Boyd Tonkin: The new wave of 'Nordic' noir comes from within the UK. Wrap up warm!

 

British readers won't need a passport, or even chunky knitwear Sofie Grabol-style, to visit the source of the next wave of Nordic noir.

But they'll still need to wrap up warm. Almost-Scandinavian Shetland and the Outer Hebridean Isle of Lewis, where Nordic and Celtic strands entwine, both fell for centuries within the dominions of the kings of Norway. Then their post-Viking overlords let the Scots take command. First in crime fiction, now in TV drama, these storm-swept outposts of the UK look well placed to compete with the Scandinavian nations themselves as a resource-rich archipelago of stories. After the oil runs out, might noir fiction replace it as black gold?

January will see a BBC Scotland version of Red Bones, one of Ann Cleeves's quartet of Shetland-set mysteries, which reaches TV screens under the emphatic title of Shetland. Later in the month, the former probation officer begins a second Shetland sequence with Dead Water. Next week, Peter May completes one of the best-regarded crime series of recent years when his Lewis trilogy ends with the publication of The Chessmen. May, who had previously written a string of Chinese-set thrillers that, unusually, won acclaim within China itself, first made use of Lewis as fertile ground for tempest-tossed and history-soaked intrigues on the small screen, with his 1990s Gaelic-language series Machair. He and Cleeves treat their rugged scenery and its bedrock of dark tales as characters; both heirs, in their way, to a Romantic literary legacy that dates back at least to the pseudo-ancient Ossian poems of the 1760s (actually written by James Macpherson) and Walter Scott's Shetland-set adventure, The Pirate.

Beyond the crime genre, the eerily gifted Amy Sackville will in February bring mysteries of a different sort to bear on the other Scottish archipelago in her second novel, Orkney. And few novels of recent years have made any part of the British Isles feel so spookily remote as Karin Altenberg's Island of Wings, set in the 19th century on the now-uninhabited St Kilda - that bleak outcrop far beyond even the Hebrides.

Nowhere feels so exotic as your own unknown backyard. These investigations of the UK's Atlantic fringes resonate with the trend in British travel writing that seeks uncanny insights not beyond but within the borders of a multi-national state that we once thought had yielded up its secrets long ago. To some degree, this new internal exploration tracks the politics of fission and separation within the UK as a whole - though in rather complex ways. Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, after all, often appear as much divorced from a mainstream “Scottish” cultural identity as from a London-defined Britishness.

At a time when immigration rows encourage the fantasy of a stable monoculture only recently enriched, or depleted, by alien elements, it's useful to discover - and enjoy - the difference within. The British empire, as Altenberg's novel of a missionary stranded among the wild folk of St Kilda shows, had to conquer the various peoples of its home isles at the same time as it sought to subdue more distant lands. I remember learning, in Sri Lanka, of the shaming sign that pupils once had to wear around their necks if they failed to speak English in class. Well into the last century, just that penalty applied to Welsh-speaking children at school. As for Ireland, eight centuries of unfinished business still disorient the British state.

Yet look closely enough at the far past, and far fringes, of that state, and conventional nationalism can seem as crude a response to its layered stories as conventional unionism. With one referendum due on Scottish independence, and another on EU membership likely, the matter of Britain will occupy the public stage. Popular fictions, as well as political rhetoric, may help to define and deepen the debate.

Forget the infant prodigies: all hail the veterans

At this time of year, publishers go overboard to praise the latest bright young things of literature, the nearer to their tender teenage years the better. Well, in 2013 I'm looking forward to the return of the octogenarian superstar: John Le Carré has a new novel; Antonia Fraser publishes her history of parliamentary reform; Derek Robinson, the ace of airborne fiction, flies again. Then, in May, comes All That Is from a true American master: James Salter, who turns 88 next year, and was born in the year of The Great Gatsby.

Single succour for the essayist

Authors have lamented for many years the disappearance of outlets for “long-form journalism”, essays and stand-alone stories. The digital domain has begun to rescue these arts via the infinite flexibility of its platforms. Publishers such as Penguin have made an impression with compact digital originals. However, almost inevitably, Amazon has taken the lead with its “Kindle Singles” of short or mid-length works priced for download between 99p and £1.99, with a royalty rate of up to 70 per cent. The list, 200-plus titles strong, now has a UK editor, Andrew Rosenheim, and a British store featuring new pieces by Susan Hill, Sam Leith, Andrew Taylor and Candia McWilliam. For an example of what the Singles format can bring to reportage, try James Harkin's admirable 15,000 words of witness from the frontlines of northern Syria, “War Against All”.

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable