Why is Nordic Noir So Popular?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka


By Edward Nawotka

In today’s lead article, a look at the top-selling fiction titles in Europe in 2009 reveals that noir from the Scandinavian countries is ranked among the top-selling categories of fiction in Europe. Interest in “Nordic Noir” has been growing for a long time. The first Nordic Noir novel I can remember achieving widespread popularity was Peter Hoeg’s 1994 novel Smilla’s Sense of Snow; these days, it’s all about Stieg Larsson.

But why is this so? Why is Nordic Noir so popular?

When earlier this month The Economist speculated on the same question, they wrote:

The countries that the Nordic writers call home are prosperous and organized, a “soft society” according to [Nowegian crime writer Jo] Nesbo. But the protection offered by a cradle-to-grave welfare system hides a dark underside.

Could it be that readers are taking pleasure in seeing the Nordic states, unmasked as just as troubled and disturbed as other, seemingly less humane societies?

The Economist also noted:

As Mary Evans points out in her recent study, “The Imagination of Evil,” the best Scandinavian fiction mines the seam that connects the insiders — the rich and powerful — and the outsiders, represented by the poor, the exploited and the vulnerable. Larsson is a master at depicting the relationship between business, social hypocrisy and criminal behavior, and his heroes do not want to be rescued through any form of conventional state intervention.

I also wonder if it doesn’t have something to do with the general lack of understanding of the nuances of the region, something that leads to the perception of Scandinavia (the very fact that people lump all the countries together as one entity) as something of a blank slate — or perhaps a blank, snow covered plain. To see a splotch of blood besmirch such landscape is all the more dramatic.

Tell us what you think in the comments below or via Twitter using #ppdiscuss.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.