The Commercialization of Scandinavian WritersPosted: December 22, 2011
Washington Post: “The Leopard” is a bloated, near-total disaster. ”
The Washington Post review of The Leopard written by Jo Nesbø, is the eighth book in the Harry Hole series, written by Patrick Anderson (a review I don’t agree with) highlights a problem I see coming with the commercialization of Scandinavian writers for U.S. audiences. Just to quickly pick on the review: I read the review and thought it quite harsh and incorrect. For starters, his dismissive tone or remarks about the “pointless memories of people’s childhoods” ignores a key aspect to the pathos that is Harry Hole. A man who is beset with demons and who uses alcohol to chase them away. His past is a significant part of his character development and that to me is not “pointless.”
Moving on. Admittedly, I have enjoyed other books in the Harry Hole series more but The Leopard was not a near total disaster but then that is my opinion of course. Was it the best in the series? Probably not. Patrick Anderson is welcome to his opinion and I don’t dispute many of his claims of how far afield Jo Nesbo’s plots have strayed from the rest of his other titles. Reading the criticism in the review does bring to mind a fear that I have in that Scandinavian writers will probably lose much of what made them different and respected in the first place if they are to succeed in a U.S. market. I say that with scant evidence to back it up and am only going by what I perceive and I am no industry insider. I am just a reader with an opinion.
With the word starting to spread or people thinking that Jo Nesbø has “jumped the shark”, I actually started seeing some signs of this with The Snowman (which is being adapted to film and will be directed by Martin Scorsese). The Snowman is a book I liked but didn’t love. Jumping the shark is not new in this genre as we all know from our own personal reading experiences. It’s happened with other writers I’ve enjoyed namely Janet Evanovich who some profess never wrote mysteries to begin with and to counter that, I say they are wrong. Her books did have a plot, well, at least in the first three books they did. When her books started to get mainstream, out went the plot and everything else for that matter that made them original and worth reading. I quit reading them.
The Redeemer, which was the next book published after The Devil’s Star, was passed over by a U.S. publisher in favor of The Snowman. Publishers know what sells because the book did land on the NYT bestseller list. The Snowman has everything in it to make it sell: more violence and more action and it features a serial killer and a high death count if memory serves. The Redeemer, sans serial killer, has yet to have a publishing date and to me that is the best book in the series.
Like I’ve said earlier, I fear that Scandinavian writers who gain the attention of American audiences will probably lose what made them great in order for them to succeed here. Do you agree or disagree? I couldn’t come up with a better title for this post but in my mind there is some process to package books a little differently here to make them sell or be more mainstream. To me that isn’t always best. Too many times I’ve enjoyed a series that when it gets to be mainstream it loses much of its appeal.
The crux of my problem: I dislike when good writers are discovered for their originality and then when they are introduced to a new audience they no longer provide that something special that made them a hit in the first place. I’ve never liked writers writing to a market but that’s the business of publishing. Before The Snowman was published, none of Jo Nesbø’s books had ever featured a serial killer before now. His plots were very complex and the endings were not overly dramatic or anti-climatic like they are now. There are discernible differences in his writings now that has fed my fear that maybe he is jumping the shark. Time will only tell. His writings pre-The Snowman were smart and he had the gift of writing in depth characters along with plots that were full of suspense and twists. Another author, Colin Cotterill, who writes smart and politically dense novels set in 1970’s Laos wrote a book featuring a serial killer as well and in my mind that seemed odd (maybe not to others) but most of his villains before that point were people within the ranks of government.
I still think Jo Nesbø is a talented writer and I’m picking on him because of the harsh review he received for The Leopard. I just need Jo Nesbø to not believe his own hype. *g* I have my misgivings that he is writing to a market that will leave his loyal fans disappointed. I hope that isn’t the case, however. My fear and I hope it doesn’t come true is that to write for the American market, one must throw in tons of violence, improbable action scenes and gore with villains who are one-dimensional and hardly worth remembering. Writing stuff like that will probably get you onto someone’s bestseller list but I certainly won’t be the one helping you to get there.
At any rate, I plan to read The Phantom (March 2012) the next Harry Hole book in the series, even though my expectations for it will not be as high as they were before. I think with reading this next book, I’ll get a better feel for what direction Jo Nesbø is going in his Harry Hole series. While I may love his work and rave about his earlier books to other fans, I know when to walk away when the author has decided to go in a direction that I have no interest in following when they decide to go “mainstream.” I don’t do mainstream well. Please share your thoughts. I’m curious to know what other readers think about this issue or if this is even an issue at all. Thanks.
pic credit – LOLcat’s ‘n’ Funny Pictures