It’s the third largest country in the European Union, and is generally perceived as a flourishing democracy with a high quality of life and a refreshingly open attitude toward sexuality. But recently, a pair of crime writers “ Henning Mankell and the late Stieg Larsson “ have been responsible for a global reassessment of Sweden’s culture, exposing a violent, corrupt underworld seething beneath the country’s placid Nordic facade.
Before writing the Millennium trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) and becoming in 2008 the second-best-selling writer in the world (after Khaled Hosseini), Larsson was a journalist who specialized in investigations of extreme right-wing movements in Sweden (investigations that worked their way into his fiction). Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series of mysteries is a critique of Swedish society that includes indictments of such social ills as neo-Nazism and pedophilia.
In 2007 the U.S. State Department recorded 6,192 cases of child abuse in Sweden by November of that year. It also reported homophobic crime was on the rise, and tens of thousands of rapes and domestic violence incidents in a population of just 9 million.
A report from the group Global Monitoring in 2006 on the commercial sexual exploitation of children found systemic faults in Sweden, including allowing child pornography to be viewed, although not downloaded, and failing to care properly for children caught up in sex trafficking.
Although both Larsson and Mankell use their novels to ask questions about aspects of Swedish society that may be less than pleasant, Mankell insists that the country is not a pit corruption and venality. From the SMH:
“I would like to emphasise that Sweden is a very decent society to live in. But we could have been better today if we had been different before “ if we hadn’t thrown a few babies out with some of our bathwater.
“We know that if our system of justice doesn’t work, democracy is doomed. I think we are worried about that, so maybe that is why detective stories are so popular in Sweden.
“Until recently it was a very cold, isolated culture. Our art can’t bring about social change but you cannot have social change without arts.”
And Quillblog would like to remind readers that although Larsson and Mankell may be the most recent Swedish artists to deal with dark subject matter in their work, they are by no means the first.