Sunday, August 30, 2009

Haruki Murakami: After Dark

I picked this up on a whim, reasoning that I should probably read Murakami because after all he is well-known etc. But to be honest I wasn't terribly interested, so the book was the last one left in the big pile I'd brought home… And now that I read it I'm not sure I'll read more by him (unless I get a terrific tip in the comments). Frankly I found it more pretentious than anything else.

A young man called Takahashi meets a girl, Mari, in a restaurant late at night. They are previously accquainted through her sister. This sister has, which Takahashi doesn't know, been asleep these past two months. Mari has decided that tonight she doesn't want to be at home, she is going to spend the night awake, in the city. So half the book is following what Mari does on her night awake. This half is fine. I can't say I loved it or that it moveed me deeply, but it's a good little snippet of modern Japan in a way. The other half is the strange things that are happening to Eri. Her telly turns itself on despite being unplugged, and shows a strange large room, and suddenly she is in the room inside the telly, and bla bla bla. What this has to do with Mari's half of the story I don't really know. Was it necessary with all the mysterious stuff in order to weave a tale around these two sisters and their relationship? Mostly meh. I am also a bit distracted by the translation, which despite being good I suppose is much too American for me. The translator has opted for writing what I suppose to be Japanese everyday language as American ditto, so it's full of "what do ya think?" and "gonna". Hm.

Stieg Trenter: Aldrig Näcken

Jag minns inte vem det var som tyckte att jag borde läsa Stieg Trenter ... Eller borde och borde, jag tror vi pratade om deckare och Stieg Trenter nämndes som en klassiker… ja det kanske var att jag borde läsa honom då, eftersom han är en sådan klassiker. Så nu senast på det lokala biblioteket (förresten: ett bibliotek, men en bibbla. Eller hur?) plockade jag åt mig en som såg hyfsat gammal ut (enligt principen att de äldsta böckerna i en serie är de mest läsvärda), och som enligt kritikercitaten på omslaget var "det bästa han skrivit".


Den här Trenterdeckaren är lite atypisk har jag förstått i det att det inte är hans hjälte Harry Friberg som är huvudperson, utan någon ung dambekant till den store mannen vid namn Eva nånting. Mattsson? Får väl hämta boken strax och kolla. Hon åker ut till en väninnas sommarställe för att hålla henne sällskap. Väninnan är gift med en mycket rik och svartsjuk man, en man som snart hittas död på en holme i närheten. Alla tycks ha alibin. Harry Friberg är som sagt mestadels frånvarande i boken, men närvarande i anden. Han kommunicerar med polisen (som har en sådan hög aktning för honom att det blir konstigt) och Eva via brev och telefon, och dyker upp på slutet för att röka cigarr tror jag det är och avslöja hela brottet.

Den har ett märkligt språk, som pendlar mellan slang - gammalmodig sådan - och ett ganska formellt språk. I synnerhet i dialogerna märks det, eftersom titulerandet lever och frodas. Samtidigt som han skriver dej och mej och som sagt lite slanguttryck som jag inte minns på rak arm nu, så frågas alltså om inte "Agda vill ha en smörgås" och dylikt. Så på sätt och vis illustrerar den väl väl en brytningstid i svensk kultur.Alla knaprar förresten tabletter hela tiden, vilket också är väldigt tidstypiskt. Leve de moderna lugnande medlen! Det är nästan så att jag undrar om författaren sponsrats av läkemedelsföretag ... Dialogerna kan för övrigt vara kvicka, vilket är skojigt. Trenter har lagt ner mycket möda på att beskriva naturen och miljön i den skärgård där boken utspelar sig. Det lär ju vara hans signum, fantastiska Stockholmsskildringar - här blir det naturskildringar då. Och jo, jag gillar ju sådant, det är ju det som är det roligaste med gamla deckare, att de ger en sådan god bild av ett svunnet samhälle, lite i förbigående sådär. Men men men… som ni märker är jag inte begeistrad. Den där Harry Friberg upplevs som en deus ex machina mer än något annat, och mordet sen! Suck. Ja ja, jag ska väl inte avslöja hur mördaren betedde sig med kroppen för att få den dit han ville, men jag tycker det är högst osannolikt att det inte skulle vara alldeles för lätt att avslöja.

