Saturday, September 30, 2006

Liz Jensen: War Crimes for the Home

Another one from E's care package. And I'm very glad she sent me this one, as I'd never have picked it up myself. It's a very sad and brutally honest tale about a young girl in Bristol during the war, and I found it very touching. We get to know her as an old woman in a nursing home, remembering bits and pieces from the past after her stroke. Her only son has just discovered that she might have lied to him about his background all his life, and starts pressuring her for facts. The young GI from Chicago - was he really her husband, and the father of her child? I don't want to reveal too much about the story, as the gradual unravelling of Gloria's painful wartime past is the whole point of the book. I found it hugely refreshing to read an account of life in wartime Britain that wasn't so to speak coloured by nostalgia, by a sense of loss when thinking about a time when the country united in defiance of Hitler, and shared camaraderie while making jam out of carrots (as Bridget Jones puts it). Gloria's war is harrowing trudgery, with sex as a highlight. It's very sad, but also very funny in parts. Highly recommended, I'm going to read more of Jensen's work.

Terry Pratchett: A Hatful of Sky

Got this for my eldest daughter who is on this fantastic Pratchett-kick, but only for the Mac Nac Feagles. So far.

This is Tiffany the witch at age 11, off to apprentice at an old witch's house. Unfortunately she steps out of her body, and becomes possessed by an ancient creature, full of greed and spite.

Pratchett is always Pratchett, and this is no different. I liked it.

Qiu Xiaolong: En röd hjältinnas död

Vi jobbar på va?

Den här har jag länge velat läsa (eller nåja, länge och länge, DN-artikeln som tipsade mig trycktes någon gång i somras tror jag). Vår hjälte Chen Cao är en poet som blivit polis eftersom det är det jobb han blivit tilldelad. Dock är han inte direkt någon idealist eller drömmare, utan kan vara nog så pragmatisk. Boken inleds med ett kvinnolik som flyter upp i en flod. Det visar sig att den döda är en nationell mönsterarbetare - en sådan som paraderas politiskt som ett föredöme för landet. Hennes mord verkar först vara ett fullständigt mysterium. Hon verkar inte ha haft något privatliv att skapa fiender i, men Chen Cao och hans assistent Yu börjar snart hitta hemligheter. Och fallet är verkligen politiskt känsligt.

Boken är inte tillnärmelsevis så bra som jag hade hoppats efter alla lovord. Den är tungrodd och styltig (och jag tror inte att översättaren ska bära hela hundhuvudet för det, för jag har fått nöjet att läsa "the advance uncorrected proofs" av en av författarens romaner på originalspråk, och mannen är en stilistiskt sett en smärre katastrof). Själva deckarhistorien kommer i skymundan för miljöskildringen, som i och för sig är väldigt intressant. Det är ju inte ofta man får tillfälle att dyka in i den kinesiska vardagen i populärlitteraturen.

Framför allt blir man oerhört hungrig. Oerhört. Jag är så fruktansvärt sugen på god kinamat nu så det är inte sant. Folk bara äter. Åh vad gott det verkar (utom kattköttet då). Tydligen är maten bland det Xiaolong saknar mest från hemlandet, och det märks. Vad ska jag göra? Får kanske åka till Stockholm och äta på Hos (Ho's? En anglicism?) som Frida rekommenderar. Måste bara bli rik först. Så jag känner att jag kan unna mig.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Slowly catching up

I started writing this blog post on the 21/9, but because my home is the way it is and I am the way I am I was interrupted and didn't finish. Sad, isn't it? But here we go again, I have a lot of books to write about, and I'll just have to take them one step at a time.

The lovely and generous E gave me a most marvellous care package, containing not only lovely chocolates, sweets, a cd, bubble bath and more but also a load of books she, well, I guess she needed to clear out. ;-) Anyway, I was thrilled to bits. I got the latest Sara Paretsky, plus the earlier one (Blacklist) which I've read but apparently not blogged about. Also a few non-fiction intellectual ones (fun! the sort of stuff I never choose myself otherwise because I'm lazy) and more. I will be blogging about them all. And it is better to write about one at a time than about none, so I'll start with:

Sara Paretsky: Fire Sale

The latest Sara Paretsky is a crack-down on Walmart. In this one V.I. returns to the South Side to coach basketball when her own old coach gets cancer. The neighbourhood used to be poor, but people had work back in V.I.'s youth, when the mills were open. Now, the biggest employer is the discount supermarket By-Smart, owned by fundamentalist Christian family Bysen. By-Smart systematically keeps employees on part-time contracts (thus being able to refuse them health insurance and other benefits), and is also pressuring local contractors to work more for less. Being practically the only employer left the company has enormous power. V.I. soon gets sucked into (pro bono) drama.

