Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tana French x 3

Sometime before the summer my friend E, E the editor ya know (the reason why I always yap on about how Important Editors Are, i.e. I'm sucking up to her) - anyway, E recommended Tana French, and said I might like her. I immediately borrowed all the books at the library, read them, felt they motivated a proper post with notes and stuff and never found the time. Now, looking over my drafts folder, I found a photograph of the novel In the Woods (her debut)

and a cryptic note about mattocks. The note reads as follows honesttogod:
Mattock I had never heard of the word, but last week I was reading articles about Phelps who abused his kids beating them with mattock and now the archaeologists in book are mattocking away
What in the name of the god (as my niece used to say) did I mean by that, you may ask. Well. I think I quickly jotted it down because it was one of those moments when something you've never heard of before suddenly pops up all over the place. I was reading articles about the young ones who've defected from Westboro Baptist Cult, went on to listen to parts of an interview with the Papa Phelps son who left a long time ago and is a very vocal criticiser, and he told about the abuse suffered by him and his siblings at the hands of this so-called minister. Among other things he beat them with a mattock, which I then had to look up because ignorant. The sick, twisted man that he was. So, like two days later I'm reading this book and hey, mattocks being used, as they were meant to be used.

Anyway, this has very little bearing on the book in question or indeed on the authorship of Tana French. Also, only found one picture, yous may make do.

I've read her three first novels, In The Woods, The Likeness and Faithful Place, and will probably read the next two if the library buys them (god I know I'm like a broken record with my library library library but hey, this is my life, I borrow more than I buy). They are all set in Dublin and center around different members of the Gardaí (Irish police). They get one book each, basically, which is good, coz then it's a series without it being a series (except it is, the Dublin Murder Squad series it's called I read somewhere), but at the same time if you're the kind of reader that wants one single hero detective to follow you'll be disappointed. In The Woods is about Rob Ryan, murder detective, who despite being Irish grew up in England and has the accent to prove it, to the delight of piss-takers everywhere. His accent camouflages his past - nobody knows that he is actually Adam Ryan,  the young boy who went into the woods behind their rural Dublin-ish estate one day with his two best friends and was found hours later, terrified and speechless, with his shoes full of blood and no memory of what happened to the other two. Now, adult detective Rob is called out to investigate the murder of a child, right next to the woods where something happened to himself twenty years ago. It's a really gripping murder mystery, although I think the reader is inevitably more interested in the mystery of Rob than the crime he and his partner Cassie are investigating. Perhaps that's the point? The murderer turns out to be rather obvious and the explanation is a bit heavy-handed in my opinion, so I wonder if plot suffered in favour of the inner workings of Ryan's mind. So the ending was a bit of a let-down to be honest.

The next book is The Likeness and now Rob's partner Cassie is our main character. She used to be an undercover police agent but gave it up when she got stabbed. One day her boyfriend, also a police detective on the murder squad, rings her and asks her to come out and look at a body. Turns out the corpse is the spit of Cassie, and not only that, has the identity that Cassie used when she worked undercover. What gives? Cassie heads undercover again, pretending to be the victim who has survived with memory loss, and infiltrates the group of friends our dead girl lived with in order to find the murderer. This one is absolutely well written and all but the characters of these students living together just don't really work for me. I get these Merchant and Ivory vibes that don't gel with Ireland at all. Granted, this is the point. But it doesn't gel. On the other hand, what do I know. French isn't Irish but has lived in Ireland permanently since 1990 after a globetrotter childhood, she studied at Trinity, she trained to be an actress there and surely should be more attuned to Irish society than I could ever claim to be. But still.

The next one then is Faithful Place and centers on Cassie's undercover agent police boss, Frankie Mackey. When Frank was 16 he was going to run away from home with his girlfriend Rosie, but she never showed up. After waiting, Frank left anyway and has never been back to Faithful Place. But then Rosie's suitcase is found in a derelict building on the street. Reluctantly Frank returns and makes contact with his family again, as Rosie's disappearance all those years ago, in Dublin of the 80s, becomes investigated as something suspicious instead of a voluntary escape to the freedom of - as everyone had assumed - London.

