Scandinavian Fiction

Classical and Contemporary Literature

Scandinavian fiction at ScandinavianBooks

The Scandinavian countries - Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden - have long literary tradions. A number of writers from these countries are very well known internationally and several have received Nobel Prizes in Literature for their work: Bjørnstjerne Martinus Bjørnson (Norway) 1902, Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf (Sweden) 1909, Carl Gustaf Verner von Heidenstam (Sweden) 1916, Karl Adolph Gjellerup & Henrik Pontoppidan (Denmark) 1919, Knut Pedersen Hamsun (Norway) 1920, Sigrid Undset (Norway) 1928, Frans Eemil Sillanpää (Finland) 1939, Johannes Vilhelm Jensen (Denmark) 1944, Pär Fabian Lagerkvist (Sweden) 1951, Halldór Kiljan Laxness (Iceland) 1955, and Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson (Sweden) 1974.

We have a section for each of the Scandinavian countries: Danish writers, Finnish writers, Icelandic writers, Norwegian writers and Swedish writers. We focus on writers that have been translated into English, and try to bring reviews of both classical novels and contemporary fiction.

We also have started to build a section on Scandinavian emigrant writers, but these are in some cases hard to identify. Also, we have a section on Scandinavian literary history, as well as on literary awards in the Scandinavian countries, and on the Nordic Council literary award.

Hunger, by Knut Hamsun.

Knut (Pedersen) Hamsun was an internationally renowned Norwegian novelist, dramatist, poet, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920. Knut Hamsun received the Nobel Prize for his novel Growth of the Soil. Growth of the Soil is a very special, extremely well written, spectacular book. However, it is only one among many spectacular books by Knut Hamsun.

Hunger, foreworded by Paul AusterIntroduction by Paul Auster The book that first launched Knut Hamsun in the European literary scene was Hunger. When asked about the book, he told a friend, “What interests me are my little soul’s endless emotions, the special, strange life of the mind, the mysteries of the nerves in a hungry body.” And that is exactly what the book is about. An extremely strange book, and a literary revolution in the making when it was written - a lit torch thrown right in the face of the predominantly social-realist European literary establishment of the time. Its refreshing viewpoint and impulsive, lyrical style had an electrifying effect on European writers.

To many observers, Hunger presaged the writings of authors such as Franz Kafka and other twentieth-century Hunger, by Knut Hamsun novelists, with its internal monologue and bizarre logic. It is impulsive, electric, esoteric, and confusing, but also written with the sharp and distinctive style that characterizes Hamsun. The novel breaks grammatical rules and it's tenses skip around. The language itself is used as a means to show the state of mind of the main character and to energize the story.

"It was in that time when I walked around hungry in Kristiania, that strange city no one can leave without being marked by it." This is the striking, very memorable first sentence of the book. The book tells the story of a starving young writer in Norway. He is probably in his late twenties, and he wanders the streets seeking nourishment. He meets several more or less mysterious persons, among them a young woman with whom he has a semi-sexual encounter. Being overwhelmed by hunger, his social, physical and mental state decline. His reasoning is based on the premise of short term survival. The changes that take place, and their various effects, are reported to us by a narrator.

This is an electrifying story, intensely and closely told by a master story-teller. If you haven't yet read it, you should!

Two other wonderful books by Knut Hamsun from Victoria (Penguin Classics), and Rosa (Green Integer). See more Knut Hamsun reviews, or go to Leserglede's Hamsun-pages.

Order Hunger by Knut Hamsun from amazon UK (the link in the picture and above in the text are to amazon US)! See also Victoria (Condor Books) (Condor Books) and Rosa (Green Integer) by the same author.

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils Holgersson, by Selma Lagerlöf

Nils Holgersson gave Selma Lagerlöf worldwide recognition as a gifted children's author. In Sweden, she received many tributes of respect, such us the gold medal of the Swedish Academy in 1904 and the title of Honorary Doctor at the University of Upsala in 1907. In 1909, she became the first Swedish writer and the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and in 1914 she was elected a member of the Swedish Academy.

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils was first The Wonderful Adventures of Nils Holgersson, by Selma Lagerlof published in 1906 and immediately became the most popular book of the year in Scandinavia. Nils Holgersson is a Swedish boy - selfish and lazy - who likes to play tricks on the animals of the farm. But one day, a little elf punishes young Nils and turns him into a lilliput who can talk with animals. Nils desperately seeks help from the animals of the barnyard, but he has been so mean to all of them that nobody wants to speak to him. The only friends that he has left are a farm goose called Martin and Nils' little pet hamster.

Martin had always been dreaming of being a wild goose and one day when he sees a flock of wild geese flying over the farmhouse on their migration to Lapland, Martin decides to join them - Nils and his hamster have just the time to jump on Martin's wings and fly away with him. (See Nils at YouTube).

As the three friends travel all over Sweden, they discover fascinating places, learn many interesting things about the world, and enjoy many happy adventures together. Slowly, Nils starts learning to be kind to everyone and realizes that perhaps one day someone may help him to return to his normal size.

"It is as though the book had sprung direct from the soul of the Swedish nation." -- Stockholm's Dagblad.

Other great books by Lagerlöf include Gosta Berling's Saga (Dover Books on Literature & Drama) and Jerusalem.
Order The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlof from amazon UK! See also, by same author, Gosta Berling's Saga (Dover Books on Literature & Drama) and Jerusalem.

Pelle the Conqueror, by Martin Andersen Nexo.

