Friday, July 31, 2009

Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games

I read about this book in the paper ages ago - oh I know, it was before Christmas, because I remember saying to my sister-in-law that I thought my eldest would like it. She didn't get it, however, and I forgot about it, until a few weeks ago in the library when I happened to see it. Immediately I remembered the favourable review and how it had seemed like My Thing, so I borrowed it and got stuck in a few days later.... and couldn't put it down. This is a real page-turner, I was delighted. It is a book written for "young people", so it runs a risk of being too simple, too explicit and explanatory, but Suzanne Collins walks on the right side of the line and I love her for it. For me as an adult reader the book would have been just that little bit better if things weren't spelled out quite as much, but in all fairness it really isn't overdone and I totally accept it.

Sometime in an undetermined future the United States is no more (neither, I take it, is most of its current coastline). Instead we have a tyrannical state called Panem, consisting of a centre, the Capitol, and twelve tributary districts, who were subdued after an uprising a century or so ago. Almost everything the districts produce goes to the Capitol. And every year the cruellest sacrifice is claimed - a boy and a girl from each district has to go to the Capitol and fight each other to the death in a kind of reality show, set in a climate-controlled wilderness with added dangers. One of the poorest districts is the twelfth one, in what is now Appalachia. Its children hardly ever win the Hunger Games. Katniss, our heroine, volunteers to fight, and is joined by Peeta, whose feelings she is unsure of. During the Games, Katniss rebellious spirit is kindled, and she starts to wonder if there is anything she can do to change the outcome.

I read somewhere that one of the great things about the book is how it caters for both sexes, as it has descriptions of stylists and outfits aswell as fights and deaths. It may be so, and if so it's even more to Collins's credit that she can write about a girl and still find her male readers. I loved this, and am already looking forward to the second book. Oh, and another great thing? The way the book ended, it wasn't completely obvious that there would be a second one. Subtlety. I like it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

P.G. Wodehouse: Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves; Jeeves in the Offing; Jeeves Takes Charge; Carry On, Jeeves

When I picked up this lot (in June I think, ahem) I immediately started to feel suspicious. I had only read one of these short story collections, remember, yet the illustrations on the covers of this new lot of books seemed to be about stories in that first one. And hey ho, suspicions confirmed: some idiot at Vintage press sometime or other thought it a great idea to print Wodehouse collections with the same story featured more than once, i.e. in more than one of the books. So you carry home books that are worth say 30 stories but you get 20, the same 20 mixed up in different constellations.

Eejits. It's a nice pleasant read alright but I won't be (unless I really really have to) borrowing books from this particular edition series any more.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Dennis Lehane: Coronado

This is a collection of short stories, and one play, the title's Coronado. The play is based on the second-to-last story, About Gwen, a story Lehane reworked and rewrote into a play for his brother's theatre company. I will confess that I won't read the play, I find reading plays an awful chore because I lack imagination. I enjoyed all the stories though, and will only repeat that Lehane is wasted when being labelled a crime writer solely. As a matter of fact I was repeatedly reminded of Annie Proulx. It's something about the way they both tell us something about America, about Americans.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Marcello Fois: Den försvunne fåraherden och Blod från himlen

Jag upptäckte att jag skrivit upp den här författarens namn i min kalender, vilket måste innebära att jag läst något fördelaktigt om honom i en tidning någonstans och ville komma ihåg honom. Alltså lånade jag hans tre deckare om advokat Bustianu från biblioteket innan jag skulle på en veckas semester, med tanken att dessa tre vore alldeles lagom att läsa ut på en vecka med familjen (de är inte särskilt omfångsrika). Men så när jag höll på att packa ångrade jag mig - tänk om jag inte skulle gilla dem alls? Då skulle jag inte ha någonting! På tåget! Så jag packade Jane Austen istället och del två i Ariana Franklins medeltidsdeckarserie. Mer om detta följer. Det visar sig nu att jag gjorde rätt, för visserligen går det alldeles utmärkt att läsa dessa romaner (Fois alltså - varning förresten, länken går till författarens usla hemsida med musik och allt), men de griper inte tag i mig ett skvatt.