A lot of the interest for me in this is the description of what life was like for these very poor Dublin youths growing up well before any Tiger was seen in Ireland at all. The poverty, the religion, the feeling of being trapped, the abusive alcoholic father and no way out. It's not a bad family drama at all. All the same I'm not sure if the tone is altogether spot-on... I can't fault it really though. I liked it. I did like all three of the books, despite any quibbles, and I'd happily read more. Ken Bruen might feel more genuinely Irish in tone but Jesus he was an annoying writer so I'd rather have French any day.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Curtiss, Reilly

I owe these next two "reads" (oh how Dorothy Sayers would spin in her grave) to the most excellent blog Pretty Sinister Books. It is devoted to little-known or forgotten genre fiction and a veritable treasure trove for the likes of myself. It's pretty much (no pun intended) what I'd like my own blog to be, had I but been more clever and/or dedicated beyond the stumble-upon approach to literature. I've only just discovered it and find myself bookmarking all the posts. Sadly haven't had a chance to read the whole blog though.

Anyway, blogger John wrote a post about Ursula Curtiss novel The Deadly Climate, a post which also touched on Curtiss' mother, also a well-known and popular Golden Age author, Helen Reilly. Go and read it.  I'd never heard of either, jumped on library website, discovered that both authors were represented in Swedish translation only and buried in the cellar storage to boot, so I ordered one from each immediately. Thanks to interwebz I found out the title of The Deadly Climate in Swedish (Mördande atmosfär), so I got that one. Now, just look at the retro folks (and at my fingers and feet and the tube of vaseline that needs to be put away in the bathroom):

I started with Helen Reilly's novel Mourned on a Sunday (Sörjd på en söndag), because logically one should start with the mother and not the daughter, right?

Once this belonged to Svinnegarns församlingsbibliotek (Svinnegarn parish library). I just love that. Svinnegarn is a little place not far from Enköping. The church is a dominant building dating from the 13th century, and Svinnegarn was an important place of pilgrimage during the Middle Ages with one of Sweden's most famous sacrificial wells. So there you go. Thank you Wikipedia. It's worth noting that the parish of Svinnegarn doesn't exist anymore, it's been merged with a bigger parish since 2006.

Erm, the plot then? Well, there is an excellent summary and review here on Beneath the Stains of Time - a blog I just googled myself to and think I'll really enjoy! Bookmarked! That's handy for me. I wasn't superkeen on the book, something about the tone of it just annoyed me a little. Too much of Nora (heroine) stepping "lightly" and being slim and gorgeous. Part of it was maybe a translation woe though. The translator was competent but got some things wrong (would you like an example? well tough, my note-taking days are over :((( ). What I do remember was how referring to someone's age as "in his sixties" is translated as "i sextiotalet". That is bizarre-sounding now. Did people really say that? Or is that one of the mis-translations?

Ok, so then I read The Deadly Climate, or Mördande atmosfär as it is in Swedish.

Such old! Ha, I only speak doge because it drives my eldest INSANE. Her eyes close and she makes an expression of genuine PAIN.
One of the covers featured in Pretty Sinister Books' post. Very pleased about that. Also, curves, what?

I enjoyed this one more. The atmosphere is dense and there is a feeling of suspense. If I'm perfectly honest I don't completely buy the basic storyline, and that they can find no safe place for the witness to murder apart from in a house that is apparently under siege - but no matter, it's still enjoyable.

Look, it was somebody's homework:

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Meredith Pierce: Den fjortonde bruden/The Dark Angel

There's this thing going around Facebook right now (and NO ONE has nominated me, the feckers) where you list your ten favourite books, and a friend of mine had this on her list; a list she'd modified to be "ten most influential books". And I just was so struck with the memory of it. I immediately went to see if the library had it. They did, but only in Swedish. As a matter of fact, I think I might have read this very edition as a child, the cover art is the very same. 

My daughter thought this was so so lame, by the way. Almost as lame as me speaking doge. 

It's not very good, but it's hard to say if it's also the translation doing it no favours. This is high fantasy, so the language is supposed to be saga-like and formal - something that seldom translates well unless you have a terrific translator, more of an interpreter. I realised for example that the word quest is translated to spaning which is just no. But even in English I suspect it's lacking in lasting quality. A bit if a mix of Tolkien (the names definitely), Ray Bradbury (location: the moon?), even some Ursula LeGuin if I'm not way off... But I just don't get into this secondary universe. There are hints of science fiction but without scientific explanations - instead everything is solved by magic. It's a bit of a cop-out. Wouldn't mind reading it in English if it falls into my lap, but I won't go out of my way for it. Fun to revisit all the same! 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

