He writes darkly, Henning Mankell.
March 4, 2005 6:07 AM   Subscribe

Winter Lit. He has written 40 books that have been published in more than 35 countries and sold more than 25 million copies worldwide. Why isn't Swedish writer Henning Mankell better known in the United States? (via Stefan Geens)
posted by mr.marx (28 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
because he's swedish...
posted by zeoslap at 6:22 AM on March 4, 2005

Well, I'll be interested in people's thoughts about this. Mankell is popular here in Canada. My father and I have been trading Kurt Wallender titles for the last few years. The small regional library I use has at least twenty of his books and they circulate a lot...
posted by 327.ca at 6:23 AM on March 4, 2005

Yeah zeoslap, that's the same problem Astrid Lindgren and August Strindberg had. Tsss.
posted by dabitch at 6:24 AM on March 4, 2005

I realize you were kidding... My faux offended reply didn't look that funny once posted. drats.
posted by dabitch at 6:25 AM on March 4, 2005

Mankell is probably a little too gloomy for the States. Just look at his picture in the Guardian. As this State Dept. exchange program advises its student applicants:" The first impression a student makes is with the photos. Americans prefer happy, smiling faces".
posted by Panfilo at 6:43 AM on March 4, 2005

Why isn't Swedish writer Henning Mankell better known in the United States?

We don't need your euro-commie attitudes. They breed dissent, help the terrorists and put tits on broadcast tv.

Seriously, unless he writes recycled Cold War thrillers; diet books; or crap about neurotic, paradoxically lonely-but-loveable 30-ish women with glamorous jobs in a big American city, no American is going to read his books. The exception might be some on-his-sleeve liberal trying to pick up chicks at the local Peet's by reading it with the dust jacket prominently displayed so a random, faux-worldly girl will ask about it.

You might not have heard about it, but we are in the middle of a grand rebirth of crap arts where foreign authors (except the British, who kind of speak God's language) are viewed with suspicion. And the Renaissance of Shit is pretty exciting. Vive le merde!
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:49 AM on March 4, 2005

Why isn't Swedish writer Henning Mankell better known in the United States?

Becasue we've got our own authors?

There are 300,000,000 of us, ya know...
posted by wah at 6:54 AM on March 4, 2005

I was working for a very large and very commercial publisher in New York when Mankell was floated at an editorial meeting as a Good Idea for acquisition. People do notice these authors, it just takes time because the English speaking world is a net exporter of books (just look at Fred Vargas -- she's a big deal crime writer in France, but most haven't heard of her...)

It's also the case that authors tend to get published in the US because they're huge abroad and not before -- since editors who can't speak other languages have no other measure of the book's quality and likely sales performance. So look out for him in the next couple of years.

The American book market is plenty big enough for foreign authors to sell very nicely (and without a large advance to pay off).
posted by melmoth at 6:57 AM on March 4, 2005

I dislike reading anythjing in ranslation and am at present busy picking up Swedish so I can read him in his native language.
posted by Postroad at 7:00 AM on March 4, 2005

Higher hurdles in the USA and Britain
The situation on the Anglo-Saxon book market is quite different. Swedish literature has long been regarded with great suspicion there. Even Strindberg has had appearances against him - often labelled dismissively as ‘Swedish gloom’. Scepticism vis à vis the novel as social criticism is also a factor.

posted by mr.marx at 7:14 AM on March 4, 2005

I always wondered the same thing about Spain's Arturo Perez-Reverte, who writes in a similar genre as a certain kadillion-selling "intellectual thriller" author (ok, it's Dan Fucking Brown). Perez-Reverte is really good, while Brown is... really not. But nobody's heard of Perez-Reverte.
posted by goatdog at 7:56 AM on March 4, 2005

It can't be the "gloom and doom" per se, because there are a number of British mystery novelists who are similarly, ah, less than sunny in their outlooks (Ian Rankin, Stephen Booth, Minette Walters, Reginald Hill on occasion). To be honest, my first go at Mankell left me very disappointed: at least in translation, the prose was flat, and both the detective and his accompanying gloom seemed more cliches than anything else. Still, it was Mankell's first novel, so perhaps things have improved further on in the series? I own a couple of the later ones, so I really should give him another try.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:00 AM on March 4, 2005

Then there's Iain Banks from Scotland, whose SF (written as Iain M. Banks, the world's worst pseudonym) sells well enough in the US, but whose straight fiction doesn't and (IIRC) occasionally has trouble getting picked up.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:14 AM on March 4, 2005

With the recent story in the Washington Post and this thread on MeFi, I wouldn't be surprised if he starts seeing some action. I'd never heard of him before, but went and picked up one of his books last night.

Of course, being half Swedish I might be an aberration.
posted by aladfar at 10:01 AM on March 4, 2005

He has written 40 books...

His stuff sounds interesting. Any recommendations? Instead of going in at random, I'd like to hedge my bets.
posted by safetyfork at 10:47 AM on March 4, 2005

Vive le merde!

It's vive la merde, mayor.

