It’s been over ten years since Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series was translated into English and became popular all over the world. It was even made into four films, three of them made in Sweden.
Never before have so many Nordic books been translated into English, and over the past few years, the list has been growing.
Here are 10 contemporary Nordic books that should definitely have pride of place on your to-read pile.
1. Tómas Jónsson by Guðbergur Bergsson (translated by Lytton Smith)
A bestseller novel by Icelandic author Guðbergur Bergsson, Tómas Jónsson has only recently been translated into English. It was written in 1966 when biographies were dominating Iceland’s bestseller lists, and the novel acts as the autobiography of it’s aging protagonist.
All Tómas Jónsson has to his name is his small flat and the knowledge that he is descended from Vikings. Retired and senile, he decides that since memoirs are so popular he will write on of his own. Tomas blasts away in his egoistic, digressive and cranky manner relating pick-up techniques, chamber pots, noise pollution and much more. He knows that not only will his memoir be a best seller, but it will right the wrongs of Icelandic society.
2. Novel 11, Book 18 by Dag Solstad (translated by Sverre Lyngstad)
Dag Solstad is one of Norway’s leading contemporary writers. N11, B18 follows the slow decline of the protagonist, Bjørn Hansen leaves his wife and infant son to follow his mistress and ends up in a small town in rural Norway. He becomes involved in amateur theatre and, 15 years or so later, leaves his mistress and ends up alone.
When his son turns up, things take a darker turn. Bjørn comes up with a ludicrous idea and follows through with it. N11, B18 is a book about a middle-aged man who is trapped in a life of his own choices, yet still blames chance or his doctor for everything that’s happened.
3. The Endless Summer by Madame Nielsen (translated by Gaye Kynoch)
Madame Nielsen is the author of numerous literary works. The Endless Summer is a love story about a Danish woman and a Portuguese artist. It is emotional and visceral, drifting through time and space to confront ideas of sexuality, time, and tragedy.
The novel relates the lives of everyone around the expected couple, including her former husband, her daughter, and her lovers, and the narrator; a young boy who «is perhaps a girl, but does not yet know it.»
4. Not Before Sundown by Johanna Sinisalo (translated by Herbert Lomas)
Not Before Sundown tells the story of Mikael, a young gay photographer. In the courtyard of his apartment block, he finds a small creature that turns out to be a troll, known from mythology as a wild beast and thought to be extinct. He names him Pessi and takes him back to his apartment but fails to discover that the troll is the interpreter of mankind’s darkest feelings.
Sinisalo’s novel can in some ways be viewed as a satire on the ways we live in urban areas. IT is filled with humor whilst also asking serious questions – who is more moral, man or a wild beast?
5. New Collected Poems by Tomas Tranströmer (translated by Robin Fulton)
Tomas Tranströmer is a Swedish poet who was awarded the Nobel prize in 2011; the first Nordic laureate in decades.
His beautiful poems are full of emotion without being sweet and sentimental. The imagery is rich and the words powerful, with a minimalistic touch that imbues a sense of a view into this world from elsewhere.
6. Crimson by Niviaq Korneliussen (translated by Anna Halager)
Set in Nuuk, Greenland, this novel tells the story of Fia who breaks up with her long-term boyfriend and falls for Sara. But Sara is in love with Ivik, who struggled with gender dysphoria. Then there’s Inuk, who also has something to hide, and Arnaq who pulls the strings of manipulation.
Crimson tells the story of Greenlanders through a unique form, using contemporary themes of social media addiction, getting drunk and one-night stands. The prose is interwoven with text messages and Facebook posts, in a stream-of-consciousness style narrative that has been billed as «a beautiful depiction of the exploration of queer and transgender identity in early adulthood».
7. Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors (translated by Misha Hoekstra)
Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2017, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is a novel that seems like a simple story at first. It’s a short novel that tells the story of a few days in the life of Sonja, a self-confessed oddball who resides in Copenhagen.
The minimalistic stories read as though they are reports on the everyday situations people find themselves in. The simplicity in her writing makes the reader so willingly inject their own contributions to the meanings behind the words, and its impossible to not see yourself in the characters.
8. The Tower at the Edge of the World by William Heinesen (translated by W Glyn Jones)
The Tower at the Edge of the World is Heinesen’s last novel, written when he was 76. He described it as a poetic mosaic novel about earliest memories. It’s an episodic novel that is regarded as one of the most remarkable works of Scandinavian 20th century literature.
Eccentric in all the right ways and about as far from mainstream literature as you can get, The Tower at the Edge of the World is charming, dark, sad and hilarious all at the same time.
9. The Gravity of Love by Sara Stridsberg (translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner)
The protagonist of The Gravity of Love is the daughter of a suicidal alcoholic living in a mental hospital. It’s an unusual and emotional book that contains poetic prose about an unusual topic: insanity.
The Gravity of Love is an exploration of the harshest things in life. It looks at vulnerability and cruelty to describe the effects of mental disorders on patients, relations, and staff, dealing with such subject matter in the most eloquent of ways. Stridsberg forces the reader to ask questions of themselves and poses the question of how society should deal with mental illness.
10. Inside Voices, Outside Light by Sigurður Pálsson (translated by Martin Regal)
Inside Voices was inspired by a group of modernists called the Atom Poets, who broke Icelandic literature away from tradition after the second world war. Pálsson uses their dark surrealism to create a poetic world that is lyrical and playful. The anthology showcases poems from Pálsson written between 1980-2008 and swirls with imagery to reveal the poet’s desire of unearthing the joy of living.
Time to Start Reading
The books listed above are written in a number of different forms and deal with a number of different themes. Whether you are a fan or prose or poetry, happiness or conflicted thinking, these Nordic books are sure to keep you glued to your seat, eager to turn the next page.