Eleven books set in Iceland and Scandinavia
Hannah Kent's Burial Rites has sparked a fascination with Iceland at Picador and has set us reminiscing about our favourite Icelandic and Scandinavian stories. Here are some of them set in Iceland, Sweden , Denmark and Norway– may this be the start of a new reading journey! (Oh, and when we say eleven books, we mean eight books and two series...)
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.
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.'
Sophie's World by 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...
Out Stealing Horses by 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.
The Kurt Wallander novels by Henning Mankell
The Swedish series featuring Inspector Kurt Wallander is addictive; they're brilliant detective novels but also astonishing descriptions of a society with evil often at its core. Henning Mankell is a truly inspiring writer and a 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.
The Martin Beck novels by 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.
Independent People by 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?
How To Be a Good Wife by 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.
Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by 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.
The Killing by David Hewson
The novel is every bit as good as the TV show – stunningly atmospheric and tense.
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.