Henning Mankell made me angry, Henning Mankell made me sad

Illustration by Andrea Ventura for The Guardian

I don’t think that any writer has ever made me as angry as Henning Mankell did, when he callously discarded Kurt Wallander at the end of The Troubled Man.

I still vividly remember my shock and dismay when I read the words on the page. It was in June 2011 and we were on holidays in the south of France. I was in Café Sola, in Collioure, where I’d gone for a pichet of rosé, to savour the final chapters of Mankell’s latest installation of Wallander’s lonely and melancholic police career.

This is what he wrote:

Wallander suddenly felt terrified. His memory had deserted him again. He didn’t know who the girl running toward him was. He knew he’d seen her before, but what her name was or what she was doing in his house he had no idea.

It was as if everything had fallen silent. As if all colors had faded away and all he was left with was black and white.

The shadow grew more intense. And Kurt Wallander slowly descended into darkness that some years later transported him into the empty universe known as Alzheimer’s disease.

After that there is nothing more . . .

It was like a punch in the face. I did feel sad about Wallander, but even more so I was raging at Mankell. I remember wandering back to our little fisherman’s house on Rue de la Fraternité to voice my outrage to Ciara, who had to work that afternoon.

I’d had no idea that he was finishing the series or that this was his last Wallander book. And it was partly that – that would be no more Wallander – but mostly the callous way he did it. For fuck’s sake.

Now I understand better. It turns out that he had wanted to write about Alzheimer’s disease all along. It also turns out that Alzheimer’s was his own biggest fear. He never had to face it. Cancer took him instead, last year.

Reading excerpts from Henning Mankell’s last book: Quicksand: What It Means to Be a Human Being, in the Guardian last night had me close to tears, several times.

And it isn’t just because it is about the death of a man I admired so much. (I think The Kurt Wallander series is the reason I want to write a crime novel of my own.) Nor because it describes his initial cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. My mother died of cancer too and it did remind me of that, but no, that’s not the reason either.

It was because I realised, when reading it, that his writing is so beautiful. And his writing is so beautiful because it is so true. And perhaps that’s why I admire the Wallander books so much. Because they are true.

And that’s why he also wrote about Wallander the way he did, at the end of The Troubled Man. It wasn’t Mankell who was callous, it was the Alzheimer’s. And the writing had to reflect that.

So I forgive you, Henning. And I miss you. And I’ve pre-ordered the book. And I’ll read it with joy.

Here’s a brief extract from the piece in The Guardian. You can read the full article here.

After about two months, when I had reached the middle of the first basic cycle of chemotherapy, I had the feeling one morning that a new sort of normality had entered my life. Nothing would ever be the same as it had been before I received the diagnosis, but nevertheless it was as if life was now taking on a form that in my darkest moments I would never have thought possible.

The days were getting lighter. Not a lot, but mid-winter was past. One morning, all too early, a blackbird started singing from its perch on the television aerial. It occurred to me that this was something I could record on my gravestone.

I have heard the blackbird. I have lived


Novelist, short story writer, essayist, sports writer. Crime novel: Whatever it Takes due out 31 July 2020. The First Sunday in September, debut novel, published in 2018. Mercier Press, Stinging Fly, Irish Examiner, Irish Times, The42.ie, Holly Bough, Honest Ulsterman, Quarryman, Silver Apples.

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