Archive for February 5, 2014

Scandinavia is not all crayfish parties, Abba, beautiful forests, Volvo, fjords, Carlsberg, efficiency and good design, extended paternity leave, and 09-22-321beautiful blondes. It is now a place of difficult relationships and a social model that is breaking down under the strain. Of course it was never the social democratic utopia repeatedly painted in the media, and as long ago as the 1960s and 1970s Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo were telling a very different tale.

The so called Welfare State abounds with sick, poor, lonely people living at best on dog food. The Locked Room: Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo 1973

The Bridge II finished a gruelling ten episode run last weekend. The actual bridge featured in the TV series connects Copenhagen and Malmo, a city that in recent years has gained a somewhat unpleasant reputation. Especially sad in the light of the great deeds that were done across the Oresund Strait in October 1943. Sometimes well meaning liberal ideals clash with the harsh reality of our modern world. The Bridge II was a very dark series involving some very unhappy wealthy people and a group of environmental activists, who thought they could  save the world by killing people. The complexities of the plot and the way the crimes are apparently solved, closed and then reopened with yet another plot twist reminded me of the earlier novels of Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo. He would have Harry Hole solve a case with about 200 pages to go and then produce plot twist after plot twist for the reader’s pleasure.

Only one western country Sweden has had two leading politicians assassinated in recent years, the Prime Minister Olof Palme in1986, and Foreign Minister Anna Lindh in 2003. They have also had the targeted shootings of immigrants by John Ausonius [the Laserman] in 1991-1992, and a Malmo copycat “Laserman 2″in 2010. Norway had the tragedy on Utoya Island, a mass murder perpetrated by right wing fanatic Anders Brevik. Perhaps the days have gone when people said there were more murders in Henning Mankell or Karin Fossum novel than in real life Sweden or Norway.

The Bridge II featured two main protagonists Saga Noren, Malmo County Police…. the police designation almost became part of her name and 800px-The_Bridge_season_2_Kim_Bodnia_as_Martin_Sofia_Helin_as_Saga_Photo_Carolina_Romare_2012_(8724803961)Martin Rohde of Copenhagen Police. The part of the blunt frighteningly honest Asperger syndrome like Saga, was played brilliantly by Sofia Helin, and Martin by Kim Bodnia, an actor with the sort of lived in face that is very expressive when things go wrong. And in The Bridge things go wrong, very wrong. The series also gave viewers a helping of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, lesbianism, homosexuality, masturbation and incestuous love. Agatha Christie’s Poirot it wasn’t. And it also provided the viewer after the tragic ending of series one with yet another depressingly miserable finale worthy of the darkest moments in the works of Strindberg, Ingmar Bergman, and Arnaldur Indridason’s Jar City.

I wondered if the character of the socially inept Saga Noren, Malmo County Police is another version of Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, Karin Alvtegen’s Sibylla Forsentrom, or Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander? Derivative or not, Saga was a marvellous creation and ironically her blunt behaviour sometimes introduced a rare touch of humour into a very dark and bleak story. It was her very lack of social graces that probably made her a good detective.

on suicide: Sweden lead the world by a margin that seemed to grow larger from one report to the next. Cop Killer: Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo 1974

But the misery filled finale reminded me of those books by Scandinavian crime fiction authors that are not content to leave the reader shattered by the characters going through hell; they are not satisfied until they pile on yet another final tragedy to rip the heart and soul out of the reader. A happy ending is out of the question. It must be the result of those long dark Nordic winters. 

The Bridge was superb dramatic television but I am not sure I could suffer like that every week. Some Scandinavian authors such as Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, Leif G.W.Persson and Hakan Nesser balance their bleak analysis of the Swedish social democratic experiment with some humour and satire; but others take the dark melancholic path.  I prefer the lighter approach, but would readily watch a third instalment of Saga Noren, Malmo County Police.