What is the magic ingredient for a bestseller? Must be luck, for a good story certainly isn’t.
And I think I know what happened to Jo Nesbø, but you’ll need to read to the end of this blog to find out.
I’ve just finished reading The Snowman. Years ago, Nesbø became a famous, bestselling author of crime fiction novels featuring Inspector Harry Hole. I’d made a few attempts to read his books before The Snowman, but couldn’t make it further than the first two or three chapters. I thought it was me. Crime fiction isn’t my No. 1 genre. That being said, I do enjoy it every now and then. I came to love some Scandinavian Noir writers, such as Arnaldur Indriðason and Henning Mankell. So it wasn’t me.
I wouldn’t say The Snowman was bad. But it wasn’t good either. Not bestselling material in any case. An average plot, predictable twists, out-of-character (silly) behaviour here and there. When I read mystery fiction, I want to be surprised with the resolution. This is the whole point, no? I don’t try to figure out who the bad guy is; I don’t want to know it before I should. In The Snowman I knew it in the first half of the novel (certainly long before Inspector Hole did). Where’s the fun in that?
There was something else in this book that I found super annoying. Jo Nesbø’s such a show-off (there is a better phrase for it, but I don’t want to be impolite). He endlessly prattles on about music and movies for no reason (except to show his ‘erudition’ and to teach us which of Coppola’s movies is underrated), and makes tons of (American) pop culture references, which only clutters the story.
The translation is horrible, but of course, we can’t blame Nesbø for this, too. Just saying. Sometimes I had a feeling I was reading in Norwegian. The book’s full of odd idioms, funny word choices, wooden dialogues.
The Scandinavian Noir authors are known for boldly addressing burning social issues, xenophobia, abuse… and I salute them for that. Nesbø does it, too, but in this particular novel it sounds forced, politically correct (like, everyone’s-writing-about-it-therefore-I-also-have-to). When Arnaldur Indriðason or Stieg Larsson do this, you can feel their stands, their passion to expose these social deviations and diseases. You have no doubt this is something that deeply hurts and troubles them as human beings. Alas, when Nesbø does it, it’s only décor.
I liked Harry Hole, though (and not because the paperback edition I picked up had Michael Fassbender on the cover). It pisses me off that Nesbø doesn’t want to give him a break, so I feel as if I have to protect him somehow. Inspector Hole is an alcoholic, a drug user, he’s depressive, he can’t sleep, he’s haunted by his past, he doesn’t believe in the future, he can’t enjoy the moment. That’s not all. He’s lonely, doesn’t have a sense of humour (not that I mind that part. I like people with no sense of humour perhaps more than those with it). He’s not a hero; he isn’t an anti-hero either. Nesbø made him strong and broad-shouldered and painfully thin at the same time, as if he couldn’t make up his mind about his physical look (it’s hard to imagine a crossover between Steven Segal and Father William of Baskerville). He loves a woman who loves him in return; he loves her son as if the boy’s his own, yet he doesn’t want to stay with them, and (spoiler alert!) after saving their lives, decides to go to Hong Kong and do drugs.
Oh, come on.
In short, the main reason I like Harry Hole is because his creator, his literary father, hates him so much. I like him because he’s a much better man than Nesbø believes he is. I wish I could tell Nesbø that.
I met my CEO today in the elevator. He saw me with The Snowman in my hands. Between the main and the fifth floor we agreed it wasn’t a great read (he’s a well-read man, and I’m a well-read woman, so we quickly came to a consensus). “His early books are better,” my CEO said as he got off the elevator. “Try them.”
If this is the case, then I know what happened to Jo Nesbø. Before he became a famous, bestselling author, Jo Nesbø had written for the love of writing.
And then he got lucky.
A very interesting analysis. And a lesson perhaps for those writing single-character series?
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