stuff I read this summer or up until like september or so

When we went to Ireland I ploughed through my sister's Agatha Christies and some kids' books they had. And when I got home I was still on an Agatha Christie kick so I borrowed some more at the library and have also been watching Miss Marple on Netflix like some mad thing (the Joan Hickson ones, natch). I tried the Hercule Poirot too but that was just too camp; I couldn't take it. I can't believe they spent (or spend!) so much time and effort at all these Agatha Christie series and made them so shite. Those stiff actors who seem to be sitting on set just waiting for their lines, which they then deliver with the most obvious of acting cues, in manner of school play. I'm surprised they know what to do with their hands, I wouldn't raise an eyebrow if they stood there with their appendages dangling limply or with fingesrs laced together awkwardly over their crotch area, like true amateurs do. Really dire. But after a terrible first four or so episodes the Joan Hickson series does pick up a bit, and she is an excellent Marple. The best, the tops. However, what I like about vintage detective fiction is that there really is a lot of subtext and information about society at the time going on under a repetitive sort of over-structure , and I don't see why they ever pick up on this and play it up a bit when they film the stories. They could easily tweak them darker, or turn a spotlight just ever-so-slightly on the implied gay relationships (I'm not asking for new storylines to be added, thus corrupting the original story, mind, just more interesting bits), or just do anything instead of falling into that god-awful trap of going bananas over the costumes.  Costume away, my dear friends, but think Mad Men instead - script and eye candy. Also - please be period correct!  And a lot of information needed to understand the characters involved seems to go missing in the filming - understandable, because you don't want a scene with somebody reciting the biography of X, Y and Z, in the way you can in a novel, but at the same time it's worth pointing out that it is possible to shed light on the background and motivations of people in films too without voice-overs or recitals. Scripts people, they need work.

Now, I still can't say Christie's my favourite. My previous grumbles do stand, but I'm warming to her. She's uneven though, isn't she? I still find it difficult to guess the killer, which I put down to needing more information than what is given. I am probably in the wrong, since I admittedly don't read carefully enough. Anyway, brief notes below based on memory alone - I'm writing this post in mid-September and half the books were read in mid-August.

4.50 from Paddington is one of my favourites. A great suspenseful killing on a train, that is only witnessed by accident. Maybe I'm just a sucker for train anything after commuting for so long and having a son who was train mad as a youngster. I also like the general set-up, the crumbling grand house in the middle of a changing community, the clever young woman who helps miss Marple by taking a post as housekeeper. Pleasing.
A Pocket Full of Rye is a little less good. A little too fantastical. Also, one has to make a few imaginative jumps here to guess the killer, surely? It's not obvious just from the clues in the text, is it? Or am I stupid? (Don't answer that.)
The Princess Bride: OMG OMG OMG I've wanted to read this for soooo long, why haven't I? And there it was, in my niece's bookshelf!

I have, of course, loved the film since childhood, and I remember my cousin (who introduced me to it) saying that it was based on this book, and she'd heard that the ending was actually really sad and that the spells wore off so Wesley died and Buttercup returned to Humperdinck. I am very grateful that the ending isn't quite so sad. More ambiguous. This is funny, entertaining, and clever. I don't know what I'd have made of it as a child/teen, if I could have appreciated the way fact and fiction is melded; Goldman writes as though he's adapting an original novel, written by S. Morgenstern, and the book is riddled with notes on what Morgenstern's (boring) original is like, why Goldman is cutting those bits out, loads of commentary on Goldman's own private life (all lies), and this edition has the epilogue where Goldman is bypassed by Morgenstern's estate for the sequel in favour of Stephen King. It's just brilliant. I think I'd have swallowed all the lies, until clocking (being a European after all), that there are no such places as Florin and Guilder. The question is how long it would have taken me. I was confused even now, as an adult. Awesome.

A Wrinkle in Time: Why is this book a classic? One of the poorest works of fiction I've ever read. I am so confused. Not one proper character in the whole book.

Benny and Omar: This was fun to read, but I don't know if it's very good, really. It reads like Colfer went to Tunisia and thought he might make a book out of that, but not like a tonne of research went into it. It was funny to read while in Wexford and hearing the "syrupy accent", that the Tunisians fail to recognize as English, live.