Martin Andersen Nexo (1869-1954), one of the most famous Danish authors, was born in the slums of Copenhagen into extreme poverty. His father, a stone mason, was an alcoholic, and his mother was a daughter of a blacksmith. At the age of eight, his family moved to the town of Nexo on the island of Bornholm. In 1894 he adopted the name of the city as his own. His Pelle the Conqueror, by Martin Andersen Nexobreakthrough work, the Danish classic novel Pelle the Conqueror, was published between 1906 (Part I) and 1910 (Part IV).

This is a large work focusing on Pelle's life. In his childhood, Pelle and his poor Swedish father, Lasse, work as servants on an estate on Bornholm. As a young man, he becomes a shoemaker's apprentice. Pelle experiences the misery of the exploited workers in Copenhagen. In part two, Pelle travels to Italy. In part three he becomes a leader of a shoemaker union. Pelle leads a labor conflict to victory. However, his home is wrecked and he is sent to prison as an "agitator". Yet the novel ends optimistically. Pelle rejects anarchism, finds his individuality, and with his wife Ellen he establishes a new country home.

"The great charm of the book lies in the fact that the writer knows the poor from within; he has not studied them as an outsider may, but has lived with them and felt with them, at once a participant and a keen-eyed spectator. He is no sentimentalist, and so rich is his imagination that he passes on rapidly from one scene to the next, sketching often in a few pages what another novelist would be content to work out into long chapters or whole volumes. His sympathy is of the widest, and he makes us see tragedies behind the little comedies, and comedies behind the little tragedies, of the seemingly sordid lives of the working people whom he loves." (Otto Jespersen)

Pelle the Conqueror has been filmed as well. The movie, produced by Bille August and starring Max von Sydow, in perhaps his best performance ever, is available on DVD: Order Pelle the Conqueror here!

Order Pelle the Conqueror (Complete edition - Volumes 1 - 4) by Anderson Nexo from amazon UK! See also the DVD of the movie: Pelle The Conqueror [1988].

What I Loved, by Siri Hustvedt

What I Loved is a wonderful novel, beautifully written, but very demanding intellectually as well as emotionally.

Siri Hustvedt is American, but with Norwegian parents. She lives in New York, and is married to and have a daughter with the author Paul Auster. She has a Ph.D. i literature from Columbia University (1986).

What I Loved is a juxtaposition of two What I Loved, by Siri Hustvedtstories in one book, about two New York families, that come face to face with tragedy. It tells these stories in a New York late 70's and 80's art world context. The story is rich, and gradually becomes a psychological thriller. It is based on excellent characterizations and the dynamics of the book is character-driven. You feel you know the characters.

The language is beautiful and precise. The book is full of deep descriptions that are demanding to follow at times, but also very rewarding.

To me, the beginning was a little slow. I didn't understand where things were heading at all. I found the descriptions of art installations and paintings somewhat long and convoluted. But then, gradually, the book took hold of me. Suddenly I found I had a really hard time putting it down.

To me this is a great - even wonderful - book. But I think it is a book you either love or strongly dislike. There is no middle ground with What I Love - it is too demanding for any middle ground to exist. It is highly recommended - but be prepared. You will cry! You will find it tough!

Praise for this book:

"This book knocked my socks off -- literally and figuratively. It is a story to crawl into bed with, not because it is pleasant, or happy, or overly touching, but because it is a read that plays on your heart while appealing to your intellect."— E. A Grosvenor (Washington, DC)

Also by Siri Hustvedt: A Plea for Eros: Essays, and The Enchantment of Lily Dahl: A Novel.

Order What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt from amazon UK. See also A Plea for Eros and The Enchantment of Lily Dahl by the same author.

The Sharks, by Jens Bjorneboe

The Norwegian author Jens Bjorneboe (or Bjørneboe - 1920-76) was a controversial figure in Norway. He was outspoken and an anarchist, and he clashed with most social institutions in his determination to challenge repression, censorship and authoritarianism. Novelist, poet, playwright, journalist, and essayist, as well as author of a banned pornographic book, Jens Bjorneboe poured forth a steady stream of works which were as provocative in their subject matter as they were innovative in their form.

The Sharks (1974)The Sharks, by Jens Bjorneboe was Bjorneboe's last major work. The novel is set in the year 1899. The Sharks tells the story of daily life on three-masted bark Neptune, sailing from Manila to Marseilles with a cargo of hemp. The issues of diversity, violence, oppression, love, and interdependence presented are familiar concerns for contemporary readers at the end of this century.

It is a tale of mutiny and shipwreck, which bears comparison with Melville's Moby Dick or Conrad's Typhoon in its suspense and its evocation of the fascination of the sea. It is also the story of mankind's voyage into the twentieth century, suspended between the empty skies and the bottomless depths, dreadfully aware of its potential for self-destruction but clinging to a belief in the preservation of a fragile humanity.

The narrator, Peder Jensen, is both competent second mate and an unworldly philosopher, whose brain "lacks walls, a floor and a roof". Through his eyes, we follow the dismantling of the rigid power structure on board as a community begins to emerge.

A white European, Jensen is in a privileged position as officer aboard a British ship. He gains our sympathy by being aware of his privilege and resisting the role of oppressor. He feels a revulsion toward his sometimes cruel and greedy fellow-officers and is supportive of the crew, "that strange assemblage of folk from every corner and edge of the globe, of every colour and race, denizens of the whole world's docks and ports." As the crew moves toward mutiny, Jensen is caught in the middle of the power struggle betweeen groups.

Sensitively rendered into English by translator Esther Greenleaf Murer, The Sharks is a significant contribution to world literature, as well as being a good read.

This is an action novel and an allegory. The Sharks is a very interesting and exciting story told by a skilled storyteller.

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