Malin Forst is a precocious, devout twenty-year-old woman attending a Stockholm teachers’ college in the 1930s. Confounded by a sudden crisis of faith, Malin plunges into a depression and a paralysis of will. Oscillating between poetic prose, social realism, fragments of correspondence, and imagined dialogues between the forces of nature, Crisis telescopes Malin’s distress out into metaphysical planes and back, as her mind stages struggles between black and white, Dionysian and Apollonian, and with an everyday existence that has become unbearably arduous.
And then an intense infatuation with a classmate reorients everything.
First published in Swedish as Kris in 1934, Boye’s meditation on a crisis of faith and queer desire is recognised as a modernist classic for its stylistic and literary experimentation. Now, in January 2020, the full text is available in English for the first time, translated by Amanda Doxtater. You can find it in all good bookstores, or via norvikpress.com.
For a taster of a key scene, download an extract here.
Scandinavia – a cold, bleak place with cold, bleak weather and cold, bleak people. A place to escape from. As well as the perfect setting for gruesome crimes. And where better to capture this foul ambience than in a hair-raising page-turner? Nordic noir has been a welcome escape route for many Scandinavians over the decades. Crime fiction makes up a large percentage of the total sales in Scandinavia and often tops the best-seller lists.
And once a year crime fiction turns into an elevated form of its own – påskekrim. It is something particularly Norwegian and a very specific type of crime fiction, namely the crime fiction read during Easter – påske – holidays. These crime novels are often published in order to reach the shelves just before the holidays, and they often tell stories set at Easter time. Påskekrim is a long-standing tradition for Norwegians when they head for their mountain cabins. Then they pack their little ryggsekksfull of påske essentials, such as oranges, kvikk lunsjes, skis and ski poles, traditional board games and – most importantly – crime novels. Why? In order to scare themselves properly up there in the lonely mountains? The wind howls through the cracks of their old-style, wooden cabins which are only dimly lit by candlelight and an open fire, and each time any of them need to use the loo they have to risk death (by nature or at the hands of the violent murderers they have just read about) by staggering out into the nothingness to try to feel their way to the utedo. This life is highly appealing to Norwegians. They think it is the quintessential representation of hygge, and påskekrim plays a crucial part.
The reason why the term påskekrim exists is because of a specific crime novel published in 1923: Bergenstoget plyndret i natt! The translation of the title reads ‘The Train to Bergen robbed last night’. It takes place around Easter time and was published at Easter. It was written by two young, aspiring authors who were later to become some of Norway’s best known writers, Nordahl Grieg and Nils Lie. Grieg’s brother, Harald Grieg, was the head of Norway’s biggest publishing house, Gyldendal. He decided to run a campaign to promote the novel on the front pages of all the important newspapers in the country. So the public got quite a shock when they woke up to the alarming headline of the book title – with only a small, almost invisible indication underneath that it was an advert!
So whether you are going all-out Scandi and heading for the mountains, or prefer to stay at home tucked underneath a blanket, Easter time is the perfect time to escape into the mysterious bleak world of crime fiction.
Norvik Press crime novels
Murder in the Dark sports a winning combination of engaging crime narrative and cool, unsentimental appraisal of Scandinavian society (as seen through the eyes of its shabby, unconventional anti-hero). There are elements of the book which now seem quite as relevant as when they were written, and like all the most accomplished writing in the Nordic Noir field, there is an acute and well-observed sense of place throughout the novel. The descriptions of Copenhagen channel the poetic sensibility which is the author’s own: “Copenhagen is at its most beautiful when seen out of a taxi at midnight, right at that magical moment when one day dies and another is born, and the printing presses are buzzing with the morning newspapers”.
Two British environmental activists are discovered dead amongst the whale corpses after a whale-kill in Tórshavn. The detective Hannis Martinsson is asked to investigate by a representative of the organisation Guardians of the Sea – who shortly afterwards is killed when his private plane crashes. Suspicion falls on Faroese hunters, angry at persistent interference in their traditional whale hunt; but the investigation leads Martinsson to a much larger group of international vested interests, and the discovery of a plot which could devastate the whole country.
And for a different kind of whodunnit, why not try
The Löwensköld Ring is the first volume of a trilogy originally published between 1925 and 1928. In addition to being a disturbing saga of revenge from beyond the grave, it is a tale of courageous, persistent women, with interesting narrative twists and a permeating sense of ambiguity. The potent ring of the title brings suffering and violent death in its wake and its spell continues from one generation to the next, as well as into the two subsequent novels in the trilogy: Charlotte Löwensköld and Anna Swärd. The Löwensköld trilogy was her last work of pure fiction, and is now considered a masterpiece.
