In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Then he added man. Maybe he wouldn’t have if he’d known what was coming. Anyway, Adam and Eve messed up, God became furious and launched Project Fall of Man. In doing so he also created revenge as a concept.
As my new novel Sweet Sweet Revenge Ltd has been published in country after country, I have learned how to answer questions on my general view of revenge as civilly as possible. I always say that revenge works best as a form of self-therapy. Someone steps on your toes, and you plan 10 ways to get revenge. If you are the least bit like me, these thoughts will make you feel better. But stop there. Don’t follow through.
If you don’t know how to plot revenge in a good way, just let literature inspire you. Here are my best tips on how you can learn to become a worse person.
1. The Count of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas
They say an elephant never forgets. The same goes for the self-proclaimed count in Dumas’ classic adventure novel. Revenge is rarely as beautiful as when the practitioner is not in a hurry. Edmond Dantès waited 24 years. In my new novel, one of the main characters fantasises about planting a hedge next to his neighbour’s plot, with the intention of letting it to grow until it obscures the sun for the neighbour’s carrot bed. He’d have to wait 500 years, but all good things comes to those who wait.
2. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Great literature, of course. Perhaps the greatest. If you have not yet read it, I suggest the following: buy two copies and give one to your friend. Read the book separately. Then, sit down to discuss who the Danish Prince Hamlet really is. You’ll never finish, I promise. Hamlet is second on my list because, in terms of revenge, Shakespeare met his match in Dumas. One slowly builds up his revenge for a quarter of a century. The other engages in hasty murders and long procrastination.
3. Nutshell by Ian McEwan
In my youth, I was fascinated by the Swedish writer PC Jersild’s novel A Living Soul, in which the protagonist is in fact a free-floating brain inside an aquarium standing in a laboratory. The brain falls in love with its caregiver, which doesn’t work out brilliantly. When I, 37 years later, read Ian McEwan, I was reminded of A Living Soul. In Nutshell, the protagonist is an unborn foetus inside its mother’s womb. It’s bleak, funny, murderous – and Hamlet-inspired.
4. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
During her short lifetime, she published only this one novel. The violent tale was received with dismay. But its reputation grew. And grew. Into a classic. It was published 174 years ago, and still feels relevant and contemporary. The foundling Heathcliff could never cope with the fact that his twin flame Catherine married a childhood friend. A wonderful novel depicting passion and revenge spanning generations.
5. Escape, Evasion and Revenge by Marc H Stevens
“Only Stevens knew at first hand just how much Hitler and his cronies deserved what he was about to deliver. And he wished with all his might that one of his bombs would find its target and rid the world of this unspeakable evil.” The quote is from Stevens’s extraordinary biography of his father, Peter Stevens, who at that moment is flying over the English Channel in a bomber, heading for Berlin. The year is 1941. Peter is about to be shot down and captured, and that’s just the beginning. The true story of a German-Jewish pilot who became a British war hero.
6. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
A well-composed psychological thriller with a high revenge factor. Writers Nick and Amy are the perfect couple. Or are they? One day, Amy’s gone. The reader follows both Nick and Amy’s perspectives – the latter through her diary entries. Flynn’s success in getting under the skin of two such different characters – in a far from happy marriage – is impressive. But are the narrators to be trusted?
7. The Long Ships by Frans G Bengtsson
The fantastic story of the Viking Orm Tostesson was published 80 years ago but is just as readable today. In Orm’s world, turning the other cheek isn’t an alternative to revenge. There, the one with the sharpest sword wins. During a feast at King Harald Blåtand’s court, vikings Dyre and Toke argue at the table. But initiating a duel in front of the king isn’t a good idea. “Should we go out to take a piss, you and I?” asks Dyre. “I’d love to,” Toke replies. They bring their swords. After 10 minutes, Toke comes back, covered in blood. When asked where Dyre is, he replies: “It took some time, but now he’s done pissing.” I’ve read The Long Ships 10 times. At least.
8. The Bible
This book is a little heavy for my taste, but is, in parts, well worth reading. In it, we learn that the right to exact revenge belongs to God alone. In Deuteronomy, God himself speaks out, and he doesn’t hold back: “When I sharpen my flashing sword and my hand grasps it in judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me. I will make my arrows drunk with blood, while my sword devours flesh: the blood of the slain and the captives, the heads of the enemy leaders.” A personal reflection: I think God takes it a little bit too far. After all, it was he who started the circus with the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. A portion of humility wouldn’t have hurt.
9. The Millennium series by Stieg Larsson
The introvert computer genius Lisbeth Salander is maltreated by authorities and men in power in a dystopian Sweden. But she fights back without pardons. When I travel the world with my books, the international press makes constant connections between Larsson’s Sweden and mine. Everyone seems amazed at how two Swedish writers can strike such diametrically different tones in their storytelling and nevertheless achieve great international success. Or as a French journalist said: “You don’t seem gloomy at all. Are you sure you’re Swedish?”
10. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The protagonist Raskolnikov is reasoning with himself. If he kills the terrible pawnbroker who torments so many, he would do the world a favour, in the name of humanity. At the same time, Raskolnikov himself happens to be one of the indebted people whose finances suddenly improve with the demise of the pawnbroker. In an inner dialogue, he is torn between the conviction that he has acted righteously, and the alternative theory that he is in fact quite lousy. Put simply, Raskolnikov takes revenge on Raskolnikov. A masterful piece of literature!