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.