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Jo Nesbo

at Edinburgh International Book Festival

A modern re-interpretation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Image of Jo Nesbo

Jo Nesbo is a former footballer and financial analyst, now turned global bestselling novelist, he comes across as modest, self-effacing and philosophical. He’s in Edinburgh promoting his latest book, a modern re-interpretation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a tale which has fascinated him since childhood.  This is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project which invites modern novelists to reimagine some of the bard’s most famous plays. Nesbo has set Macbeth in a 1970’s un-named dystopian town, in which Macbeth is the head of organised crime in the local police force and Duncan the chief commissioner. Lady is the owner of a casino and has prostitution as her back story. Interviewed by the author and journalist, Lee Randall, Nesbo describes Macbeth as a very modern drama, likening the story to the scenario of “Breaking Bad” or “American Psycho,” in which the author manipulates the audience into sympathising with a very broken character. He has stuck broadly with the bard’s synopsis, minus the supernatural element of the witches, and has obviously enjoyed the challenge of transposing the classic tale into a more modern setting.

Randall probes Nesbo on his perceptions of evil and at times the graphic and gratuitous violence depicted in his novels. He views evil as presenting itself in many forms, both active and passive, and defends his descriptions of violence as necessary to describe the monsters in his books. He likes asking the questions rather than trying to provide all the answers. Thankfully for Harry Hole fans, we are told that he will be returning next year in a novel entitled Knife.

Nesbo admits that all writers end up writing about themselves, even unwittingly, and one can’t help wondering how much of Harry is Jo and vice-versa? Thus said, perhaps the most interesting parts of the interview are the glimpses of Jo Nesbo the man. He seems to eschew the normal trappings of fame and much of his now considerable wealth, goes to the foundation he has established which works to improve literacy in third world countries. Rather than sit at a desk in his luxury apartment overlooking Oslo harbour, he prefers to write in a small cafe round the corner and enjoys remaining fairly incognito in his home town.

No doubt Macbeth will be as hugely successful as Nesbo’s other novels, long may he reign supreme.


Eleanor has had a diverse career, having been at varying times a milk maid, tour guide, bond analyst and parliamentary candidate. Now in semi-retirement, she writes, travels and sleeps in equal measure.

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