Äsch, lite tråkigt mest. Jag blev inte så förtjust som jag hade hoppats. Jag kanske läser fler Trenters, men inte blir det för intrigernas skulle misstänker jag.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Kate Atkinson: When Will There Be Good News?

The third and so far last in Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series, as promised. Like I wrote before, I fell in love with the first one, was a little disappointed in the second - so I was fervently hoping that book three would bring us back to the form of book one. It does and it doesn't - it is more of a linear detective story than Case Histories, but it's not as knuckle-draggingly obvious crime fiction as One Good Turn... oh,knuckle-draggingly is perhaps a bit harsh, but I mean it just by the way of comparison, you understand. When Will There Be Good News has a lot more interesting characters and delves more into human sadness, yet it doesn't measure up to Case Histories. Maybe I just can't be surprised anymore, which means that Atkinson should abandon the crime fic project and find something else to wow me with... This is still a good novel though.

It takes place a few years after One Good Turn, when both Jackson and the DCI Louise Munroe have gotten married - not to each other, mind. Jackson accidentally (in both senses of the word) turns up in Edinburgh, and is roped in by the young girl who saves his life to help her find the woman she babysits for, who has disappeared with her son. This woman lost her family in a murder when she was a child, and has heroically created a new normal life for herself. The book compares her to another woman who is a victim of domestic violence, as Munroe wonders whether it's possible to let go of such a violent start and put it behind you, as Joanna Hunter seems to have done. And so it floats along, with no terribly surprising turns but some good character description - until the very end when we get two or three great little twists, one of them slipped in almost by the by. I did like it a lot. Recommended!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dennis Lehane: A Drink Before the War

This is from the Kenzie-Gennaro series, about two private eyes in Boston. It's a lot about class, poverty, race - reminded me a bit about The Wire actually, but I think The Wire is better. This novel was a bit hero-worshipping, and I don't think it should have been. I mean it worshipped its heroes, even though the one is a philandering man and the other a woman who despite knowing better stays in an abusive relationship (which, btw, her partner does not report to the police). I can't say I didn't enjoy it, but it really wasn't Lehane at his best. Too hard-ball noir cool detective. Example:

I hung up and felt a slight swell of warmth in my chest, like hard liquor on a cold night before the bitter kicks in. With Bubba and devin around, I felt safer than a condom at a eunuchs convention.

One-liners galore. I'll probably read others from the series, but I was disappointed.

Story: Patrick Kenzie is approached by a politician to find his former office cleaning lady, who has disappeared with some "important documents". Turns out this is stretching the truth of course, and then there's a gang war with plenty of shooting. Ta-da!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Annie Proulx: Accordion Crimes

Oh, this book is the best yet. Where Postcards was a little disorganized, what with the postcard bits being both hard to read and a little random, and The Shipping News a little bit too happy, this one is just about perfect. And imagine, when I started reading it, I didn't really want to, I struggled a bit. I wanted to read something less challenging I think, something that wouldn't dig into my soul. But very soon this had me hooked, and I couldn't put it down.

In the late 19th century a poor Sicilian makes an accordion (from bits he's stolen from his previous job), and when he emigrates to the USA with his son the accordion goes with him. The instrument is going to make his fortune, that's the plan, but his life comes to a violent and sad end, and the accordion passes on. And so we get a story of America, of immigrants who cling to their culture and language and music, of minorities whose families have been on the continent a long time now but who are still not yankees, and of the African-American tragedy, the ones who were first (well, second) but who never counted. It's just beautiful. The woman can write about polka music and make it sound like the most heart-wrenching dramatic thing ever.

I wrote on the scrap of paper I was using as a bookmark that there was one passage I wanted to quote, because it sums up so well why Annie Proulx is such a wonderful writer:

That poor man a machine for working, the bruised hands crooked for seizing and pulling, for lifting boxes and baskets, for grasping. The arms hung uncomfortably when work stopped. He was made for work, eyes squinted shut, the face empty of the luxury of reflection, mouth a hole, stubbled cheeks, a filthy baseball cap, wearing a cast-off shirt until it rotted away. If there was beauty in his life, no-one knew it.

That really moved me. I think she's Nobel Prize material.

