Tuesday, December 26, 2006

All I read before and during Christmas

Allow me to start with a photo taken by my youngest daughter of my eldest daughter, posing with the gingerbread house we assembled on Christmas Eve. It's quite crooked (mea culpa) and the photo isn't too great (sua culpa, but sure she's only nine and a half and anyway I can't work the camera at all). Also available in photo for perusal - a sample selection of our books. See those big white volumes on the left? The Polish dictionary? My husband lugged those home from Poland years ago, unwrapped them, and discovered that a huge section of the P:s is missing. But we still keep it, because all the other letters of the alphabet are there, and every few years he looks something up.

Peter Dickinson: Perfect Gallows

A rather unique story, as the detective part is very much by-the-by. The main character is a celebrated actor, who has cause to remember how he once started out during the War. He is a ruthless person, who for the sake of his art uses people around him as he wants, and drops them as soon as they can't serve him any longer. One of the few people he genuinely liked, the black servant Samuel, apparently killed himself during the war, but the actor has always known he was murdered. He just chose not to mention any suspicions for fear of jeopardizing his budding career. So the novel is about the events leading up to the murder, but it's not about the crime per se, or solving it. It's well written though - also, it's another of Dickinson's racial tension novels; this seems to be a theme with him.

Josephine Tey: The Expensive Halo

Oh, I do like a Josephine Tey. She didn't write nearly enough. I thought this was another detective story, but it's not. However, since someone bursts out with "oh, it's a wonder no-one murdered Father long ago" somewhere in the first third of the book I really thought there would be a murder later on for aaaages, but there wasn't...

It's a lovely "period piece" about two siblings who, independant of one another, get involved with another brother and sister from a higher class of society. Tey captures the 1930s ennui of the upper-class youth beautifully. It's in some ways a very modern book, as we in general don't expect an author of this age to be so outspoken. There is a reference to someone trying cocaine now, the new thing. Also

She had four absorbing interests in life: contraception, the price of boiling beef, the rent money, and the Duchess of York.

"Some of my best friends are musicians. It's the crowd who hang around them I can't bear. Perhaps camp followers are always a despicable bunch. Even a prostitute is better than a pimp, I suppose. [...]"
The poor siblings are tormented by their choleric, religious, hypocritical father, and are desperate to get away, but remain under his roof for the sake of their mother. Women's rights are an important theme, and independance in general. It makes one sad to think that the war was only eight years away.

Ngaio Marsh: Light Thickens

This is the Dame's last novel, she died that very year. It's a novel mostly about Macbeth, with a murder at the end. But Macbeth is at the centre of things, in particular theatre production of the play. It's very charming, because her love of Shakespeare and theatre shines out on every page. We revisit the Dolphin theatre, a theatre than reappears frequently in her books, and even Pergrine Jay, whom we first met as the budding playwright in Death at the Dolphin. Now he is a respected director and owner of the place. It's a fine end to a distinguished writing career.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Visserligen har jag läst...

... men än viktigare: jag träffade på Frida som hastigast och vi jämförde magar. Det gick utmärkt eftersom vi råkade ha på oss samma mammabyxor (H&M, what can we say). Svårt att säga vems mage som var störst, Frida är ju lite mindre än jag dårå, så proportionerna blir fel (men jag tror nog jag var lite större, suck).

Troligen hinner jag inte blogga på riktigt förrän i mellandagarna (the inbetween days), så jag får önska alla läsare en trevlig helg...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Oh. My. God.

Lookee what I found. A King/McDermid novel! I don't read enough news at all. I'd completely missed this! This is what I want for Christmas! Except they don't have it in. *sigh*

Aaaaand we're sinking again

I've got a pile of books from the library to plow through next week at work, so I'd better blog about the last ones from last week before I start. Last week before Christmas, thanks be to Jesus, I don't know if I can take much more... I don't know why all manner of shite has to happen before Christmas, I really don't.

I've read two Michael Innes - not the two best ones I feel. I suspect the earlier work is the best, so I went rooting in the library cellar for older novels, and found a few. Give them a try and then see. I'm down to re-reading all the crime fic I like otherwise I think. The Art of Detection, Laurie R. King's latest is constantly out or reserved. Hey, I'll tell my eldest I want it for Christmas! She did ask.... but she can only afford a paperback, so I may see if that's out yet. Surely not already? I'll just have to wait...

