Jillwilson's Reviews > The Snowman

The Snowman by Jo Nesbø
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Mar 13, 2012

liked it

OK – he’s a recovering alcoholic with an ex-partner and an indifferent relationship with authority. He likes to do things his way, often without telling anyone else. He goes on his instincts. He is not good looking but always ends up in bed with someone attractive. Cop story – you bet.
It’s a cop story set in Norway. What do I know about Norway? Fjords and a massacre in 2011 of 69 young people from the left side of politics by a lone gunman. That’s about all. Since reading Jo Nesbo’s book The Snowman, I’ve learnt a little more.

Wikipedia says, of Norway, “Key domestic issues include immigration and integration of ethnic minorities, maintaining the country's extensive social safety net with an aging population, and preserving economic competitiveness. … Although having rejected European Union membership in two referenda, Norway maintains close ties with the union and its member countries, as well as with the United States. Norway remains one of the biggest financial contributors to the United Nations, and participates with UN forces in international missions, notably in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Sudan and Libya. … Norway has extensive reserves of petroleum, natural gas, minerals, lumber, seafood, fresh water, and hydropower. … The country maintains a Nordic welfare model with universal health care, subsidized higher education, and a comprehensive social security system. From 2001 to 2006, and then again from 2009 through 2011, Norway has had the highest human development index ranking in the world.”

We find out a little of the larger Norwegian context in The Snowman but not a lot. It’s mainly a story of cop after serial killer. It’s well written and gripping but doesn’t quite have the scale of societal focus that Stieg Larrsen has in his books, for example. One reviewer wrote “Like all great cop plots, the Harry Hole series depends on an expectation that the enemy will as likely come from within, and above, as he will from the world outside.” I liked the slight glimpse into the politics of the police department. I also liked Nesbo’s ruminations on relationships and sex – which percolate through the character of Harry Hole (pronounced ‘Hooler’).
One reviewer, Wendy Lesser, (http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/bo...) speculated as to why Scandinavian thrillers are “so much better than anyone else”? I’m not sure this is true – there are a few LA based writers who could give this region a run for their money – but it is intriguing reading about this area of the world. Lesser says: “In the right hands, the mystery novel becomes not only a thrilling cat-and-mouse game between a fiendishly clever murderer and a doggedly persistent detective, but also a commentary on the wider society that spawns, polices, and punishes murder. It is this wider view—the social view—at which the Scandinavians excel.” Then she says “Perhaps we can attribute this in part to the small size of these far northern countries, their relatively homogenous populations, their stable cultural traditions—a setting, in short, in which murders (and especially serial murders) stand out starkly and beg for analysis.” She speculates on the place of the long, dark winter in the attraction – though this to me seems more a reason for Scandinavians to read than to be read. The most interesting thing she writes is about the politics of these countries – that just possibly “this wider focus is connected to the firmly if mildly socialist perspective of even the most conservative Scandinavian governments, a view in which individual behavior contributes to or detracts from the public welfare.”

I like reading about this little-known (to me) country that is played out within the generic global formula of a thriller. Unknown territory within the known.
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