The Summer of Kim Novak
Sweden in the ’60s. Erik and his friend Edmund spend their vacation by a forest lake daydreaming about Ewa, a young substitute teacher with an uncanny resemblance to the actress Kim Novak. The boys are having the time of their lives until a shocking discovery disrupts their world. Twenty-five years later, Erik comes across a newspaper article about unsolved crimes and is overwhelmed by memories and questions from that summer of his youth. What actually happened back then? The Summer of Kim Novak has all the tension and mystery of Nesser’s world-famous thrillers, combined with a coming-of-age tale of remarkable psychological precision.
Håkan Nesser is one of Sweden’s most famous crime writers. He made his name with his popular series featuring… Read more
Book Club Questions
- This is ultimately a book about growing up: in what ways does Edmund grow up over the course of the novel?
- Erik and Edmund become friends quickly. Why do you think this is? What are the similarities and differences between them?
- Can you expand on Henry’s character or the character of Edmund’s father? What do you think they are like?
- The women characters in the novel (apart from Ewa) take a secondary position, whereas Ewa herself is thrust into the spotlight of desire. How much do you think this is representative a 14-year-old boy’s perspective, and how much, if at all, do you think it might be an oversight of the author?
- Erik often uses clichés he has overheard in adult conversations when talking to others, and he often repeats the same refrain when talking to himself: could you compare these two coping strategies and the different ways they help Erik to manage the world?
- Why do you think Erik didn’t go to visit his mother often? How do you think these meetings made him feel?
- How do you feel about the ending of the book? Why do you think ‘The Incident’ occurred?
- What do you think happened to the pages of Henry’s book that Edmund reads?
- What do you think about Edmund’s career choice? Did this come as a surprise?
- What do you think about Ewa’s reaction to seeing Edmund again? What do you think the future has in store for them?
- How important was the sense of place in this novel? Did you feel the landscape had a role to play? If so, how?
- This novel traverses two genres: the coming-of-age novel and the whodunit. Do you think this novel is a successful example of one or both of these genres? And can you explain why?
- Aside from the Kim Novak of the title itself, there are many cultural references within this work, setting the novel firmly within a certain time period. Did this add to the nostalgia for you? Why do you think Nesser used this technique?
- Have you had an unforgettable summer? If so, how old were you? Did anything in particular happen that made it memorable? Was it far from your usual place of residence? Is fourteen an age we are likely to remember whatever the circumstances? Discuss.
“Nesser sensitively probes the agonies and ecstasies of adolescence, making this an exquisite example of Nordic Noir’s ability to reveal the darkest emotional depths beneath a cloudless summer sky.” —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“Nesser’s novel gains in power as it raises difficult questions about memory and morality.” —Kirkus Reviews
“[An] extraordinary tale of intrigue from Sweden’s preeminent crime writer Håkan Nesser…Nesser’s writing is alive with summer heat and the buzzing of cicadas, the whiff of perfume unexplained, and the storm clouds of trouble growing darker as the days and buggy nights fade into one another…” ―Jeffrey Mannix, The Durango Telegraph
“The Summer of Kim Novak brings back to life that adolescent quandary of feeling like you know more than the adults around you, but being desperately afraid that you won’t choose the right action to justify the trouble you’re already in.” ―New York Journal of Books
“Nesser has a penetrating eye for the skull beneath the skin.” ―New York Times
“A deft anatomist of character.” ―O, The Oprah Magazine
“Nesser is one of the best of the Nordic Noir writers, unafraid of moral ambiguity and excellent at building a brooding atmosphere.” ―The Guardian
“Håkan Nesser brings a light touch to tales of appalling crime.” ―Daily Telegraph
“Not all Scandinavian crime fiction is gory and gloomy; it can also be lyrical and delicate, soaked in sunshine and surrounded by beautiful welcoming nature, yet with a touch of suspense gently simmering underneath idyllic surface. Especially when it’s written by Håkan Nesser, one of the Swedish masters of Nordic Noir.” ―Crime Review
“Very fine reading…lyrical, decidedly Scandinavian, and endearingly universal.” ―BookTrib
“Although The Summer of Kim Novak is a heart-warming, sometimes hilarious coming-of-age story, a thread of melancholy and sadness runs through it… you’ll be pleasantly surprised by The Summer of Kim Novak’s warmth and wit.” ―Crime Fiction Lover
“A haunting and evocative novel, beautifully written to draw you into another place and time—a true coming-of-age tale with added mystery.” ―Liz Loves Books
“Nesser captures the awkwardness of adolescence beautifully.” ―A Life in Books
“Swedish kids have it good: this beautiful book is in their curriculum!” ―Brigitte
“Not only a brilliant thriller, but also a sensitive and atmospheric portrayal of a coming-of-age adventure.” ―Frankfurter Neue Presse
“Nesser writes very emphatically, very clearly and even wittily. A first-class thriller.” ―Frankfurter Rundschau
“Every line smells of summer, becoming an adult, and the loss of innocence.” ―Focus
“A must-read.” ―RTL
Why You Should Read This Book
“Around 1962 I concluded that Kim Novak was TPW. The Perfect Woman. I was around twelve at the time and also came to the conclusion that love was not an easy thing to digest. Especially when the age and geographical distance issue was considered. I was a boy in Kumla, an insignificant small town in the middle of Sweden, and Ms. Novak was a mature woman, God knows where. Hollywood, most likely.
Then a gruesome murder took place, in the vicinity of that insignificant small town on the borders of nowhere. It had no connection to Kim Novak whatsoever, except in the mind of the young boy who was me. I had nightmares as a result. The gruesome murderer was out to kill TPW, I was a detective out to save her. It recurred, that dream, over a year or so, and was then replaced by other dreams.
One night thirty-five years later, however, it returned. The murderer, Kim Novak, myself; same dream, same situation. By then I was a full-time writer. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. You have to write what you have to write.”
HÅKAN NESSER, the author
“One of the pleasures of translating this book was working with dialect and voice. I enjoyed tracing threads of migration and culture between Sweden and the US, and finding a vernacular that felt true to the feeling of rural mid-twentieth-century Sweden that Nesser evokes. My favorite parts of the book are where Nesser lets us spend time with Edmund and Erik at play―their adventures on the lake, their word games, the way their friendship grows, and, once they’ve built trust and intimacy, what can go unsaid between them and what that silence can hold.”
SASKIA VOGEL, the translator