Alert message

All library buildings remain closed. Visit an outdoor Express Pickup location when your holds are ready - appointments are available but not required.

Adapt in Place: Nordic Noir

Princess Bride book and DVD with coffee mug

Sheltering in place goes best when there is something to read and something to watch. For Viewers Advisory, it is entertaining to read, but it is essential to watch. Lucky for us, SJPL has a robust collection of online books and movies, and lucky for you someone has taken the time to map out some of the best book-to-movie pairings available.

Nordic Noir: straight-forward Scandi-crime and a satirical substitute

Book cover Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Book cover of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, yellow with all text

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The journalist and aspiring novelist Stieg Larsson died prematurely of a heart-attack and never saw the success of his Millennium Series. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is book one in this series, and instantly contributed to the growing canon of Swedish crime fiction, also called Nordic Noir. Along with much of the world, I was swept up in this crime series that addressed violence against women and featured two of the more unique main characters in fiction. The plot revolves around a cold, missing persons case. A journalist, newly convicted of libel, joins forces with a young hacker, who has photographic memory and a dragon tattoo, to solve the crime. They make an odd pair, but Mikael is eager to restore his credibility as a journalist and Lisbeth, like any successful hacker, follows the money. When the novel was published in English, in 2008, I was a working reporter and I dove head-first into this series. Nordic Noir offers readers an investigator's point-of-view and, for anyone interested in the country and culture of Sweden, this trilogy offers a vivid picture. The character of Lisbeth Salander, who is described as possibly on the autism spectrum, yet fully occupies the role of protagonist, was a fresh take at the time. I love this character, and clearly Larsson did, having named the first book after her! Throughout the series, Mikael and Lisbeth, apply their complimentary skills and risk-taking to take down evil doers. I should warn that all three books contain very graphic violence. Larsson does not hold back in this area, using shocking descriptions to drive home his message about existing problems in his own country. Notable aspects to Larsson's crime novels include plain language, slow pace, bleak naturalism and, last but definitely not least, themes of broader social injustice. For Larsson, an experience from his youth wherein he witnessed a gang rape, shaped his views as a journalist and writer. The Millennium series lays out the risk and often unfortunate reality for half the world's population in the plainest of language.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Movie poster
The 2009 film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is available on Hoopla

There are two film adaptations of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The Swedish 2009 film adaptation (better of the two) is available on Hoopla. My rationale follows. There is a sizable Scandinavian-American population in the United States. I am descended from the very ones, and I appreciate a stoic sense of being and the dark humor that results when one removes emotion from the equation. Take, Fargo, for example. Some of the greatest examples of the Scandinavian-American way is showcased in this masterpiece. It's practical-minded people conducting their lives in the bleakest of American landscapes, allowing no room for expression of discomfort as heinous crimes unfold in their ordered world. This is the lens through which Nordic Noir is presented in the United States. And, for some curious reason, the Scandinavian style shifts to dark humor this side of the pond. I can't explain why. Maybe that's just what happens when expressions like, "Oh jeez" and "You betcha" are applied liberally at the scene of a crime. I am way off the rails now, bless you for sticking with me. What I do love about true Nordic Noir, is that the social commentary is the driving force. It needs no humor. It unfolds at a slower pace, but man, it is brutally honest. The Swedish movie accomplishes what I think the American version is unable to, possibly because of directing, possibly because of casting. While the American version doesn't get into Fargo territory, there is a certain production level that takes away from the honesty. Also, I much prefer Noomi Rapace's portrayal of Lisbeth to Rooney Mara's. In the 2009 version, Lisbeth has more command. While the viewer can assess that Lisbeth struggles socially, she has zero trouble intellectually. That was the fresh take that Larsson had on this character. Mara Rooney's version is weighed down with an emotional trauma that I felt just wasn't true to character. Sure, the trauma was there but her resilience was much stronger.

100-year-old man who climbed out the window book cover
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared eBook and eAudiobook is available in Overdrive

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared

Now, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared is the perfect satirical substitute to such serious Nordic Noir. Written by Swedish author, Jonas Jonasson and set in Sweden, this novel has a Catch 22 feel to it. While it reads like a crime novel, it invokes a different response. Does that make sense? Like, why am I laughing so hard reading this crime novel? Also, the sweeping life story of Allan Karlsson, who in the first few pages climbs out the window of his "old folks" home on his 100th birthday celebration has a distinct Forrest Gump resemblance. Flashbacks of his life throughout the book place him at the center of major events in history, like saving General Franco from a collapsing bridge (he himself had detonated) or providing Oppenheimer with the key discovery for the atom bomb. The main plot continues as Allan is pursued not only by local police, but a biker gang and Russian organized crime syndicate. And, if you haven't already guessed his single skill: explosives. So, what have we learned thus far about Nordic Noir? There is typically an overarching social injustice theme. Did you know that Sweden's own Alfred Nobel invented dynamite? Did you know that Alfred Nobel, left behind a private fortune that, thanks to his will, was invested to constitute an annual prize for individuals whose work "spread peace." Have you already guessed Alfred Nobel is father to the Nobel Peace Prize? Then you would be correct! The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared eAudiobook is available on Overdrive.

100-year-old man who climbed out the window movie cover
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared movie is available on Hoopla

The film adaptation of this book is the third highest grossing Swedish film, surpassed only by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire. It is a popular film in Sweden! Robert Gustafsson, the "funniest man in Sweden" stars as Alan Karlsson in this film. Like the book, it has a Forrest Gump feel to it. You will need to be ready to read subtitles, but it is worth the extra attention. I enjoyed the whole movie, although it felt like it had been done before (Forrest Gump). There is more casual gore, as Allan really enjoys blowing things up. As the film poster reveals and I failed to mention in my book review, there is an escaped circus elephant in this story! I think this is the perfect book/film pairing to experience while Sheltering in Place. Watch The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared on Hoopla.

Blog Category
Stage and Screen

Add new comment

Comments are expected to follow the basic rules of civility and be relevant to the topic being commented upon. Comments will be reviewed prior to posting. Blog comments represent the views of the person commenting, not necessarily those of San José Public Library. For more information see SJPL's Comment Guidelines.