I'm Swedish and I've never understood why Henning Mankell of all people is such a big deal in Germany and other countries. I've read one of his novels and I found it written according to Formula 1 A. Unimaginative. His prose is so flat it's like the perfectly distilled example of flat prose. The plodding story is occasionally interrupted with sentimental sighs like 'why aren't things as good as they used to be?'
posted by Termite at 10:56 AM on March 4, 2005

Mankell's one of the good ones. I don't find him particularly gloomy, it's just journalistic laziness (Swede = gloomy, Italian = cheery, French = intellectual) -- mr. marx, what do you think? not to mention, crime novels are rarely chhery novels (the may be funny, rarely, like Elmore Leonard's, but still)
posted by matteo at 11:47 AM on March 4, 2005

I have to say I don't fancy Mankell much. I've only read a couple of his books and thought they were so-so. His writing is good (in Swedish, I don't know how it translates), but the story in the one I remember the most - "Firewall" was crap. But I've also seen some of the films made from his books, and they're ok, story-wise.

It's worth pointing out that, of course, Mankell is not high-brow literature, he should rather be compared to the Grishams and Clancys out there. Easy reading. I can understand the appeal - his star Wallander is a very "human" cop, and he's working in a very small town. And that makes the stories much more interesting for those fed up with hard boiled big city cops.
I, on the other hand, like hard boiled big city cops in my crime novels... But yeah, he's probably one of the best in the genre he's working in.

And I do think it's interesting that he is so immensely popular in Europe - he's at number one in Germany with every new book, and German tourists flock to Ystad (the town Wallander lives in) - but he has almost no recognition at all in the US.

"Whe have our own writers" isn't that good an explanation I think.
posted by mr.marx at 12:09 PM on March 4, 2005

yes, but -- example: Americans know Calvino only because Gore Vidal worked tirelessly to promote Calvino's work in the US.
it's weird how there's really no way to predict if a famous writer popularity will -- ahem -- translate abroad
posted by matteo at 12:51 PM on March 4, 2005

Are there any contemporary non-english bestseller writers that are popular in the US? I honestly have no idea. What about Paul Coelho? I mean, he's huge in Europe, but I don't know if he's popular in the USA.
posted by mr.marx at 2:27 PM on March 4, 2005

Murakami Haruki?
posted by matteo at 2:44 PM on March 4, 2005

I'd second murakami as a possibility. And, from the looks of the discussion maybe it seems like there's a reason I couldn't find a stand out book from Mankell? I don't know, I'm still curious. Though the books I looked into by Arturo Perez-Reverte from this thread seemed more enticing overall.
posted by safetyfork at 4:41 PM on March 4, 2005

matteo, and safetyfork: You know, that's funny, because Murakami is (as far as I know, I haven't read his books) considered pretty high-brow/hip in Sweden. I don't recall seeing any of his books in the pocket book shops. (Panfilo, Termite, care to help out here?)
Is he considered a mainstream author in the US?

safetyfork: From what people say, I think "The Dogs of Riga" is the best start if you want to check out Mankell. The movie series (that btw is being filmed for a SECOND time in Sweden) starts from this book.
posted by mr.marx at 5:14 PM on March 4, 2005

Different countries, different strokes. Susan Minot was a huge success in Italy. Patricia Highsmith had her best sales in Germany. Umberto Eco, against expectation I would note, grabbed the brass ring in the US. Who can say why? Publishing's a mystery. How else explain Dan Brown?

As to the author under discussion. I'm with the no-big-deal crowd. Admittedly, I only read one. Can't remember how it ended, which leads me to suspect I never finished it. Maybe I'll try again now.

Mind you, translations can alter perception big time, both for good and ill.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:06 PM on March 4, 2005

It's worth pointing out that, of course, Mankell is not high-brow literature, he should rather be compared to the Grishams and Clancys out there.

No, Mankell should be compared to real authors, not hacks like Grisham and Clancey. His books are written in the mystery genre, subgenre police procedural, but they rise above the genre. I've read several of his books and cannot recommend them highly enough.
posted by berek at 8:14 PM on March 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

Hmm. Aside from Before the Frost (~1500) and Return of the Dancing Master (~4500), both newly issued in English last month, the entirety of this Henning Mankell Listmania roundup ranks in the mid-20,000 to mid-30,000 range of Amazon sales. I wanted to track them using junglescan, to see if they bumped up overnight or anything, but it isn't accepting any of the URLs as valid; apparently Amazon changed its URL encoding scheme sometime around November of 2004 and Pud hasn't updated the backend.

The only recent Scandinavian author to really make a big splash over here is Peter Hoeg, I think, with Smilla's Sense of Snow. My Swedish-American mother, a mystery lover, used to read the Sjöwall/Wahloo novels like The Laughing Policeman -- thirty years ago, I think they were considered quite exotic fare. (Supposedly they were actually more popular in the US than Sweden, but so's The Economist -- it's a natural consequence of a difference in market sizes.)
posted by dhartung at 12:04 AM on March 5, 2005

Thanks for the tip, mr. marx. As for Murakami, I wouldn't say he's mainstream here, but he does seem to be one of the few international authors that nearly everyone I've encountered is aware of. It was in that sense I was thinking popular, which probably isn't statistically so. :) Demographically speaking, these are usually the same city dwelling youths reading the likes of David Foster Wallace, Dave Eggers, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, etc. I wouldn't call them hipsters, since in true stereotype form, a hipster is too cool to read. heh. Come to think of it, Zadie Smith, Jeanette Winterson, Marguerite Duras also come up up a fair amount as well.
posted by safetyfork at 9:13 AM on March 6, 2005

Sorry about the tip link. Bad, safetyfork.
posted by safetyfork at 9:19 AM on March 6, 2005

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