Jo Nesbo talks about ‘The Son,’ rock stardom and rock climbing

jo nesbo photo
Jo Nesbo is a household name in Norway.
Credit: Jorn H. Moen

Jo Nesbo is a literary rock star in Norway; he’s also actually a rock star for the band Di Derre. Nesbo is most famous for his Harry Hole crime series, but he has also written children’s books and is currently working on an adaptation of “Macbeth.”

Nesbo’s new standalone book, “The Son,” tells the story of a young heroin addict in prison who is caught in a web of high-level corruption in Oslo. We caught up with Norway’s Renaissance man to learn more about “The Son” and his upcoming projects.

Your books are translated into English. Do you feel like your American readers would have a hard time getting all of the nuances?

The more locally you write, the more globally you communicate. Everyone knows what it’s like to be in a small town or what it’s like to grow up in the country and relate to your environment or to your neighbors. You might not get the specific cultural reference, but you’ll get that there is a reference there and understand its nature.

How do you feel being a rock star prepared you to be a novelist?

Writing lyrics is a very good school for writing a novel. You would think writing three verses and a refrain for a three-minute song isn’t much of a school for writing 500-page novels, but it’s more or less the same job. You have to find a way to trigger your listeners’ imagination and make them [read] the book and find out what the story is in the lyrics because you can only give so much input through words. For books, it’s all about trusting your readers and realizing you can only give general directions to guide your readers — you can’t describe everything.

Everyone calls you the next Stieg Larsson, but I read that you don’t like that comparison.

No, I guess what I said was that I see the need for people to communicate to someone else something about the nature of your books or writing. Stieg Larsson and I are both from Scandinavia, but I don’t think we’re similar as writers. He is probably more influenced by traditional Scandinavian crime writing back from the ’70s and ’80s with a political agenda, which was the tradition for Scandinavian crime novels. I’m probably more influenced by American crime fiction with hard-boiled detectives.

the son jo nesbo
“The Son” follows a heroin-addled prisoner.
Credit: Provided

But “The Son” delves into corruption as well. You don’t consider that political?

When I write about corruption, it’s not necessarily a portrait of the conditions in the Norwegian police force or political life. Just as this book came out, we had possibly the biggest Norwegian corruption case ever that just came out. A police officer was arrested and it could have been taken out of a Harry Hole book or “The Son.”

But I see myself as an entertainer. I think politics are entertaining and I will use them, but just for the use of suspense in the books.

Do you think this Scandinavian crime trend with Stieg Larsson books and “The Killing” has really just been invented by the media?

I think first and foremost what Scandinavian crime fiction has in common is that it’s written by a Swede, a Dane or a Norwegian. Apart from that, it’s hard for me to see. When a book has a “Scandinavian light,” I don’t know what they’re talking about.

You’re rewriting “Macbeth.” How is that going?

I’m not going to rewrite Shakespeare; I’m going to write a novel based on the story. I’ll probably set it in a different time and it will probably not be about kings.

It’s such a macabre story, and I can see how the narrative could work in one of your crime novels.

I think the point of asking me to do “Macbeth” is not to see how close can Jo Nesbo get to Shakespeare; it’s about how close can Jo Nesbo get to Jo Nesbo using Macbeth as a vehicle.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a rock climbing route outside of Oslo, and apart from that, I’m working on the first book under a pen name Tom Johansen called “Blood on Snow.” There’s a movie in Norway right now based on the first of my children’s novels and they’re going to make a new movie next year, so I’m helping a bit with the script for the second movie.

You’re a rock star, a children’s book writer, a rock climber and a crime novelist. What’s your hardest job?

I don’t have hard jobs. I have a daughter who’s 14 years old; that’s a hard job. Not even that is a very hard job. I had many hard jobs in my life, but right now I don’t have any.

Want to see Jo Nesbo talk in person? You can at powerHouse Arena on May 12 at 7 p.m. where Nesbo and Sonny Mehta will be in conversation, moderated by Laura Miller. Tickets are available here.

Follow Andrea Park on Twitter: @andreapark


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