Aug 9, 2011

Random Thoughts on Reading Nordic Crime Fiction

Erlendur. Gestur. Sigurdur Oli. Finnur. Arnaldur:  I am in love with these Icelandic names. I had heard that there are  words which when they roll off the tongue, arouse an almost sensual pleasure. These names arouse similar feelings. I love the repeated rhyme of the 'ur', as also the fact that they are far removed from the Kay Scarpetta or Inspector Rebus or Dagliesh or Dan or Adrian-like names I have grown accustomed to. Like the cold, barren, sparsely populated country they inhabit, these names are also a mystery to me. When you have read any crime fiction writer's books, you get to know their pet inspector or detective or lieutenant closely. You know Kay Scarpetta relaxes by cooking elaborate Italian dishes just like you know Inspector Dagliesh writes poetry in his spare time. But because this is the first book by celebrated Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason that I'm reading, I have no idea about his stock characters. Part of the thrill of reading his book is the finely plotted mystery as well as the novelty of discovering life and geography, politics and culture about a nation I know little about.

There is another thing I notice these days, rather I should say I first noticed it when i read PD James. It is that the action in crime fiction has become largely 'internalised' and there's less of the random serial killer or drug peddling imbroglio like in the earlier novels. Rather, the premise of the basic crime is used as a tool to dig deep into those conflicts that we prefer to keep under wraps - racism, the reformed paedophile, unhappy marriages, abused childhoods, prejudice, irrational phobias, etc. These may or may not be connected to the main crime but they pose morally imperative questions about right and wrong. In fact, to read certain passages from PD James is akin to reading a meditation on religion.

As I write this post, I also realise that i love flawed characters - the inspector who wages a secret battle with the bottle, the past-his-prime wrestler who tries to make amends with his estranged daughter, the obsessively reclusive forensic medical examiner, the Edinburgh inspector who tries hard to stifle his loathing for criminals so that he can give them a fair hearing. Point is, we are all like that; battling our private demons. Some succeed better than others, that's all. I find it easier to identify with one who is 'striving to do right' than one who 'is always right'. Perhaps that's one reason why Wodehouse's immortal Jeeves never appealed to me. In life, as in fiction, I find myself imperceptibly but surely disengaging from the perfect models.


Anonymous said...

Is there anything you dont read? :)

I must strongly disagree with the Jeeves remark and urge you to pursue him afresh. Jeeves is an idea, the idea that delivers a slap on the idea of British class divisions. You have to understand the idea to appreciate him.

That's an interesting profile image you've added. Intriguing. :)


drift wood said...

I dont read Harry Potter!

and also Wodehouse :)

Am glad you liked the pic. I like it too.