Unwrapping a Nordic short story collection: The Dark Blue Winter Overcoat

One of the best things about a collection of short stories by different authors is the sheer amount of different styles on offer for you to immerse yourself in without any heavy form of commitment.

Typically clocking in at less than 25 pages a time, The Dark Blue Winter Overcoat & Other Stories from the North has recently been published by one of my favourites – Pushkin Press. Pushkin often seek out the finest (and often hidden) gems of world literature and release them amid some beautifully evocative cover art designs. No change to the format here but perhaps this collection will surprise you in other ways.

Every story in this handsomely packaged book is written by a Nordic author whether they’re from the likes of Norway, Sweden and Iceland or all the way over in the Faroe Islands. This feels like less of a random plethora of dropped pins in a Nordic map and more like a carefully constructed tour through a region known, perhaps unfairly, for its atmospheric introspection and psychologically bruising crime thrillers. We are off the beaten path here in small towns and on isolated lakes thanks to the selections of Sjon and Ted Hodgkinson.

Indeed, for those expecting Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö to appear in person or in tribute then you can leave your cloaks and daggers at the door. The types of stories collected here are more in keeping with the tones of magic realist Gabriel García Márquez or the gentle detailed realism of Anne Tyler.

Take the story that gives this book its title for example: it sounds like a Girl With the Dragon Tattoo style thriller name but in reality it’s a somewhat whimsical but deeply affecting story of a son who has to come to terms with an estranged family member turning into a dog without explanation. Another story is so slight that it’s revelation hinges on a glance that most would simply overlook but it’s these little glimmers that blossom in the story.

There’s real variety here. It’s hard not to get chills, raise smiles and be surprised by the talent on offer here. Consider it a teaser trailer for some of your new favourite authors.

The Dark Blue Winter Overcoat & Other Stories from the North is out now via Pushkin Press.

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