Warming the cockles of a mother's heart

My eldest daughter who is 14 is reading Pride and Prejudice, and asking which other ones we have that are sort of like it. I have to give a big hand to the makers of the recentish film starring Keira Knightley and what'shisname, because it was after watching that one evening last week that she took the plunge. "Well, I don't understand that much and they use lot's of words I don't know, but it's good. I like when there's, like, intrigue." What greater praise is there - Harold Bloom, eat your heart out. I am working on my Jane Austen post, and this encourages me even more.

I'm running about three books behind on the blog, especially now since the littlest Bani slipped on a wet bathroom floor this Saturday and got a spiral fracture to his right leg. He occupies the computer during his waking hours, demanding Moomin films from YouTube. Poor little thing - and poor the rest of us I suppose!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Neil Gaiman: Anansi Boys

As you may have noticed, I do read Neil Gaiman, but I seldom seek him out. I don't know why actually (and it may change now), but I suspect I was scarred from the Sandman comi... sorry, graphic novels, a genre I do not understand at all. However, Gaiman is a bit of a genius actually. I should really have borrowed American Gods first, since this was his first foray into novels (not comics) on the theme of modern mythology and what-would-the-gods-be-doing-now type of thing. But the cover of Anansi Boys said it was funny, so I went for the comedy.

Fat Charlie Nancy learns that his father is dead, which doesn't upset him at all, since the old man was always making a spectacle of himself and playing practical jokes on people, including him. But at the funeral he learns that not only was Daddy a god, the spider god Anansi, but Fat Charlie has a brother, who leans more to the magical side of the family. Getting to know brother Spider unleashes the supernatural into Charlie's life, and gets them both chased by an ancient enemy of the Anansi bloodline.

I'm quite thrilled with this book, thrilled to the point where I'm pondering whether it shouldn't be required reading in schools, to introduce kids to the wealth of African storytelling and mythology. Gaiman manages something which many (white) authors fail at: he writes about African mythology and black people without falling into the trap of making either of them extra-sweet and super-heroic out of some sort of sense of guilt. The book is suffused with the joy of storytelling and a genuine admiration and respect for the oral traditions of black culture. But people are people, with weaknesses and all. He also is clever enough to never specify someone as black Black's the default. I love that he thought of that - perhaps it even came naturally to him? I have to admit that I would have had to make a conscious decision to not specify race unless white, so more credit to him if he didn't have to. Also, although there is a hint of someone who either enjoys the cinema and writes with that in mind or someone who is an author of graphic novels, he NEVER goes too far. He never puts in a load of one-liners as though desperate for Paramount to make a call. I LOVE THAT. (According to Wikipedia someone wanted to film it but make it "white", and Gaiman turned it down. If so, well done. I'd like to see this filmed, but not by just anyone. A subtle touch is needed.)

Saturday, August 08, 2009

P.G. Wodehouse: Summer Moonshine

Ha, am I Mrs Update or WHAT? I borrowed this not-in-a-series Wodehouse because my li'l sis said that they're the best ones. And yes, it's quite rather very satisfying as a novel, I have to say. It's funny, it's amusing, it's witty, its dialogue sometimes sparkles. Good summer reading! Story: a penniless baronet owns a hideous house that he hopes to sell to an American widow. She has two stepsons, one who is not disowned, who while staying at the house falls in love with the Baronet's secretary, and one who has been cast off, who has just become a successfull playwright and has by chance fallen in love with the Baronet's daughter, who is in love with the widow's toyboy. Phew.

What I especially find sweet is the US-Anglo angle in Wodehouse. In such a natural way the twain mix and mingle.

Friday, August 07, 2009

more from Paretsky's blog

Look at all the reading tips!

Sara Paretsky has a competition on her website!

Don't miss the chance to win an autographed copy of the latest V.I. Warshawski novel!

Kate Atkinson: Case Histories and One Good Turn

It was completely by chance that I first saw One Good Turn at the library. I was convinced there was nothing and oh well, maybe I could get a few Agatha Christies anyway. Instead I brought home a pile of ten books, no Christies among them at all. Ha. I saw One Good Turn on the paperback shelf and thought hm, I do like Atkinson, why not? and when I read the back I saw that she'd turned to crime writing, and that this was the second one, so I got the first too and read them in order. And oh, was I impressed with Case Histories. I couldn't put it down and I cried and I cried. This is not crime fiction, this is a novel about crimes, with the red thread of the private investigator Jackson Brodie as a means to tell us the stories of several people who've met with tragedy and pain and loss, all gradually revealed as the book progresses - so that when all is told at the end we find out that some of our presumptions were wrong, altogether. If you like crime fiction at all you must read this book!

While I was reading I was thinking of what to write to convey that feeling of melancholy, the pervading sadness in the novel, but now I've read the second book and another in between so I've lost the words - just trust me, it's worth it. In contrast, the second one is more like a classic crime novel. I think Atkinson might have been playing around with the genre a bit, but I don't think it's a complete success, I'm left feeling a bit "meh" all the same. I didn't love it as much, it felt too much like Part Two, it was more obviously funny in parts, and we weren't confronted with people's personal loss as forcefully as in Case Histories - here, the murders were of people we didn't get to know, and if we did, we didn't like them. I hope the third book swings back, and I hope she doesn't get stuck in a crime series genre. I'll be reading no. 3 as soon as I can, and in the meantime I've got my fingers crossed.

Ursula K. Leguin: Rocannon's World

This is one of LeGuin's earliest novels, and she places it at the beginning of the Ekumen books, if only for that reason. The Ekumen doesn't exist yet, instead we have a League of Worlds, that isn't as respectful and non-interfering as the Ekumen at all. They have interplanetary wars and everyfink. This is the book I picked up for 20 kr in a second-hand book dealer's in Stockholm, and the fecking thing was falling apart as I was reading. What a waste of money! But speaking of spending money, apparently there's an edition with this book, Planet of Exile and City of Illusions all in one, and that would be quite nice to have. Although, to be honest, I'd have to read the latter two first for free, because maybe (backtracking!) they're not that good and I don't want to own them. Hm, tricky and pondersome.

So first I read the blurb on the back of the book, and my, was it funny. It's so funny I have to quote the whole thing. Ready?

"On the far planet of Fomalhaut II, where three races lived in uneasy peace, the Starlords had landed generations back in their great ships to levy tribute on behalf of the League if All Worlds. Now disaster had struck, and Rocannon, the expedition leader, was marooned on that distant world, eight years away from the nearest planet.

His friends murdered and his spaceship destroyed, Rocannon led the battle to save Fomalhaut II, in strange alliance with the three native races - the cavern-dwelling Gdemiar, the elvish Fiia and the warrior-clan Liuar. And in that desperate battle against an alien foe the myths were born and the legends grew. They were not his people, but the place became Rocannon's World."

Isn't it hilarious? You can almost hear the deep voice intoning it for the sci-fi special on Friday night. This is an interesting mix between science-fiction and fantasy, since the warrior clan are, well, just that, and speak like something from the more high-falutin' pages of Tolkien, all while they hack at people with swords. I'm not sorry I read it, but it's not fantastic. Bits of it are though. Bits are GREAT.

Alexander McCall Smith: The Careful Use of Compliments

This is "an Isabel Dalhousie novel", as the cover helpfully states. Isabel has her baby, doesn't live with nor want to marry the baby's father, Jamie, because even though she loves him it doesn't feel fair to him since he's so much younger. She wants to buy a painting, but is it a forgery? And if so, who painted it?

That's about it for the storyline, really. Like I've said I'm not as fond of the Edinburgh books as I am of the Botswana books. Probably McCall Smith's writing is too naivistic to appeal to me in a Western setting that I can relate to. Possibly I'm such a colonialist. I find it interesting though how the Dalhousie novels feel so much more melancholic, even though nothing like it really is expressed in words...

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Ian McEwan: Black Dogs

My favourite McEwan so far I think, because there was nothing in it that seemed left hanging, or superfluous, or whatever it's been that's slightly bothered me about his books. This is just all the best of him. He has this wonderful way of writing a book about one event while adding on all these other bits that might not be that relevant, but that combine to make a lovely literary experience. Here, the narrator is a man who was orphaned early and spent a lot of time cozying up to other people's parents, so when he finally marries he is very keen that his wife's parents should get along again, despite them having been more or less estranged for years. The black dogs of the title attacked his mother-in-law on the honeymoon, and were responsible for a spiritual experience that set her off in a different direction than her husband. So that's really the story, more than half of it is the narrator describing his life, and how he talks to his parents-in-law, ponders their estrangement, tells us how he meets his wife, relates how he tries to write a biography of his mother-in-law, and thus how he gets the full story, and with that story he ends the book. It's very likeable and somehow, despite the scattered events in it, very succinct. I liked it a lot.