Wallander goes to Gaza

Wallander goes to Gaza


norman lebrecht

May 31, 2010

The Swedish detective series Wallander is a contemporary television phenomenon. Each episode is 90 minutes long, panning slowly across a grey landscape with a music track that gets more morose by the minim.

The tension rises by imperceptible notches to a point where my teeth sink into the armchair. There is nothing like it in television drama, at least in the Swedish original (a British remake, with Kenneth Branagh as the world-weary detective, paled by comparison). Much of the dialogue consists of ‘tak’ and ‘bro’. I am, in case you hadn’t guessed, hooked.

So it came as an irritant to discover that the series creator, Henning Mankel, is one of 11 Swedes (including composer Dror Feiler and theologian Ulf Camesund) on the politically contentious and tragically impeded naval aid convoy to Gaza.

Now I am not in the least bothered by Mankel’s take on Palestine, any more than I am by Valery Gergiev’s on Vladimir Putin or Vanessa Redgrave’s on Trostsky. Art is art and life is life and most of us can bring down the mental shutters quite smartly between one and the other. That attitude, however, is sustainable only until something goes wrong. Today’s attack changed everything.

I very much hope that Mankel and his Swedish companions survived the Israeli boarding assault unscathed. I look forward to seeing their homecoming press conference, to hearing of their experiences and sharing their outrage. Whether I share their views or their priorities is neither here nor there. For the moment, I am just concerned for their safe deliverance.

And yet I am, at the same time, irritated. Nothing stronger than irritation, just a mild irk of knowing that I can never again watch Wallander with such innocent pleasure or suspension of disbelief. Mankel, its creator, has intruded into my perception of the work.

It is never a good idea for a writer to become the story. And in this case, the story is greater and more contorted than anything Mankel has invented in his TV plotlines. The issue here, for Israelis and Palestinians, is existential. It makes Wallander seem trivial. I shall miss it. 


  • disgruntledTumbridgewells says:

    He draws the spotlight and I wish there had been some more high profile – populist – voices on board.
    When Mankel and some liberal Swedes are eyewitnesses they are trusted ( perhaps unfairly) more than regular activists.
    Though enjoyable, genre fiction rarely provokes or challenges.
    Mankel is a good read and the TV show is quality, but his story of the attacks will be the most important story he’s ever told.

  • fromthedepths says:

    If you think Mankel’s work is simple genre fiction, you’ve perhaps been knitting whilst reading it. Every book (including those written outside of the Wallander series) tackles a serious socio-political problem. His books are indeed activism, and written in the fine tradition of the work of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. If you don’t know about Martin Beck, the precursor to Wallander, you should read it, and hopefully re-evaluate your pseudo-intellectual critique of genre fiction.
    NL replies: Your hyperbolic defence suggests over-estimation.

  • disgruntledTumbridgewells says:

    Actually I knitted myself a lovely set of pseudo-intellectual specs that I’m wearing right now.
    I’m not slagging him off too much – I’ve read 3 Wallander books, I just can’t remember what any of them were about. I don’t feel intrigued enough to read any more.
    Anyway, he’s Mankell is clearly a brave man and a good writer.
    But surely if you love literature, you’re allowed to distinguish between ‘great’ and ‘good’ ?
    I am a fan of his work, but more a fan of his activism.

  • Carla Reyes says:

    The attack from the Israelis was predictable and announced in advance through warnings from the Israeli Government. Anyone then knew what to expect. The support to Gaza bothers me, why not support Gazans to get rid of Hamas? That would make sense to me.