This is a new translation of a Norwegian literary classic, Forraadt (Betrayed) by Amalie Skram. When Forraadt was first published in 1892, Skram was well-known in Scandinavia as the controversial author of novels that exposed marriage as an institution demeaning to women. She had broken social taboos with her frank discussions about sexuality and the double standard. In Constance Ring, Lucie and Fru Inés she had explored the demoralizing effect of a system which allowed men to pursue sexual pleasure freely while insisting women remain pure before marriage and then absolutely faithful to their husbands. In Betrayed she sharpens her focus and examines a marital relationship from its very beginning.
The novel opens on the night of Ory’s wedding. Family and friends are gathered in the home of Ory’s parents to celebrate the marriage; the party is breaking up and the groom, Captain Adolph Riber, is impatient to leave with his young bride and finally be alone with her. But Ory wants desperately to stay, not merely in her parents’ home, but in the nursery with her younger brothers and sisters—she has just been told she will be sleeping in the same room, even the same bed, as Captain Riber, and she is terrified.
If you think you know where this story is headed, you may be surprised. You would expect Skram’s sympathy to be squarely with Ory, the child bride whose mother failed to prepare her for married life. The mother’s parting admonition to her daughter is to honour and obey her husband, strive to please him in every way. But the Captain, though gruff and short tempered, is not a demanding and unfeeling husband. He is troubled by his wife’s unhappiness, struggles to understand what is causing it, asks himself what he might have done or said to offend her. Riber is well-intentioned, but not very perceptive; and Ory is not always as sweet-tempered and innocent as she first appeared. The reader finds her sympathy shifting as the story unfolds.
Skram is a wonderfully descriptive writer and one of the pleasures of reading Betrayed is taking in the sights and sounds and smells of life in London and aboard a merchant ship in the 1860s. The day after their wedding the newlyweds sail from Bergen to London where Captain Riber’s ship is being loaded with cargo. There are vivid depictions of London’s street life, restaurants and dance halls, and the wharf on the Thames where the Orion is docked. The last half of the novel takes place at sea and the ship and its crew are portrayed in authentic detail—as a young woman Skram had herself sailed as a captain’s wife on Norwegian merchant ships. As the Orion passes through storms, then good weather, and is finally becalmed in the doldrums, the onboard tensions build to a horrifying conclusion.
By Katherine Hanson and Judith Messick, translators of Amalie Skram’s Betrayed.
A reading and panel discussion with author Dorrit Willumsen and translator Marina Allemano
Tuesday 16 October 2018, 6.00-7.30pm
UCL Arena Centre
10th Floor, 1-19 Torrington Place, London, WC1E 7HB Tickets are free, but pre-registration is essential. To book your place, please email firstname.lastname@example.org by 9 October
Join us over a glass of wine with Danish author Dorrit Willumsen and translator Marina Allemano, as they discuss the process of bringing Herman Bang to the English-speaking world. Bang will be available for sale at a special discounted price for one night only.
In Bang, winner of the 1997 Nordic Council Literature Prize, Dorrit Willumsen re-works the life story of Danish author, journalist and dramaturge Herman Bang (1857-1912). In a series of compelling flashbacks that unfold during his last fateful train ride across the USA, we are transported to fin-de-siècle St Petersburg, Prague, Copenhagen, and a Norwegian mountainside. A key figure in Scandinavia’s Modern Breakthrough, Herman Bang’s major works include Haabløse Slægter (Hopeless Generations, 1880), Stuk (Stucco, 1887) and Tine (Tina, 1889).
Bannlyst is one of Selma Lagerlöf’s most thought-provoking works, and the latest addition to our Lagerlöf in English series, translated by Linda Schenk as Banished.
Lagerlöf was a hugely popular writer in her time, but the publication of Bannlyst in 1918 cost her a great deal of anxiety for two reasons. First of all, she had been suffering from a writer’s block that made it harder for her than usual to be creative and finish her project; and secondly, the theme of her new novel was highly controversial. Because of the time in which this novel was written, namely during World War 1, and the fact that Lagerlöf was a committed pacifist, she wanted to write something to raise the public’s morale. Her aim was to make people aware of the double standard existing in war times that allows killing to be viewed as permissible and let death trump the value of life. War is terrible and should not be glorified. So to make her point, Lagerlöf wrote a story about a polar expedition gone awry and about cannibalism. Is eating a dead man in order to preserve life the worst thing you can do?
Banished is split into three parts, each of which concerns matters of life and death. The first part is about the hero of the story, the explorer Sven Elvesson, and his dilemma as to whether to consume the corpse of his companion or become a corpse himself. His past follows him back to his home village on Grimsön, where he faces judgement and aversion when the truth about what happened during the polar expedition is revealed. The second part of the novel concerns the abusive marriage of the beautiful Sigrun and the local minister Edvard Rhånge. Edvard’s poisonous jealousy is harmful, and Sigrun needs to be cunning and wilful in her struggle for survival and freedom. In the third and final part, the people of Grimsö are forced to open their eyes to reality as they encounter a myriad of dead sailors in the sea after the Battle of Jutland. It is one of the book’s most memorable passages and can be counted among the most powerful literary responses to war in the twentieth century. Read an extract here.
Banished is a thematic heavyweight that unfortunately never seems to lose its relevance. We do not have to look far nowadays to find the glorification of war. Lagerlöf encourages us to take a stand against heinous acts of violence and killing and teaches us that human life is sacrosanct.
We are celebrating the launch of our latest translation at the Print Room at the Coronet, 13th April 2018, 8pm. There, the novel will be brought to life with a dramatic reading by UK actors Anna Winslet, Edmund Harcourt and Chris McKeeman, accompanied with music by Villu Veski and Tiit Kalluste. Afterwards you can enjoy an in-depth conversation between the author of the original, Ilmar Taska, and award-winning journalist Rosie Goldsmith.
Pobeda 1946 is a fascinating evocation of Estonian life under Soviet occupation. Told through the eyes of a young boy it brilliantly captures the distrust and fear that was felt by so many Estonians after World War II. Read more about the book and Ilmar Taska in this earlier blog post.
We are launching Pobeda 1946 at the Estonian Literature Festival, an extension of the London Book Fair to celebrate the centenary of Estonian independence. It will be a weekend devoted to some of Estonia’s finest writers and writings, packed to the brim with poetry, music, panel discussions and more. In addition, all tickets to the fair also include traditional Estonian snacks and drinks for a fully immersive Estonian experience.
It was an enthusiastic and well versed audience that assembled to celebrate the launch of Norvik Press’ two new publications, the latest additions to the “Lagerlöf in English” series; Anna Svärd and Mårbacka. The translators, Linda Schenck and Sarah Death, were in attendance, joined by Janet Garton, director and co-founder of Norvik Press.
The panel was chaired by Professor John Mullan, the Acting Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, UCL, who was most entertaining in making the panel very accessible for those less familiar with the work of Norvik Press and of Selma Lagerlöf. The book launch also served as a celebration of Norvik Press’ 30th anniversary, its first book having been published back in 1986.
The panel presented to us Anna Svärd, the final volume of Lagerlöf’s Löwensköld Ring trilogy and originally published in 1928, translated by Linda Schenck, who explained the enduring appeal of Lagerlöf’s works. She described Anna Svärd, and Lagerlöf’s works in general, as being “mischievious” and at the same time “very serious”, and pointed out that Selma Lagerlöf’s continuing appeal is evident as we are witnessing somewhat of a “Lagerlöf renaissance”. There was discussion about the need for a re-translation of Lagerlöf’s works, to continue to bring these novels into the English speaking world, even if the funding for such a project could be hard to come by.
Mårbacka, translated by Sarah Death and originally published in 1922, is the first of another of Lagerlöf’s trilogies, and is a work of “autofiction”, as the translator herself put it; a fictionalised account of Selma Lagerlöf’s childhood in her family home, told through the innocent eyes of a young Selma herself.
These new publications are two additions to a large collection of translated books published by Norvik Press, set up to raise awareness for the “overlooked classics”, as Janet Garton described them, of Scandinavian literature, whether contemporary or not. The panel joked about how Norvik Press had not been immune to the Nordic Noir trend, having recently published the crime fiction title Walpurgis Tide by Faroese writer Jógvan Isaksen.
Janet Garton also mentioned how the publishing house was now made up of an all-female team, which is somewhat refreshing and perhaps accounts for the prevalence of female writers in the list of Norvik Press’ publications. Overall, there was a feeling that Norvik Press was still succeeding in what it set out to do, and these new publications show that, even at 30, Norvik Press is indeed still going strong.
