Thursday 18 June 2009

Henning Mankell

First day back at my desk after a long long holiday - no writing, lots of reading.

The latest book was by Henning Mankell, who is Swedish and writes great thrillers and absolutely bad novels. (There is more to him than that, you can look it up on one of the many fan sites.)

His detective inspector is a classic, getting old on his own, with an ex-wife he loves and a daughter he does not see as often as he would like to. The stories take place in a little town in Sweden, which reminds me - maybe wrongly - of a windswept Dutch town by the sea where I spent a holiday when I was young. I enjoy the Swedishness he describes, it satisfies my curiosity about that country.

The novels on the other hand seem to be all ego - one suspects that the central character in Italian Shoes is Mankell himself, in character if not in actual fact, living by himself on a remote island - the second time Mankell has used that setting. Mankell intrudes into his novels, both telling and showing. His female characters have no depth, they seem to differ only in name, despite diverse backgrounds and different ages. The interactions can be violent and unexpected - they don't always make psychological sense. In this book, the best-drawn character is the hypochondriac postman, I'd have liked to hear more about him.
Mankell overwhelms us with unnecessary detail - I suspect that he writes down everything that he sees and hears and that everything goes into his books, maybe because it is real. Real does not always make good reading.

If you read Mankell, stick to his Inspector Wallander stories, they are truly good. One of them was recently selected by a well-known US newspaper as a best-seller. And a film is being produced too.

Gotta go.

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