Back to Innes. Death at the Chase features Innes major hero Lord Appleby, nowadays retired from Scotland Yard. Out walking he comes across a local character, convinced he's being persecuted and that his life is threatened over something that happened in France during the war. Appleby witnesses an attempt upon his life, and gets suckered in. Coincidentally his son Bobby also has business with the old man via a new friend. Not the best of books at all. An Awkward Lie also has Bobby cast as the lead, this time he finds a body in a bunker while playing a mornig round of golf. When the body is gone by the time the police get there he wants to clear his name in case he's perceived as a liar. Also forgettable. Although I'd rather read these than say Lisa Marklund. But hey...

Currently I've almost finished 'Tis, the sequel to Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt. It's not as good as Angela's Ashes, but it's still a good read, a story that wanted to be told. Angela's Ashes flows better though, and is more well-defined since it ends so well when he goes off back to New York. 'Tis is more vague in its temporal boundaries, and kind of just keeps going. I'd still recommend it though, for people who want to understand the Irish psyche - that psyche I'm touched by myself and desperate to understand...

Good hopes for next weeks reading - found some Ngaio Marsh and Josephine Tey in the cellar apart from the Michael Innes, so that's promising. Those two ladies have all the men whipped.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Friday, December 08, 2006

Christopher Priest: The Prestige

As you all may know, this novel has recently been filmed. We've had it for a while - it's one of those books that just Appear, courtesy of mr Bani, who then proceeds to walk around muttering about all the books we have and how we need to clear the clutter. I swear, for every book I buy he buys fifteen. I decided to read it since my library stash was depleted, even though I didn't really think it would be my Thing. I'm not sure why... I didn't think the cover looked that appealing, and the storyline, about two rival magicians who feud over a trick... I dunno, it wasn't buzzing me. Turns out I was slightly mislead by having seen film trailers.

See, I thought this was a relatively straightforward, linear tale of exactly that, rival magicians, whose feud has impact on their lives and the lives of their loved ones. And possibly a conflict over a girl. Actually, the novel has a distinctly Edgar Allan Poe-ish theme - something that took me so by surprise that I didn't really want to see it. I thought it would be all about illusion and sleight-of-hand, i.e. that the amazing tricks worked would be exposed as illusions. However, there is mysterious machinery and scantily descriped nearly-science with devastating effects - but they are real, not illusion. I've enjoyed the crime fiction I've read with magic themes - Jeffrey Deaver's The Vanished Man and Carol O'Connell's Shell Game - and this did lead me to expact more dénouement (my mot de jour, it seems)... but it was not to be. So I was very disappointed about half-way through, but perhaps unfairly so, I admit it. Anyway, the film trailers point to a more linear, traditional story, so I was taken aback. It seems like some of this Poe-ish feel might well be in the film aswell though, but I haven't read spoilers - yet.

It's not a bad book at all, but the very end is a severe letdown. It goes nowhere, and we the readers are left hanging completely.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I is working really hard

Edmund Crispin: The Glimpses of the Moon

I've read all the Crispin novels the library has to offer, and I need to remember that. I keep borrowing them thinking that I haven't, but I have. I have I have I have. And this one is the one with the pig's head - to help me remember. Not that they're not pleasant, it's just such a downer to think you have a virgin book and instead be left with... hang on, that was a bad metaphore getting worse. Forget it.

TGOTM has a cover proclaiming it to be "his first novel for over twenty years" and "well worth waiting for". It was published in -77, and must have been eagerly anticipated by his fans. Crispin has a very special (I was going to put "very unique", which would have been ironic as that is precisely the type of phrase that a Crispin book would take the piss out of, as something is either unique or not, right? so I changed my mind) style, very funny and literary, as the reviewers sometimes put it. For example:

[...]"Gobbo!" the Major rapped out in an army voice. "Answer the question, please!"

Luckily Gobbo had never been in the forces, so this worked. "Ur," he said. The current had reversed course, and he was coming back inshore again. "Ur. Ur, ur." All at once a spasm of energy seized him. "Er never," he began recapitulating, doppio movimento, accelerando. "Er never killed en. And I'll tell 'ee fer why. Cuz," he coda-ed triumphantly, allegro assai, "I wer talkin' to en."

