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Scandinavian Noir : In Pursuit of a Mystery - Lesser, Wendy

Scandinavian Noir

In Pursuit of a Mystery

By: Lesser, Wendy, Wendy Lesser

Paperback | 27 July 2021

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For nearly four decades, Wendy Lesser’s primary source of information about three Scandinavian countries—Sweden, Norway, and Denmark—was mystery and crime novels, and the murders committed and solved in their pages. Having never visited the region, Lesser constructed a fictional Scandinavia, something between a map, a portrait, and a cultural history of a place that both existed and did not exist. Lesser’s Scandinavia was disproportionately populated with police officers but was also filled with the stuff of everyday life, relayed in great detail in the novels she read: a fully realized world complete with its own traditions, customs, and, of course, people.

Over the course of many years, Lesser’s fictional Scandinavia grew more and more solidly visible to her, especially as it became augmented by Nordic movies and TV shows. Yet she never had a strong desire to visit the real countries that corresponded to the made-up ones—until, she writes, “between one day and the next, that no longer seemed sufficient.” It was time to travel to Scandinavia.

With vivid storytelling and an astonishing command of the literature, Wendy Lesser’s Scandinavian Noir: In Pursuit of a Mystery illuminates the vast, peculiar world of this imagined Scandinavia—first as it appears on the page, then as it grows in her mind, and finally as it exists in reality. Shaped by sharp criticism, evocative travel writing, and a whimsical need to discover “the difference between existence and imagination, reality and dream,” Scandinavian Noir is a thrilling and inventive literary adventure from a masterful writer and critic.

About the Author

Wendy Lesser is the founder and editor of The Threepenny Review. She has written one novel and eleven previous works of nonfiction; recent books include Music for Silenced Voices, Why I Read, and You Say to Brick: The Life of Louis Kahn, which won the Marfield Prize for Arts Writing and the PEN America Award for Research Nonfiction. A recipient of grants and fellowships from the American Academy in Berlin, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Swedish Academy, and numerous other organizations, she currently divides her time between Berkeley, California, and New York City.
Industry Reviews
Even those unmoved by its subject will thrill to the book, a beautifully crafted inquiry into fiction, reality, crime and place . . . [Lesser's] engagement with the source material, hundreds of titles' worth, is rigorous yet playful . . . Perhaps when it comes to fiction and reality, what we need most are critics like Lesser, who can dissect the former with the tools of the latter.
, Kate Tuttle, The New York Times Book Review

[A] lively, perceptive guide to Scandi noir . . . Lesser is an engaging and amiable guide to a cultural phenomenon that has swept much of the planet.
, The Economist

[An] exceptionally well-conceived cultural history . . . Lesser is remarkably encyclopedic in her knowledge of Nordic noir and easily conveys her enthusiasm to readers. This fine exploration of fiction as reality and reality as fiction will draw many readers to the authors she covers.
, Publishers Weekly (starred review)

An enthusiastic guide . . . Perfect for any die-hard fan of Scandinavian mysteries and culture.
, Kirkus

Whether readers are transfixed by the spectacular exploits of Lisbeth Salander, or impressed with the doggedness of Kurt Wallander, or even if they've never encountered these characters, they'll find in Scandinavian Noir an entertaining journey into the world of these mysteries and the cultural milieu that spawned them.
, Shelf Awareness

"Wendy Lesser's Scandinavian Noir is a rich and subtle exploration of both Nordic crime writing and the author's personal passion for these novels. Lesser's critically astute fascination leads her on a pilgrimage to the genre's motherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, in order to embed herself in the people, culture, and politics that informed the various authors' world-views. This too becomes a journey into the self, and finally a contemplation of how fiction, in its purposeful sculpting of the chaos of human experience into something more artfully coherent, can often render a greater truth than any objective reportage."
, Richard Price

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