Thursday, December 23, 2010

'Tis the season for miracles.

Well, at any rate for remarkable coincidences. Today I checked out Hyperbole and a Half - a favourite that I haven't gotten around to putting on my bookmark list there on the right, but I will  - and read this post. After that, I wanted to laugh some more, and checked out Ketchupmamman (also needs to go on favourite list, bla blabla) and pretty much straight away stumbled across this post (scroll down for video). Clearly the universe needs me to learn who Kenny Loggins is!

Also, mr Bani borrowed a book at the library called 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (but in translation), and I was just flicking through it and my eyes fell on the entry for the Kurosawa film Rashomon, which I recognized was based on the short story In a Grove by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, which I had read on the Aldiko and forgotten to write about. Hello Universe, I am listening. I will however let you read about In a Grove on Wikipedia instead, because it is late and I am tired and it's almost Christmas so busy busy busy. But my opinion can be given - I was very impressed by this short story, especially by how succinct and sparse it was. No unnecessary information, but very vivid and clear. An absolute must-read. I'll re-read it.

Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Marcia Muller: The Ever-Running Man

I haven't read a Marcia Muller since before I started the blog, which means over five years ago or so (and that, in turn, makes me almost a fecking blogging ancient, people). The library has very few books by her, but I really enjoyed them and had Muller down as quite a find. I remember her heroine Sharon McCone as a detective with a social pathos, working alongside people who tried to improve their communities, like. An outsider, an underdog, a fighter. Well, no more.

Now, she has her own agency with several operatives. She's a boss, who vetoes a new copying machine. She owns a plane, and flies to her sea-side home and her ranch (ok, fair enough, her husband owns the latter). She's, like, all jet-set. Her husband is a partner in a security firm that seems rather mercenary, and in The Ever-Running Man McCone accepts to work for them in an attempt to find the person who for years has been planting bombs in various places that the firm owns. I don't remember McCone as a person who'd work for a shady company like that. I don't remember McCone as being quite so ... Jack Reacher, like. A bit trigger happy, sort of.

And were the first ones so boringly written? I don't remember that at all. It's a bit lame, frankly. I'm so disappointed. My first real Marcia Muller post and I'm not loving it.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Kristian Lundberg: Yarden

Book discussion club book, in Swedish, not translated. To satisfy my vast (oh the wit!) international audience I'll do this in English anyway; it's probably good for the brain that, having to think an extra spin before typing. I did a little job at work this week that involved, well, a fair bit of copy and paste, but also some actual independent writing; I had to put together an answer to a query from a possible business investor about land availability and the like. It was awfully hard, and I had to bring my own laptop to work so I could use the excellent WordFinder dictionaries to do it - the internet did not help me at all when it came to translating terms like detaljplan and fastighetsavstyckning. My point is, that it's good practice to write and translate out of your bilingual comfort zone. True story.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Book finds and Grant Allen

My church's Christmas flea market etc. type thing was this weekend, as every year - always on the first Advent weekend. I held the food stall this year, and didn't browse around that much at all. Found a lovely cocoa tin and three books (that they over-charged me for, with 10 kr apiece - but as the woman in charge of organizing the whole show says: "the bookstall is self-regulatory - if they charge too much they have to carry all the boxes back up to the attic, so they learn quickly to keep it cheap". More bargains next year then!). I got myself an Amanda Cross, a Marcia Muller! which excited me enormously, and a short story collection called Murder for Love, which shows promise. Ed McBain, Donna Tartt, Sara Paretsky and the Kellermans have stories in it. Sadly, so do the Higgins Clarkses. We'll see.

However, the book I've read so far is An African Millionaire by Grant Allen.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Dashiell Hammett and Hans Olav Lahlum

Oh my, you say, why a double post for these different books? Well, to save time. And I want to try to express how the one made me think of the other. Let's see if I can muddle through that chain of thought... I read my first Dashiell Hammett first, and after that Lahlum's pastiche based on mostly Agatha Christie, but anyway it did remind me a bit of Hammett, so I went oh, he's trying to be a bit methodical and hard-boiled like Hammett. But it's not that much alike, really. Well, apart from Lahlum's being an utter pastiche on old-fashioned crime novels. Are you with me?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Mary Roberts Rinehart: The Street of Seven Stars

Oh this was disappointing sentimental tosh. Not without it's sweet moments, but oh no no. And it's not even crime fiction, to atone for it.