For those wanting to take a peek inside our latest Norwegian publication, here are the first few pages of Little Lord, by Johan Borgen, translated by Janet Garton. The launch for the book is November 14, 2016 with details coming soon. If you like what you read, it is available to buy at all good bookstores.
The uncles and aunts came in snorting from the cold. Their breath looked like smoke coming out of their mouths as they passed through the narrow porch, where the maid was waiting to receive them. Then they came in, stamping, to the large square hall with the elk’s head over the fireplace opposite and tapestries on all the walls. There it was warm. There it was inside. Little Lord was standing on the carpet in the middle of the drawing room, listening to their arrival through the closed door. He was aware of exactly what was happening as they entered in turn and breathed in the aroma, an aroma of wood and carpets and the discreet hum of an imminent family dinner, asparagus soup, trout, venison steak. He knew where and how the housemaid Lilly would help them out of their overcoats, how Uncle René would say with mild coquettishness: ‘No thank you, young lady, I’m not that old …’ and walk over with his sable-lined coat and hang it in the cloakroom to the left of the front door, whilst tubby Uncle Martin – despite the fact that he was much younger – would let himself be assisted with straightforward pleasure: anything to make life easier … and the aunts, how they would say hello quickly to one another in front of the mirror, say hello to a reflection as it appeared – and then shake hands properly just after with the real person, and how someone would say something about the cold and that there was snow in the air. Little Lord could see it more clearly than if he had seen it and hear it more fully and richly in his imagination as he stood there in the middle of the room, exactly where he should be when they came in, to play the little host who just happened to be standing there when the housemaid opened the door a moment later. A ritual each time – so that Mother could then emerge as if slightly surprised from the interior of the house, just a moment too late, the busy housewife … He stood in the middle of the floor, enjoying it. A nervous pleasure at the festivities to come made him tingle. He heard the train pass – an outgoing train to Skarpsno – just below the windows facing towards Frognerkilen bay. On any other day he would have run to the bay window, which was a step higher than the rest of the drawing room, in order to see the shower of sparks from the tall chimney of the locomotive come dancing out into the dark winter’s afternoon, and slowly fade in the air or along the banks of snow on both sides of the railway line, often right into the garden, between the summerhouse and the old fountain with the walnut tree standing proudly beside it. Not today, no sparks today. Nothing other than to be standing in the middle of the floor because that was where he should be, and because he enjoyed it, and someone would say ‘the little man of the house’ – it was Aunt Kristine who would say it: ‘the little man of the house, already at his post’, she would say, and there would be an intoxicating scent of cocoa and vanilla around her – or perhaps that was just something he imagined because she produced ‘home-made confectionery’ in her tiny little kitchen, and had her own shop in Kongens gate, and everyone said she was ‘admirable’; at one time she had played the lute and sung in elegant restaurants abroad, and once someone had said that she was admirable, but perhaps a little, you know … and then one of those quick sideways glances from Mother which indicated that there was a child listening. But Mother knew that the child knew that Aunt Kristine’s eyes became as soft as velvet after dinner, and her voice became melodious, and she quietly kicked off her shoes under the sofa and leant forward with her plunging décolleté. And he could see through the closed door how Uncle René folded his thin hands which could disappear into each other as he came back from the cloakroom, and briefly inspected his moustache which was waxed at the points as he passed the mirror, and with a diminutive comb which appeared and disappeared in his magician’s hands – as everything could appear and disappear in those hands – smoothed his thin greyblond hair, smoothed it down across his forehead, with one of those lightning movements his hands were created for, and how a moment later he would be standing in the doorway on the point of entering, in order to – at the last moment and with exaggerated politeness – make way for Aunt Charlotte, who in contrast would come foaming in with the silken rush of her many skirts – and Uncle René would say ‘mon petit garçon’ and raise the dark brown eyebrows which Mother had once said he dyed, and twinkle down at him with a playfulness which didn’t really have any special meaning, but was agreeable, and formed part of the occasion as well … After that Uncle Martin with his tight-fitting striped trousers, which spread out grandly from the prison of his waistcoat, would say his piece about ‘masculinum’; but that would not be until after Mother had come in. Not until then – a good while after the others – and he knew it was in order to make a point of her lack of importance – would Aunt Klara come in, black-clothed and flat-chested, and excuse herself more and more, the more heartily Mother welcomed her … Little Lord stood in the middle of the floor, listening to the sound of the train receding. Soon the incoming train from Skarpsno would pass, and for a moment throw its long light beams out over Frognerkilen, where the ice gleamed dully and there was hardly any snow. And this clamour from a world outside merely increased the tingling pleasure at being here, being inside, at the many people, at the smell of roast venison, at the memory of the gentle plop of the bottles of red wine which had been opened a good hour ago … at the shimmer of coloured light from the oriental lamps in the bay window. It flickered over brass trays and scary Bengal masks which looked friendly now – and dancers in Meissen porcelain, who stood gracefully frozen in the uneven light, dancing brilliantly to the end of time on the dresser, unremarked by the grown-ups who walked past them or glanced at them distractedly, but not by him who had made their flowing movements, poised to leap, identical with a movement in himself: poised on the brink.
