much-lauded Swedish welfare state.

16   The trilogy consists of Män som hatar kvinnor (2005), Flickan som lekte med elden (2006), Luftslottet som sprängdes (2007), published in Italy as Uomini che odiano le donne (2007), La ragazza che giocava con il fuoco (2008), La regina dei castelli di carta (2009). The corresponding English titles are The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

17   “The plots were soaked in violence, murders, tricks and mysteries. But there were also the tensions of a modern society undergoing a transformation. A decaying society imbued with corruption.”

18   “It must be stressed that Nordic crime fiction represents a genre which in the last ten years has enjoyed a tremendous success and which, thanks to the foresight of the publishing house Marsilio, has laid the foundations for a publishing phenomenon quite unprecedented in our literary world. Thanks to the great success achieved with the publication of Henning Mankell’s novels, first, and later with the publication of Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, Marsilio has given birth to a true cultural phenomenon in our country by creating a book collection entitled ‘Giallosvezia’, thus laying the groundwork for a revival of the Scandinavian world and particularly of Sweden, which is at the heart of this cultural and publishing phenomenon.”

19   Cf. Pasini 2009 for an analysis of the relationships between men and women in the trilogy.

20   “The trilogy is perhaps the greatest feminist novel ever written and Lisbeth Salander is the first tridimensional heroine in the history of the popular novel.”

21   Official Istat data 2014, http://www.istat.it/it/archivio/108662. The Norwegian crime writer Kjell Ola Dahl confirms that this interpretation is correct in Italy as well as in Scandinavia: “Il fenomeno Millennium, la trilogia dello svedese Stieg Larsson, pone […] una domanda essenziale in letteratura: chi legge cosa? La risposta è che le donne leggono di più e Millennium racconta proprio la vendetta di una donna” (Raynal 2009, 49; “The Millennium phenomenon, the trilogy of the Swedish Stieg Larsson, raises […] an essential question in literature: who reads what? The answer is that women read more and Millennium is precisely about a woman’s revenge”).

22   “There is the market principle. Because many female readers need to identify [with Lisbeth]. But there is more to it. Because the topic of violence against women, central in Larsson, is a social drama.”

23   “Male chauvinism, i.e., the end of male chauvinism.”

24   “The huge phenomenon of the ‘crime fiction from the cold’, beginning with the ‘forefather’ Stieg Larsson and his trilogy that sold 30 million copies […] can be seen as the literary product of a real problem, of an increasing discomfort in the relationship between sexes.”

25   “Maybe the readers find it intriguing to observe that this oasis of happiness is not that happy after all, and that crime and deceit can take root even among widely shared prosperity.”

26   “It is extremely stimulating to write about a paradise that is crumbling to pieces.”

27   Cf. Brodén 2008; Kärrholm and Bergman 2011; Tapper 2011.

28   “The authors that represent [Nordic crime fiction] use noir literary models to describe the increasing social and economic intolerance of the Western world – where Sweden has always represented an example of a welfare state without equal on the planet – which affects the lives of individuals, while alienating them and bringing them to such individual discomfort as to lead them to commit a crime.”

29   “Nordic crime fiction is social fiction par excellence, the crime plot being the means to engage the reader to discuss current events while sending a message.”

30   “The ingredients of the traditional Scandinavian crime novel […]: crude realism, social criticism, probing contemporary reality.”

31   “It is typical of Nordic authors to be able to ‘read’ society, a society facing endless social problems, from racism to alcoholism, from violence to paedophilia, a society that some decades ago was a role model and then turned out to be something different.”

32   “The passion for crime fiction in general and for Nordic fiction in particular seems to refer to the need to understand reality, which traditional literary fiction struggles to fulfil.”

33   “Swedish crime fiction represents the moral conscience of Europe, one of the few literary forms which deal with moral, political and social issues, while raising questions about the complexity of our globalised society.”

34   “A rich literary production of high quality, not so distant from our culture after all.”

35   “Able to combine quality writing with the pleasure of entertainment.”

36   “A good prose, with well-calibrated characters and atmospheres.”

37   “Nordic writers seem to have an inspired inclination for telling stories.”

Auteur

Università degli Studi di Milano – Majored in Scandinavian Languages and Literature at the University of Milan. She completed a PhD in Scandinavian literature with a dissertation on contemporary Swedish crime fiction. Her main areas of interest are modern and contemporary Nordic literature, Nordic cultures and languages

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