His latest novel is Sail of Stone.
Ake, Thank you for chatting. SAIL OF STONE is a beautiful book which seems far more about questions than about answers. Is your detective, Erik Winter, as much a philosopher as he is a solver of mysteries?
He's at least as much a philosopher as a detective. Winter is a moral animal, not a political one. He's trying to live a decent life, and it's the hardest thing. These stories are about the existence, the meaning of life, or, as Winter says, "This job is more about the meaning of death than the mening of life." I think anyone who pushes him/herself to the limit is a philosopher; the heavyweight champions were philosophers first, boxers second.
Both storylines involve mysteries with elusive subjects. Even the people who are found and questioned by the police seem to offer very little in terms of satisfying answers. Do you think that police work is always this frustrating?
It's very frustrating; it's not for sissies. One of my best friends is head of the crime squad in Gothenburg. He wouldn't do anything but this, but, as he says, "it's like a war you really can't win, but you have to fight it anyway." Yeah, what's the alternative?
The book is starkly beautiful in its existential focus, from Aneta Djanali, who “dreamed of doors that closed and never opened,” and Erik Winter, who is aware that he “carrie[s] a restlessness in him.” Are they drawn to their profession because they are restless, or are they restless as a result of their profession?
Very good question. I think it works both ways - you have to have a certain personality to become a detective, and the pressure and desperation of the job is like a drug. It's not healthy. The only other profession I can compare it with is writing.
Aha! What an interesting comparison!
There are many allusions to Macbeth throughout the novel, especially appropriate since Winter and his friend McDonald visit Forres and the site of Cawdor Castle. Is Macbeth a favorite work of yours, or did you just think it had an appropriate thematic parallel?
I've always been a big admirer of the play. It has absolutely everything. In the early '70s I saw Roman Polanski's film adaption of Macbeth (that was shortly after the Manson murders) and that movie took the breath out of you-- it was as if the crew was on location in that horrible piece of the past. So I used this theme in the book; it worked well, I think.
The sea becomes a grave symbol of relentless nature. My favorite line is “There’s really no day at sea, and no night.” It reminded me of a line from a story by Crane or Hemingway. Are you a fan of either of these authors?
Ernest Hemingway's short short stories changed writing forever, just as Nikolaj Gogol's stories changed everything 120 years earlier. I rest my case. The sea? It's the big mother of it all; if you stay away from the sea you dry up, shrink to the ground before your time.
Music plays an important role in the lives of both detectives, and it helps to set the mood. Winter seems especially to like jazz and old American tunes. Do you share any of his musical preferences?
I'm more a rock'n'roll man, play a bit guitar. Jazz is the grown up man's music; I will never mature that much myself. I've always been into Americana. A favourite now is Richmond Fontaine, out of Portland; the singer and songwriter Wily Vlautin is a friend of mine, and he's also a damned good novelist.
I love the way that you use color to set the mood. I found these lines particularly beautiful:
“She smelled like blue autumn evening and salty wind and black mud and gasoline fumes, which together made up this city’s perfume. It was a blue evening. Vasaplatsen was a blue address. Kind of blue.”
And later: “The usual blue light came in through the window. The streetcars hadn’t yet begun to rumble by . . . .” For me, this use of blue seems both mysterious and sad, yet somehow beautiful and satisfying. What did it mean for you as you wrote it?
Winter has become overwhelmed with deaths and announcements of deaths to grieving families. He concludes that “Life didn’t belong to eternity, it was death that was eternity; life was the pause between quiet eternities.” Yet later in the novel he is farther away from despair and ready to embrace “a new era.”
Is Winter generally a hopeful person, or a despairing one? Or will he ever fluctuate between the two?
If he didn't have hope, he would give up straight away. That's what distinct these books from James Ellroy's, for instance, his stuff is wonderfully dark but there is absolutely no hope, no lining anywhere in the clouds. I couldn't go that far, neither could Winter. See above also of fighting that war.
Who are some of your literary influences?
When I was a teenager I read the Russians, Dostojevskij, Turgenjev, Tjekov, Gogol... I also red the classic Americans, Dos Passos, Steinbeck, Faulkner. For some reason I'm the only one in Sweden who has read Walker Percy! The latest American book that impressed me the most was Andre Dubus III, Townie, from last year. There are also some wonderful Swedish writers; the best is Wilhelm Moberg, from the 40's and 50's.
If you didn’t live in Sweden, where would you want to live?
I've been traveling and working abroad a lot, I love almost everything everywhere abroad. A favourite is Penang in Malaysia, or Rome, or Provence, or Andalucia, or Hanoi... I'm the only Swede that I know of who loves Los Angeles!
You are a former journalist; what do you think of the state of journalism today? Is there still objectivity in the news?
You also write children’s books. Which do you find easier to do: telling a story to children, or to adults?
Writing is very hard, if you are serious. I don't really tell a story differently for young adult readers compared to adults, and I have written 21 books in different genres. It's just the perspective that can change a little--the style is the same, the language. Recently I heard Martin Amis say that he could very well write for children, "If I had a stroke." That's a stupid remark from an otherwise bright guy.
Thanks so much for the interview!
All the best to my readers out there.