Henning Mankell on Wallander: One foot in the sand, and one foot in the snow
Henning Mankell created one of fiction’s chilliest detectives in Wallander, but he has a warm world view thanks to living in both Europe and Africa
Mankell also believes his theatre background has helped him to not be too precious when it comes to the many screen versions of his work – there have already been three different detective Wallanders, the latest being Kenneth Branagh’s for the BBC.
“You always take a risk when you say yes to a novel being turned into a film or a TV series. When Kenneth Branagh approached me some years ago I said yes, because first of all he’s a very good actor, and secondly he had some very interesting ideas. The BBC have cleaned everything out [of the story] and what they’ve left is almost like an ancient Greek drama, and I think it’s wonderful. But I can also say that maybe some of the [adaptations] haven’t been as good. So what? You take a risk, and my books are always there.”
While he says there is essentially only one way to tell a story – “You start with ‘once upon a time’ and you finish with the last letter” – he firmly believes that thrillers should give the brain more to ponder than just plot twists.
“The most important thing is that I can reach my reader, I’m published in 45 languages in 112 countries or something. In many of these countries I’m not looked upon as a crime fiction writer, I’m looked upon as a writer.
Democracy and justice
“ All the Wallander books are basically a discussion on the relationship between democracy and the system of justice, which is one of the most important discussions we can have, because if the system of justice can’t work then democracy can’t work.
“People are very clever, they see the subtext of a book, they write to me and that makes me very happy, to reach these people. Call it a thriller or whatever you like, I don’t care. What all the pages with Wallander have taught me is that these are important questions for people everywhere, no matter what part of the world you’re from.”
Perhaps splitting his time between Europe and Africa helps with communicating that message. “I think that I see the world much clearer because I have these two perspectives. Living with one foot in the sand and one foot in the snow is, to me, basic for understanding the times I’m living in.”
A Treacherous Paradise is published by Harvill Secker