Sunday, February 6, 2011

Faceless Killers--Henning Mankell

Mankell is a writer of Swedish noir; he inspired Stieg Larsson, and, perhaps, me.  I've been purposely trying to learn as I read these days.  Not in an academic way--at least until I take my next Masters class--but in a way that I understand writing better so that my writing is also better.  I wrote a recent blog about this, using Dan Simmons' Drood as a primer, so I won't do that again here.

In short, here's what I liked about Faceless Killers (besides the title).  The thing that struck me first, by about page 20, was that if Raymond Carver wrote Swedish noir, it would turn out like this.  Carver was a writer of more depth than this novel, appropriately, shows, but the type of writing is the same.  Both writers make the very ordinary seem very important.  Carver would write, "He placed the bottle of champagne on the table," in exactly the same way several times in the same 12-page short story, and it would carry weight each time.  (I still don't understand how he was able to do that.)  Mankell does the same here, but, again, without the strange depth.  His words and sentences do have depth, just not the same emotional (or emotionless) as Carver's did.

Secondly, Mankell's Kurt Wallander has very real, gritty problems, shown in very gritty sentences.  For example, and pardon the lack of etiquette here, but Wallender has this gastro-intestinal problem--a combination of bad eating habits and lots of stress, caused by his job and his recent marriage break-up--and the novel shows twice that he eats a hotdog, or a pizza, too fast and has to rush to the bathroom with diarrhea.  And I'm not paraphrasing or inferring here.  It says that he ate too fast, that he had to run to the bathroom, and that he had diarrhea.  The first time, it also says that he realizes he has to change his underwear.  Now that's intense.  The short, clipped, Carver-esque sentences create a dreamy, distant, slowly re-awakening feeling in the character that really is what the novel is about.  That, and what is going wrong with Sweden in those days.  The two-headed theme is: What went wrong with my marriage?--and--What went wrong with Sweden?  They go hand-in-hand here.  The setting, as you'd might expect from Sweden, is a character in of itself in the same way that the same type of weather was for Fargo and Smilla's Sense of Snow.

Anyway, this novel got me to consider ditching the 1st person narration of one of my "finished" mystery mss. and allowing my writing style to show the main character's traits in ways that I thought only 1st person could.  And it also made me realize that although the mystery starts right away in my novel, the actual crime isn't shown until midway.  (Other crimes, including murders and other cases the character takes on, are shown much earlier, all starting on page 1.)  But this was a real eye-opener for me in that it shows that maybe the packaging of my novel is all wrong.

We'll see.  Anyway, Faceless Killers is highly recommended.  I just bought most of the Wallender series a few hours ago.  The supposed last one, A Troubled Man, comes out very soon, the first Wallender book in 10 years.  Mankell says it's definitely the last, but I'll bet he also said that 10 years ago.

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