It's a story about two Americans who meet in Vienna at around the time of the start of WW1. She is a naive young girl with a wonderful musical talent for the violin, he is about ten years older, a doctor who has come to study surgery. They are both poor and struggling to pay for their lessons. Peter is a goodhearted character who tends to pick up "strays", and of course Harmony becomes one of his worries. All the bad things that can happen to a young innocent girl etc. Peter is contrasted with his colleague, Stewart, who has set up a home with a Austrian woman - possibly former prostitute - that he doesn't even care about. It's just handy, because it's cheaper than a Pension. When Peter, Harmony and another doctor, a middle-aged American woman, leave their Pension to economize by living together, the potential for scandal-mongering in the small American community weighs heavily on them, and things come to a head when Anna Gates leaves them to go to her sick father back home. Respectability is threatened, but they have to stick together because they've assumed responsability for a little boy with a heart disease.

Rinehart was a career woman, who even went to Europe as a war correspondent - quite a feat for a woman in those days. Part of the book touches on this desire that women too have, for a career, for a professional identity. However, one must sell books. It doesn't do to be too radical. Therefore the book ends with Harmony realising she loves Peter and wants to marry him, and she can give up her career, because she'll still have one - his! Excuse me while I throw up in my mouth a little. It's also extremely moralistic, while dabbling gently in the idea that maybe the community gossips should shut up and not assume the worst of people, but let them be instead. Parts of very direct and to the point, but in the end it cowers back into accepting the niceness and conventional morals of Puritan America whole-heartedly.

It's interesting to read a probably rather accurate description of life for poor ex-pat Americans in early 20th century Europe. I also like the very cosmopolitan Viennese society descriped, with people converging in the city from all corners of the Empire. Bosnian soldiers march, Stewarts girlfriend has a Slavic name. It's interesting to see the sympathy she has for this fallen woman, who has to take the blame and the shame for the immoral living arrangements - this is not fair, and it's seen and not seen.

Towards the end the book contains some of the most disgusting racism, when the sick boy's depraved singer mother performs to the Austrian crowds with her imported sidekicks of little black children, referred to as pickaninnies and darkys. Eeeewwww. And at the same time she sings a Negro lullaby, which clearly was seen as moving to the white people reading. Bizarre.

Not recommended, unless possibly for historical, like, research. Quite dull, really.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mary Rinehart, a new favourite

I have a new love, thanks to my Aldiko eBook reader. Mary Roberts Rinehart (read about her here!) is a pioneer in mystery writing, the Agatha Christie of the US, or so Wikipedia says. I had never heard of her, of course. Although reading her books I definitely get a familiar Hitchcocky feeling, which I suppose either means that Hitchcock was inspired partly by Rinehart, or that I've seen something of hers filmed. Well, it's not one of the four books I've read so far, so I think it's probably the former, and to be fair it's really only the first book I read, The After House, that feels really Hitchcocky.

Let's get some things straight first. We don't read these books for the plots. They're not - so far - stellar, although maybe they'll pick up in her later books. We read these for the awesome timewarp they are, for the early Americanisms, for the history. I love it! I've bookmarked (a handy feature of the app, I might add) about a million pages. And I have to go through all these bookmarks and write about them, this is so me and for the love of God how I'd like the blog to be about something that is me and not just lame microposts to keep up with what I'm reading. Ahem.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Alex Schulman: Skynda att älska

Vår nästa bokcirkelbok, detta. Det var kul, för jag hade aldrig någonsin kommit på att läsa den själv. Jag var dock lite tveksam till att läsa en potentiellt mycket sorglig bok, för jag hade då, vid senaste mötet, läst så många dystopier att jag var alldeles utgråten. Det visade sig dock att det var jättesvårt att lägga vantarna på den på biblioteket, och när jag fick tag på den i veckan så hade den känslan gått över och det kändes helt okej att läsa en kärleksförklaring till en död pappa. Och positivt överraskad blev jag också.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ray Bradbury: The Machineries of Joy

