Eleven books set in Iceland and Scandinavia

04 December 2017

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Hannah Kent's Burial Rites has sparked a fascination with Iceland and all things Scandi at Picador and has set us reminiscing about our favourite Icelandic and Scandinavian stories. Here are some of the best books set in Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway–may this be the start of a new reading journey! 

Burial Rites

Burial Rites

Hannah Kent

The book that got us hooked on this part of the world in the first place, Burial Rites is based on the true story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last person to be executed in Iceland. The landscape of Agnes's final days seems a character in its own right – like the novel as a whole, Iceland is by turns isolating and enabling, tragic and majestic. Read more about Hannah Kent's time in Iceland when researching and writing the book in her Iceland photo essay.

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Saga of Icelanders

The Sagas of Icelanders

Who better than Hannah Kent to blow the trumpet of The Sagas?

'Anyone who wishes to understand Iceland should read The Sagas – they give you an extraordinary insight into the way early Icelanders lived and the codes they honoured, and to this day you can travel the country and see where the events they describe took place. I read The Sagas not only to become further acquainted with a country I already loved and knew, but also because I understood that people in Agnes’s time were very familiar with the stories.'

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Sophie's World

Sophie's World

Jostein Gaardner

This might be aimed at teaching teenagers about the world's great philosophers, but Jostein Gaardner's novel is as magical as it is informative. It's wonderfully exciting, especially if you're new to philosophy, and there's an intriguing interplay between what Sophie learns and what happens to her in real life...

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Out Stealing Horses

Out Stealing Horses

Per Pettersen

Pettersen's style of writing is distinctive and refreshing. Families and friends break apart and memories are buried deep, but a chance meeting between the main character, Trond, and someone from that fateful summer of 1948 force those memories back into consciousness.

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Faceless Killers

The Kurt Wallander Novels

Henning Mankell

The series featuring Inspector Kurt Wallander (which has been adapted for TV and stars Kenneth Branagh as the Swedish detective) is addictive. Not only are Mankell's books brilliant detective novels, they're also astonishing descriptions of a society with evil often at its core. Henning Mankell is a truly inspiring writer and a was remarkable man – he has described with passion and clarity why he believes Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky to be the greatest crime writers – and the morose, heavy-drinking Wallander is his finest creation.

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Roseanna Mai Sjowall

The Martin Beck Novels

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

A brilliantly original series of novels, perhaps the first Scandinavian crime books to reach a wide international readership. Start with Roseanna, and follow it with the other nine novels written in a ten year burst of creative intensity by the Swedish husband and wife team. It's intelligent and compelling crime writing by two journalists with a radical political agenda that informs but never overpowers these brilliantly conceived detective novels.

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Independent People

Independent People

Halldór Laxness

The great Halldór Laxness, who won The Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955 'for his vivid epic power which has renewed the great narrative art of Iceland'. Start with his 1946 novel Independent People, which follows sheep farmer Bjartus who is determined to gain financial independence – but at what price?

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How to Be a Good Wife

How to Be a Good Wife

Emma Chapman

This novel is absolutely brilliant! It's beautifully written and so chilling. In its Scandinavian setting, Emma Chapman has written a geography that seems to mirror Marta’s entrapment in her marriage, and the ambiguity of the setting – we never work out exactly which country Marta is in – works brilliantly to frame and reflect the blurred edges of Marta’s understanding of events.

 

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Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow

Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow

Peter Høeg

Spend some time in a perpetual winter with a sardonic and misanthropic heroine; throw in some murder, a suspenseful plot and a meditation on the human condition. A hugely enjoyable Scandi crime novel.

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The Killing 1

The Killing 1

David Hewson

The novel is every bit as good as the TV show – stunningly atmospheric and tense. 

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Often I Am Happy

Often I Am Happy

This short novel, by one of Denmark's most celebrated contemporary novelists, tells the story of one woman's life, and the lifelong impact of the death of her best friend forty years ago. Challenging our assumptions about love and identity, it's a story of loss and family. 

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