Norvik Press is thrilled to announce the publication of its English translation of Johan Borgen’s Norwegian classic Little Lord.
Johan Borgen’s Little Lord is the story of the adolescent Wilfred Sagen, nicknamed Lillelord (Little Lord) by his mother, who is growing up in Kristiania, later to become Oslo, in the years just before the first World War. The novel focuses on a period of about 18 months, from early 1912 to autumn 1913, when Wilfred is 14-15 years old, although there are many flashbacks to his earlier life. He is a precocious only child, the darling of the family, intellectually far ahead of his class, a gifted piano player and sophisticated art lover. Yet behind this polished façade there is another Wilfred, an adventurer who seeks out risk, who steals out of the house at night and roams the streets of Kristiania, the leader of a band of boys who steal, capable of violence and of arson. As time goes on it becomes increasingly difficult for him to keep the two sides of his personality distinct, and he eventually has a breakdown, which leaves him incapable of speech, literally silences him. He is taken to Vienna to see a psychiatrist – whose name is not mentioned, but who bears a striking resemblance to Freud – and is seemingly cured, though the psychiatrist warns him that his neurosis needs long-term therapy if he is to be properly healed. Wilfred returns to his old double life, but his desperation is only repressed, not resolved, and eventually the past catches up with him and he runs out of places to hide.
Borgen’s novel is a Bildungsroman, a study of a young boy growing up and his intellectual, emotional and sexual initiation into adulthood. It is a study of psychosis, and a portrait of the artist as a young man. It is a city novel; the reader can follow Wilfred’s excursions around the map of Kristiania/Oslo from the comforts of his upper-middle-class home on Drammensveien, across the bay by ferry to the pastoral idyll of Bygdøy, by tram to the east-end poverty of Grünerløkken or in Uncle Martin’s automobile up to the open-air display ground in Etterstad. It is also a cultural and historical study of a whole society, one on the brink of a devastating upheaval which will change the lives of all its members irrevocably.
A large and enthusiastic audience, of whom several had already found time to read the book, gathered for the launch of our first venture into Faroese crime fiction, Walpurgis Tide by Jógvan Isaksen. The panel was introduced by the book’s editor at Norvik Press, Professor Janet Garton. Our chairman was Nordic crime-fiction aficionado Barry Forshaw, who jovially and expertly held the reins in the discussion between the book’s author and its translator John Keithsson. Jógvan Isaksen is a man of many parts who teaches at Copenhagen university and is the author of numerous books, ranging from academic titles to two successful series of crime novels, which are only now starting to be translated into English. He also finds time to take the helm at the Faroe Islands’ leading publishing house. The discussion and audience questions ranged far and wide on topics including Faroese reliance on its traditional whaling and fishing industries, the challenges of translating dialect, the Faroese tendency to live and work abroad, the stark beauty of the landscape, the broadening out of the islands’ publishing industry from more esoteric fare to include popular fiction, and the central importance of the midday radio news in Faroese cultural life.
The author and translator explained why they had chosen to start with the third of the nine books featuring freelance journalist Hannis Martinsson as the main protagonist and pondered on which other books in the series would have appeal for the new, wider readership. Jógvan Isaksen acknowledged Agatha Christie and other Golden Age British crime writers, and American west coast crime from the likes of Hammett and Chandler, as some of his primary sources of inspiration. Parallels were drawn with Icelandic crime fiction; in both small nations, crime rates are very low and murders extremely rare, making the success of the fictionalised crime genre there all the more intriguing. We were lucky enough to have Victoria Cribb, translator of Arnaldur Indridasson and Yrsa Sigurdardóttir, in the audience.
We would like to thank the Faroese Representation in the UK and the Danish Embassy for hosting the event and making us so welcome.