• Abi Prowse

4 Great Novels by Scandinavian Authors

The Scandinavian countries are famous primarily for a number of things: their sleek interior design style, their adoration for coffee and pastries, their quick wit and dry humour, and their literature. Although often associated with dark, haunting thrillers and crime novels (see the likes of Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbø), Scandinavian literature offers a vast array of stories touching on a range of themes. Narrated by characters who are profound in their thoughts yet quirky in their actions, contemporary Scandinavian literature is celebrated for its insightful characterisation and side-splitting commentaries.

If you're new to the world of Scandi literature, then these four novels are a perfect place to begin your journey. From the busy roads of Copenhagen to the isolated forest towns of Sweden, here are four great novels by Scandinavian authors for you to enjoy.

Beartown (Björnstad)

Fredrik Backman | @backmansk

Translated by Neil Smith

Despite the plot of this novel being based upon ice hockey, by no means is this a book solely written for fans of the beloved Nordic sport. Beartown tells the tale of a town on the verge of change - be it physical, political, or social - whose entire future rests upon the shoulders of a junior ice hockey team. A beautifully-written (and expertly-translated) novel which draws you deeply into the lives of its characters, the story speaks to anyone who has ever felt they don't quite belong, highlighting the importance - and inherent flaws - of friendship and loyalty.

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

(Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann)

Jonas Jonasson | @jonasjonassonauthor

Translated by Rod Bradbury

When, nearing his 100th birthday, Allan Karlsson decides to climb out of the window of his nursing home and head to a nearby bus station with no particular destination in mind, everyone is stunned. The adventures that ensue are even more unexpected: from stealing a young man's suitcase for no apparent reason to being chased by both a drug gang and by the police, Allan proves that age is merely a number. And that is only the beginning. A novel as witty as it is heartfelt, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared has also been adapted into a successful Swedish film.

Butterflies in November (Rigning í nóvember)

Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

Translated by Brian Fitzgibbon

A title you may remember from our 5 Best Translated Novels, Butterflies in November is a heartwarming Icelandic tale which explores the ideas of loneliness, relationships, and motherhood, among other topics. The protagonist, a 33-year-old divorcee, is planning to take a road trip across Iceland to escape the stresses of her daily life, when she is suddenly forced to look after her friend's son. In a writing style which has been described as both charmingly eccentric and darkly funny, Ólafsdóttir manages to render her novel simultaneously heart-wrenching and hilarious - no easy feat.

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal (Spejl, skulder, blink)

Dorthe Nors | @dorthenors

Translated by Misha Hoekstra

Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2017, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal follows the life of forty-year-old literary translator Sonja and her struggles with life in Copenhagen. A strained relationship with her family and recent rocky break-up mean that things aren't going too well for our protagonist. Also not going well are her driving lessons, which she takes with an instructor who doesn't even let her change gears herself. But the plot is not the main drive of this narrative; instead it is Sonja's stream of consciousness, her ruminations on approaching middle age and upon her solitary life in the city, that capture the heart of the reader, who is undoubtedly seduced by Nors' characteristically tragicomic writing style.


Have you read any great Scandinavian contemporary literature? We want to hear your suggestions!

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