The Dark Blue Winter Overcoat: a remarkable anthology of Nordic short stories

Editors Sjón and Ted Hodgkinson show both the vigour and variety of the short story form in the North.

If you have been to the North, you will know that you are at its mercy. In winter the sun barely peers over the horizon; in summer the nights stretch on and on into dawn. The cold won’t nip your nose: it will kill you. Volcanoes erupt and swallow the land. Humanity’s neat ideas about nationhood and identity seem especially fragile: human beings are not the ones in control. In The Dark Blue Winter Overcoat, a collection of stories “from the North”, the editors – Ted Hodgkinson (senior programmer for literature and spoken word at London’s Southbank Centre) and the Icelandic writer Sjón – find a common thread of storytelling across these chill and beautiful lands.

For the book’s purposes nine regions and cultures are included: not just Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Finland but also Greenland, the Faroe Islands, the Åland Islands and Saami Norway in that country’s far north; a huge geographical span brought together in narrative and united against the elements. The old Nordic sagas are full of magic and terror: their modern equivalents, this book reveals, have many of the same sensibilities. Readers who know Nordic literature, either via the popularity of Scandinavian crime novels or thanks to the hyperrealism of a writer such as Karl Ove Knausgaard, may be in for a surprise. These are 21st-century wonder-tales, in which the ordinary round of daily life remains “alive to the possibilities of human transformation”, says the editors’ lucid introduction.

Perhaps the clearest example of such a tale is “The White-Bear King Valemon”, by the Swedish writer Linda Boström Knausgaard (translated by Martin Aitken). It begins with a girl, Ellinor, living at the edge of a forest; so far, …read more

Source:: New Statesman

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