Norway has been exporting its authors to the London Book Fair for 19 years and counting. In that time, Norwegian literature in English has exploded, sparked by the UK’s growing appreciation of all things Scandi – especially the brand of grisly, snowbound crime thrillers that has come to be known as ‘Nordic noir’.
The international success of authors such as Jo Nesbø, Karl Ove Knausgård and Per Petterson is partly due to the heroic efforts of translator Don Bartlett, who has deftly brought the works of these writers, and many more, to the English-speaking world. Other men to thank is Christopher MacLehose and Gary Pulsifer, both renowned publishers and great supporter of Norwegian literature. Sadly, Pulsifer, who also was the founder of Arcadia books, passed away in late March, and is no longer here to receive the profound gratitude we owe him – without Pulsifer, many of Norway’s greatest authors would have gone unread in Britain.
At this year’s London Book Fair, Norway, alongside our neighbouring countries, will present a selection of new works from respected and emerging authors alike. Here are five Norwegian writers to look out for at this year’s event.
Agnes Ravatn – The Bird Tribunal
Ravatn’s second novel is a peculiar and mesmerising exploration of shame and atonement that builds into a riveting drama about life and death.
After a sex scandal costs Oslo TV presenter Allis Nordavatn her job and her husband, she goes into self-imposed exile, determined to rebuild herself personally and professionally. But the job she takes as a housekeeper and gardener in a remote house by the sea proves not to be the respite she hoped for. Her employer, Sigurd Bagge is waiting for his wife to return from abroad; he wants his garden tended, his meals cooked and no other contact with Allis whatsoever. Over time, this unnatural restriction becomes increasingly strained as Allis becomes fascinated with Bagge and the guilt he is concealing, and the novel becomes a tautly plotted examination of two people who have both shut themselves off from the world, and what form redemption might take for each.
Carl Frode Tiller – Encircling
The first instalment of a trilogy, Encircling introduces the reader to David Husgar, a man who cannot remember who he is. With a notice in the local newspaper, David has reached out to friends and acquaintances in the hope they can help him put the pieces of himself back together. David himself never appears in the novel; Tiller waves together the letters, conversations and remembrances of those who have known him to create a medley of different narrative voices, each offering a different – and sometimes contradictory – perspective on personal identity.
Encircling has won Tiller several awards, including the European Union Prize for Literature. The second book in the series, Encircling 2, is due to be released in English in June 2016.
Lars Mytting – Norwegian Wood
The surprise hit of the Christmas-gift market, Norwegian Wood is still going strong. The international success of a book about the art of chopping, stacking and drying wood might stretch the credibility of all but the savviest publisher, but Mytting – as he describes it – has tapped into an inherent human fascination, helped by his deft weaving together of folklore, humour, science and practical guidance. Even if you don’t graduate to the TV series it inspired (12 solid hours of wood-burning footage), Norwegian Wood is still a fascinating and edifying read. And the good news for Mytting fans is that his novel, Svøm Med Dem Som Drukner (‘Swim With Those Who Drown’) is released in English later this year.
Gunnar Staalesen – We Shall Inherit the Wind
Celebrated crime writer Gunnar Staalesen has had several novels translated into English. We Shall Inherit the Wind is the latest; a timeless tale of revenge and desire, told with chilling tension and psychological acuity. Set in 1998, the novel opens with private investigator Varg Veum sitting by the hospital bedside of his girlfriend Karin, whose critical injuries offer a deeply painful reminder of his past mistakes. Investigating the seemingly innocent disappearance of a wind-farm inspector, Veum is thrust into one of the most challenging cases of his career, taking in eco terrorism, religious violence – and murder.
The next instalment of Veum’s adventures, Where Roses Never Die, will be published in English in June.
Karl Ove Knausgård – Some Rain Must Fall
Volume five of Norwegian literary phenomenon My Struggle was published in English earlier this year. Some Rain Must Fall relates the twenty-something Knausgård’s attempt to develop himself as writer, moving to Bergen, shifting from relationship to relationship, having his self-esteem shattered and achieving the beginnings of literary success. All told, of course, with merciless candour and searing self-scrutiny.