Den första börjar i tredje person, som någon som berättar om advokat Bustianu efter vad hans far berättat för honom, men växlar plötsligt till första person, dvs advokaten själv beskriver och berättar. Dessa delar är bättre, får mer känsla. Så i bok två verkar han ha övergått till första person helt och hållet, men jag tror inte jag kommer att läsa ut den för jag blir helt enkelt inte intresserad. Problemet är egentligen inte historien, utan diverse manér i skrivsättet - en tendens att avsluta repliker med tre punkter vaddetnuheter ( ... ) till exempel. Det stör mig, det stör min läsupplevelse. Sedan tror jag inte översättningen fångar texten riktigt. Det är bara en misstanke, vad kan jag för italienska utöver tutti frutti... Men med all respekt för Helena Monti känns det fel att människor i slutet på 1800-talet säger att "fåraherden råkade i trubbel", samtidigt som texten peppras med "förvisso" och "sannerligen". Återigen - detta stör min läsupplevelse. Jag upplever boken som lite styltig, och tror helt enkelt att den bör läsas i original. Om jag får tid och lust kanske jag läser en engelsk översättning någon gång för att jämföra, vi får se.

För den som är intresserad handlar bokserien om en advokat på Sardinien, under slutet av förrförra seklet, som skriver poesi och hyser ett passionerat rättvisepatos. Karaktären har tydligen en förebild i verkligheten. Det är ganska korta berättelser med lite nostalgisk karaktär. Inte oläsvärt, men jag slutar nu.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Dennis Lehane: Shutter Island

It may surprise you to know that it was actually my husband who borrowed this from the library - I can't remember why, maybe because he saw the film trailers? or maybe it was just recommended to him by an accquaintance? No matter. He read it and quite liked it, but he complained of there being a twist that he saw coming a mile off. So I read it too, and I did not see the twist coming. More fool me, perhaps, it's not a strikingly unusual nor original sort of twist, but I was quite prepared to take the story at face value. The twist therefore came as a bit of a surprise to me, and I found myself reluctant actually to accept it. More so since something is said in the prologue that makes it possibly that the twist is not true. (I'm being purposefully oblique here because I really wouldn't want to spoil the read for anyone…) So I liked this quite a bit. Lehane is a good writer, and he made a refreshing break from The Unconsoled (ha!) which I was "reading" at the time. I tend to pass by the Lehanes at the library, for no good reason at all finding myself going "nah" and choosing something else. Perhaps I should make it my objective to read them this summer. I have read Mystic River too, and liked it. His books are generally placed in a crime or thriller genre, but he is skilled enough to give them something more, really literary qualities. In fact I was thinking of this after finishing the book and looking again at the cover, which is black and disturbing with the title in a jagged script and Lehane's name overshadowing it all - had the cover been a plain beige with a plain title, and had the print of the whole novel been smaller, thus making the volume slimmer - well then it would be considered a different type of book altogether.

Story: on the isolated Shutter Island stands an asylum for the criminally insane. Two federal marshals arrive to conduct an investigation into the disappearance of one of the prisoners, a woman convicted of murdering her children. Gradually they start to see that all is not what it seems, and that something else is going on on the island. There, that could be a blurb that, but it really doesn't do the book justice. Nor can it if I don't want to risk spoiling it.

Anyway, I've already borrowed Coronado by same author, so I'll be back with opinions.

Edited 11th July:

Right, here's an opinion I forgot, that reading Coronado reminded me of: one of the things I liked best about Shutter Island is how wonderful Lehane is at describing men's emotions. He really goes all out and allows men to love, totally and overwhelmingly, and then despair utterly and bitterly when they've lost their love. It's not that often that I see that in a book (possibly I read the wrong kind of books, you say). His descriptions of emotions don't feel trite, pretentious or made up, ever. He also allows his characters to admit to their feelings. Hm, what I want to say seldom comes out when I sit down at the keyboard, but I'm trying to convey an idea that writing like that helps liberate men from a stereotype where you either don't connect with your emotions at all or distance yourself from them with a certain debonair cynicism. Do you see what I mean?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Kiran Desai: The Inheritance of Loss

I read about half of this, so I think a blog entry isn't uncalled for. I didn't finish it though, and since it was overdue at the library I had my husband return it the other day. There is no good reason why I didn't read it all. It's a very good book, really, and it should have pushed all my buttons - yet it just never grabbed me hard enough. Who knows why these things happen or don't; the silliest books can end up being the most meaningful you've ever read, and books that you can objectively see are great do nothing for you. I'll probably return to this some day, I find myself thinking more about it now that it's not in the house…
There were two parallell story lines. One is about a young woman, living in her grandfather's crumbling mansion somewhere near the border to Nepal since the death of her parents. The other is about their cook's son, who is trying to make a living in America.
I recommend it even though I got restless with it. According to this blog (in Swedish) it picks up pace towards the end, and also the blog author loves Desai's first one more. So I might get that one instead first.