I think this is hilarious. This is in the very beginning, and I giggled so hard I decided that the book had to be re-read. It's a good start, and we're thrown right in to the story, in which Gervase Fen, our professor and hero, has borrowed a cottage in a small village to get underway with his book on 20th century novelists. The murders interfere. They are actually incredibly gruesome, with decapitated and mutilated bodies, but they are covered with a sheet of Wodehouse-esque humour (I'm not claiming the humour is Wodehouse-esque. The Swedish library review on the inside cover is. I've never read Wodehouse, always been something unappealing about it to my mind. And now I want to even less, because I suspect the more Wodehouse in this Crispin, the less fun for me. It deteriorates into separate humouristic episodes that barely hang together. It's like reading one of those authors who is obviously desperate for his/her book to be filmed, and has the entire dialogue written in funny one-liners).

Let's see, what other notes did I make... From this book I learnt the names of the cow's four stomachs in English! Rumen, honeycomb, manyplies and abomasum. How odd are they??? I had some other potential quotes, but cannot be arsed. Must move on.

Michael Innes: The Ampersand Papers and Appleby's Answer

I randomly chose two Innes books too. They have in common some incredibly ignorant and hilariously funny (therefore) nobility, FYI. The Ampersand Papers is about possibly valuable literary manuscripts being stored in a delapidated castle tower for a lark, and Appleby's Answer is about a lady writer of detective fiction who provides a madman with a plot for murder - or not. I like Innes style, they are funny, literary (again, ha ha), and make you feel a bit smart, even though they aren't really a difficult read. The latter book also, possibly, contains a veiled P.D. James, as he writes about a woman who is considered the queen of detective fiction and used to work at the Foreign Office. A-ha, as Piglet tried to say.

Carter Dickson: The Ten Teacups

Carter Dickson is the same fella as John Dickson Carr, the master of the locked-room mystery. This is one such mystery, and a good one, if one knows about cricket pitching. He helpfully provides you with notes on where the clues to the solution where during the dénouement, which I find endearing.

Jeffrey Deaver: The Cold Moon

I was sort of watching the film version of The Bone Collector on the telly while I was reading this, and I was struck by how simple the film was compared to a Deaver novel, which will contain subplots in scores and red herrings in large quantities. In this one a serial killer appears called the Watchmaker - but of course all is not that simple, and I really don't want to say too much, as the transition from classic serial killer novel to a different kind of thriller is quite surprising and should be read if you enjoy this sort of thing.

But I will say this: it was OBVIOUS all along that Sachs wasn't going to quit cophood. God.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Ylva Elvin-Nowak: Världens bästa pappa?

The title of this book is in translation The World's Greatest Dad? I found it interesting enough to want to write about it in English, so all my readers can understand... (wink wink!) The author is a psychologist who for her doctoral thesis wrote about how Swedish mothers perceive their lives and roles (based on interviews), and this book is a sort of follow-up. She has interviewed 20 men about how they perceive fatherhood, how they have adjusted to it, what it means to them in everyday life etc.

One of the fundamental differences, she writes, is that women feel so much more guilty than men. To summarize, she argues that mothers today compare themselves to their mothers, who more often didn't work, and thus always come up short since they have more demands on their time. Whereas men also compare themselves to their fathers (who were rather more completely absent), and feel pretty damn good. She spotlights quite well how there is a different scale to measure good motherhood vs good fatherhood. A good mother always has to be a step ahead, a good father doesn't, he just has to deal with problems when they arise. Very interestingly, many fathers don't seem to get that everyday, hands-on responsability for their children until after a divorce, when they become sole caregiver half the time (in Sweden, I must add, it's quite common for children to live every other week with each parents after a separation).

Also, the book is illustrated with Berglin cartoons - always a bonus!

My favourite bit from the book has to be when one father says something to the effect of "it's always nice to see your kids grow up" and promises to take that month (!) of parental leave in the summer sometime. As the author says, a mother who said something similar would be seen as deranged. N.b. that in Sweden we have almost a year and a half of paid parental leave altogether...

I wanted to link here to the blog of a forum friend, who wrote about Spanish fathers a while back, but I can't find it at the moment. If/when I do, I'll come back and edit.

Edited - found link!