This is one of the best Paretsky's I've read. I like how V.I. has mellowed since your man what's-his-name (can't remember at the moment and can't be bothered to go and find the book) came into her life. She seems more her age now, and I like that. A more believable character, somehow. The intrigue worked well, even if the solution and conclusion was a bit far-fetched - then again, the Knutby incident right under our noses has taught us that nothing really is... The social criticism gives food for thought, as usual in a Paretsky novel, and works very well with the story. Recommended.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The last books from the book-swap

Joan Wallis Martin: Dancing With The Uninvited Guest

I don't think I've read any of Martin's books before. This was a bit of a fumble in the dark, but hey, it was book-swapping day and all books were free and came with no strings attached. So why not try it.

The book centres around the disappearance of a young girl and the lord of an ancient and spine-chilling crumbling manor. Everybody assumes that they've run off together, at first. When evidence suggests otherwise and the police start investigating, they discover that the son of the manor exhibits strange and violent behaviour. Is he mad, or is he possessed? And has he killed the girl? Also, a famous psychic turns up to offer the police his help, and the lady of the manor calls in a paranormal psychologist.

Then there are a few subplots.

Anyway, to sum up. This is not a bad novel really. First, it quite skilfully walks that line between ghost story and detective story, leaving us wondering whether the demonic possession theory is true for example. At the end however, there is a rational explanation for everything, and sadly this becomes something of an anti-climax, as we become too invested in the demonic possession to have it debunked in less than a paragraph - with the possessed not even in the room. So it peters out. But it's a good enough travel read.

John Grisham:
The Broker

Again: it was free, people. I'm not a huge Grisham fan, his characters are always a bit flat, and he's quite rubbish at portraying women. This one's not too bad though, if you don't want your brain to work too hard.

The Broker is Joel Backman, a lawyer/power broker/lobbyist who was sent to federal jail for um, lots of stuff, but keeping the big secret close to his chest. Anyway, so the current president is spending his last few hours in power pardoning prisoners, and the CIA convinces him to free Backman. They hope they will find out what he knows by taking note of which foreign government agency that manages to get him killed. They ship him off to Italy, and tell him to learn Italian because this is where he'll be hiding out from now on. And then the book is about Backman trying to break free from the CIA's clutches and reveal his secrets without getting killed.

Basically, this book is about learning Italian, how great Italian food is and how stylish Italian people are. It's Grisham's version of a travel book, I suppose. You can tell how proud he is of his Italian prowess. Aw.

Next entry will be about books my lovely friend E gave me. Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

What I've read on my travels

I'm back from spending a week in Poland, a trip occassioned by my husband's cousin's wedding. Books where brought and read. I also fried my brain by talking Polish a lot.

Alexander McCall Smith: The Full Cupboard of Life
This is the one in which J.L.B. Maketoni evades a parachute jump and he and Precious Ramotswe get married. And that about sums it up. Still heart-warming books!

Harper Lee:
To Kill A Mockingbird
I was recommended this by my good friend E, who sometimes comments on the blog. She is an editor so has to read a lot of shite for work, and said that it was a pleasure reading something so good. So mr Bani went and bought it and some other books (as is his wont), and I am pleased that he did, even though I despair at the state of our flat.

This is a classic story, and obviously I'd heard of it, but for some reason I'd always thought it was sort of a lad's book, sort of Hemingwayish. I will admit to not actually having read any Hemingway, for I am sorely prejudiced against him for some reason (the laddish themes I imagine his books have most likely), and I really should atone and go and immerse myself in his work right away.

Anyway, this is not a laddish book at all. It's a story about a lawyer in a small town in Alabama in the 1930s, who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman. The book is written from the point of view of his tomboyish daughter, who is about eight. A great part of the book does not concern itself with the trial at all, but tells about the girl's and her brother's childhood pastimes, and most of all their fascination with the next door recluse, Boo Radley. (This becomes important towards the end.) Harper Lee manages to show us the deep immorality of an apartheid system such as this, how it corrupts otherwise sane and reasonable people and poisons their souls. It's not always a case of telling people to feck off and stuff it, you may love them, respect them and like them even if they are beyond reason when it's a question of race. All this through the innocent eyes of a child - which leaves us with a feeling of hope, after all. I enjoyed it very much, and I'm glad I didn't read it earlier, as I think I actually appreciate it more now that I'm older.

Then I came home, and picked up the Ian Rankin novel I'd forgotten. I'd half finished it before the trip, and meant to bring it for the plane. Just as well that I forgot it, I had plenty to read anyway. This one is called A Question of Blood, and is about a shooting at a private school. One of the murdered boys is a relation of Rebus's, and the killer is ex-SAS, like himself.

It's not too bad, but I just can't take to Rebus. I have this feeling that Ian Rankin could've done a lot more with the character, but now he's just this maudlin alcoholic with a gift for punning. I can read it, but it doesn't really leave me wanting more. I only got this one because we went to this book-swapping day at mr Bani's colleague's house.