Endless Night is an artsy Agatha Christie. Inside the mind of the killer and all that. Meh, really. Not badly written, just not interesting beyond the props.
Ask a Policeman was a bit of a disappointment. It's a collaboration between several members of The Detection Club:  Anthony Berkely, Milward Kennedy, Gladys Mitchell, John Rhode, Dorothy Sayers and Helen Simpson. Each writer (except Rhode who writes the general set-up first chapter and a concluding one if I remember correctly) wrote a chapter featuring another writer's favourite sleuth. This is a highly entertaining premise if you are accquainted with said sleuths already so you can appreciate the jokes even better - but sadly I am not. I've only read Mitchell and Sayers out of this lot (I borrowed the book because of Sayers, obviously). Frankly I was bored to tears by the end when Rhode worked through the "true" solution. Sayers's bit was very good though. It's worth reading the Goodread's reviews on the book, by the way. The preface in this edition is by Agatha Christie, but was originally written for a Soviet magazine or something so it's not book-specific. (Any mistakes in facts now are due to me having to return this book before writing any notes - someone had put in a reservation for it at the library. Imagine!)

I don't remember what this one is about at all. Let me google... Oh right! Now I remember!  There were bits of this that I quite liked, but I didn't like how everyone was perfectly okay with a child dying because he was "a horrid boy". So that's alright then, push him out the window. Right. Makes perfect sense. Put that in your Discovery channel documentary "What Made Britain a Sick Sick Place", thank you. It's all jolly good and I say and then KILL THE KIDS.
Ah, this was Christie being clever again, causing outrage among the readers I believe. She'd claim she's not breaking the whodunnit rules, but I don't know - she's definitely bending them. I was surprised at the solution but I don't know if I approve. Tut tut.

Aaannnnddd finally a Marian Keyes I picked up on a whim. This novel must have been written during her latest bout of depression. It's very sad in places, very moving. Unfortunately also a bit uneven. The story doesn't hang together all the way. I wonder why these aren't being filmed? If this was a Swedish writer in Sweden the film deals would have come so fast, you guys.

She should allow herself to not have to be funny, I think she could write a better book. That said, the depressing paint scheme of the missing singer's house is hilarious! I found a quote on Goodreads so I'm pasting it in here, since I don't have the book anymore: “He'd done his walls with paint from Holy Basil. God, I yearned for their colors. I hadn't been able to afford them myself but I knew their color chart like the back of my hand. His hall was done in Gangrene, his stairs in Agony and his living room--unless I was very much mistaken--in Dead Whale. Colors I personally very much approved of.”  Paint colours for the depressed! 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Marisha Pessl: Night Film

My eldest got this as part of a gift when she graduated from school this June. I told her great, I really enjoyed Special Topics of Calamity Physics, Pessl is really good! And apparently she thoroughly enjoyed Night Film herself. She was "gripped and hypnotised" as the covers promised - me not so much. Because a) why are random words emphasised in italics through the whole book? So annoying, like in comics! I stopped after half a chapter to read only the italicized words to see if they spelled a different story but if there is a code (there might still be) I didn't get it. Also, not one of the characters really came alive for me, so I didn't care thus didn't scare. A bit meh for me I'm afraid. Written like she wants a movie deal. 

Diana Wynne Jones: Enchanted Glass and The Lives of Christopher Chant

I had a hankering to read some Diana Wynne Jones. Christ, what an imagination that woman had! So much that if I'm truthful the stories aren't even finished, they're tacked together at the end with more bits of fantastic events and creations peeking in that we hardly get to know. Always ending with the feeling that there could be more - just perfect for kids. I wish I'd read all of hers as a child.

The pictures crack me up. Underneath Enchanted Glass you see the heat wave phenomenon of Swimming Towel Drying on Balcony and my pajama legs and bare toes. Christopher Chant is held by a hand already busy holding a sports bra. I am just the BEST at snapshots.

Rennie Airth: The Dead of Winter

Last I read a Rennie Airth book was back in 2006, and then I was in such a mindset that I liked it. I am in no such mindset now, instead the formula bores me. All these serial killer books are always written in the same way, I've long since stopped feeling any suspense. Airth isn't great at producing characters with personality either, it's more like he only tells us that they have personality (like the producers of Doctor Who, Torchwood and Sherlock do, they turn to the camera and say, hey, these people care about each other, ok? now we shall proceed with a television production that never makes  you feel it but that's ok because we're after telling you sure). You can see Airth's "this is personality" tricks a mile off. Anyway, serial killer, WWII, rations, snow, bombs. There you go. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Vary the length of your sentences please

In my second to last post I gave out about staccato writing, and thanks to soshul meeja I've found this link to Gary Provost's 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing. Quote:

 This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It's like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals--sounds that say listen to this, it is important.
Got to love the internet - there's always someone out there who has already expressed what you were thinking in a coherent and succinct manner.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


Completely unreadable. Completely. I'm guessing this goes for the entirety of the authorship.