Saturday, December 25, 2010

Layer 408 . . . Christmas, Nordic Noir, Scandinavia, Crime Fiction, the Millenium Trilogy, Larsson, the Dragon Tattoo, Wallender, Existential Angst,The Pope and Thought For Today

I suppose it was quite an odd thing to be doing on Christmas Eve: watching a documentary called Nordic Noir, whose subject was Scandinavian crime fiction. However, since I seem to be one of very few people who have yet to either read the book or see the film of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I'm aware I'm missing out on quite a worldwide phenomenon - the Millenium Trilogy. It seems Stieg Larsson is just one of several Scandinavian authors of crime fiction who are well worth reading. This documentary, narrated by Mariella Frostrup, is well worth watching. I obviously have a lot of catching up to do. I haven't been watching the Wallander series either.

The programme was particularly good on the novels of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö.

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, both journalists and both politically radical, met in 1961 while working for magazines published by the same company. They married the next year and the carefully planned crime series (essentially police procedurals), 10 books in 10 years, was written in the evenings, after their children had been put to bed.

[They apparently each wrote alternate chapters of each of their books.]

According to Wahlöö, their intention was to "use the crime novel as a scalpel cutting open the belly of the ideological pauperized and morally debatable so-called welfare state of the bourgeois type."

The Nordic countries seem similar to Scotland in many ways - various interviewees in the documentary talked about the 'cold, bleak, and dark winters', and the 'long, dark nights', that frequently lead to depression. There was an example given of someone who went to live in Sweden (or was it Finland?), found themselves becoming horribly depressed, and yet found the angst and depression lifted immediately when they returned to London. Which is interesting - since London itself can often be cold, gloomy and depressing. Perhaps not quite as 'dark, grim and difficult' as more northern climes.

Peter Høeg is a Danish writer of fiction who wrote an acclaimed book called 'Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow'. "I feel more highly for snow than for love", says Høeg/Smilla. Interesting thought. I do admire Danish intelligence.

Karim Fossum, on the other hand, says of her (crime) books, "I'm really writing about death  - and how it affects us." We need more books about death and how it affects us.

Jo Nesbo - who comes across as quite hardboiled and sardonic , said,  "Norway was a very poor country that became a very rich country - thanks to the discovery of oil and gas. Money corrupted us, though many of us want to stay small and simply get by - by doing our own thing." Apparently his books ask questions about why so many people are nowadays so violent, and about what's happening to our increasingly affluent, corrupt and degenerate societies.

In an interview about the Wallender character the actor who plays him in the Swedish TV series draws an interesting parallel between being a 'good detective' and being a 'good professional' in other fields that are personally and emotionally demanding. He rightly makes the point that a good practitioner in any 'caring' profession works 'like an artist', using intuition and instinct.

Or at least they used to, before the era of targets, performance management, payment by results, bonuses, league tables, covering your back and looking after Number One - first and foremost. No room for that touchy-feely, self-sacrificing stuff these days. Deliver or die. I do hate that word deliver, in the context of professional practice.

The Swedish TV series of Wallander apparently explores ideas about professional self-sacrifice through episodes like the one where his daughter decides to become a police officer. Wallander is shaken because he understands just how much the job demands - and how it's almost inevitable that the side effects will be  'alcoholism and loneliness'. I know far too many good people who went at least some way down that road in their chosen profession.

When the daughter says she'll just quit if things get too rough, he replies, "Good cops don't quit! They allow themselves to be ground down! Without doing a thing to stop it . . . The job absorbs you . . . You don't even notice you're losing the people you love . . ."

How many good people do I know who've suffered relationship breakdowns, physical breakdowns or personal breakdowns . . .

"You end up with a world-weary disenchantment because of the things you witness . . . "

And so say all of us.

The tragic irony is that the superb young actress who played the role of Wallender's daughter committed suicide whilst still young. Maybe the world is too unbearable for sensitive and brilliant minds. But I wonder what happens if such people decide to set aside their own pain and angst and focus their lives on serving others and helping to make the  world a better place for others. Maybe this is what actually keeps the Wallanders of this world functioning, in a strange, lonely, alcoholic, ironic way.

World-wearyness and disenchantment might be the starting point for some careers, and not just the end point. Witness the increasing numbers of people who have given up on shit like banking in order to do something worthwhile with their lives.

Happy Christmas!


PS The Pope

Ratso was quite a catch for the Today programme yesterday - giving us the benefit of his wisdom and spiritual insight in the Thought For Today slot.

Oh Lord.

If we have to have Popes then I personally want them to sound Italian, or at least Mediterranean.  I definitely do not want a Pope whose accent resembles the cartoonish characters we used to know and hate in the old films about World War Two. Or even Basil Fawlty doing a German accent.

I need to make myself clear - I am not anti-German, though goodness knows plenty of my extended family have, or had, good reason to be. There are many things to admire in modern Germany, and in German history, since in many ways it's been a cradle of European civilisation. It has an amazing track record in philosophy, science, engineering, technology, invention, and manufacturing. It led the reaction against corrupt Roman Catholicism - German protestant thinking insisting that we can all have a direct, personal link with the metaphysical and spiritual, without any need for priestly channeling. Its version of social democracy has been far more enlightened than ours.  It's been the key player in the European Union.

Ratzinger, on the other hand, is the opposite of a progressive, enlightened leader. He's been a key figure in the cover-up of the child abuse scandals, and the decades-long refusal to give any ground on the use of condoms. So what does he now have to say?

Not much. The Messiah was a great leader. He brought liberation to humankind. He was the saviour of people throughout the world. [Mmmmm - even non-Christians?] He was born in poverty and obscurity and opened a path that leads to fulfillment in life. [Admittedly the Buddha was born an Indian prince and not a pauper, but didn't he do something similar?] God gives us hope, and brings us life. [Not me he doesn't - I get mine elsewhere.] May God bless you all.


Have a nice day.

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