I used to love love Ray Bradbury in my teens. His dreamy and sentimental worlds were just the thing for my lonely disposition. Apparently we don't own any of his books though (I was so sure I did?) except for this collection of short stories. I read it because I wanted to read some science fiction and because I haven't opened a Bradbury book since aforementioned times - that would be sometime in the last century then, folks. This is, I don't feel, strictly speaking a collection of science fiction stories though, although a few fit the bill. And frankly, they were mostly the better ones. I was disappointed re-reading this. I didn't remember Bradbury as being quite so sentimental and, well, almost maudlin. Somehow though the bite comes through, the edge that makes him a classic writer still, a social commentator, one of the greats. Especially in the later stories (they are collected from a decade or two of writing) it seems that he can get more explicit, maybe more dirty. Maybe he self-censored in the 50s, making his work a bit dreamily clean and wholesome.When he gets gritty it really gets good.

I've read several things since reading this, so I can't remember what my favourite story was, I'm afraid. I might update the post some time. Yes, I am ashamed to the core that my first post on such a classic writer, that meant a great deal to me personally, to boot, is so devoid of content! Uncool, man. Some other time.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Samuel R. Delany: Babel-17

I reread this recently, because I want science-fiction and I remembered that I'd read this and liked it but that I was more than a little fuzzy on the plot. We own a copy, this edition which is beyond fugly by the way - I'd much rather own the one pictured on the Wikipedia entry (the first edition paperback cover), at least that one is retro fugly. But but but, it's the contents that matter, the contents above all, and isn't this a good novel to use to discuss just that.

Monday, October 11, 2010



But I'm not doing anything or having people over, so I'm not expecting presents. I consider my new phone, a supertouchscreenAndroidmonster, present enough. Yesterday I downloaded the Aldiko eBook reader and browsed the free books available. There isn't much, really, unless you want to read Shakespeare, Homer, Cory Doctorow and countless happy more-or-less-amateurs, but I downloaded a Bram Stoker novel I'd never heard of, The Lair of the White Worm. So far, it's ludicrously awful. Has me wondering if I've got the abridged copy - very probable.  I also dowloaded Gigolo by Edna Ferber (because I liked Fanny Herself a lot) and The Lodger by Marie Adelaide Lowndes, an author and novel I'd never heard of, but seems to be well known. I think I'll read that and give Bram Stoker a miss. Christ. I get all protective about my phone's prestanda, and don't want to download things on the off chance they'll be readable and only end up clogging the memory card with crap. Very lame and un-2010, I know, but I'll have to research all authors first, especially the happy possibly amateurs. Anyway, new cathegory/label - eBooks!

However, my husband told me yesterday that he'd bought me a special copy of Jane Austen's Emma in a second-hand book shop, some sort of scholarly edition with lots of background info that I might find interesting. He hadn't given it to me because he was gently erasing the previous owner's pencilled notes. I told him not to bother, I like other people's notes, which reminded me that I meant to comment on the notes in this book so I'm going back to edit that post a little now.

I am also dead on my feet from sleeping so badly, and haven't had the energy to do much of anything at work yet apart from sneakily write this post. I consider it a birthday privilege.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Far Horizons – short story collection

I’m experiencing a bit of a science fiction and/or fantasy craving at the moment (escapism, me want escapism!), but since I’m choosy there isn’t much to borrow at the library. As far as I know – and continuing my reasoning I therefore borrowed this collection of short stories. Admittedly, mostly because Ursula LeGuin has one in it, but I also thought that maybe I’d get a line on a new author I might like.


Monday, October 04, 2010

Dorothy Gilman: Mrs Pollifax on the China Station

I’m not sure why the previous owner (TPO) poked a hole through the cover and first finger-width of pages of my second-hand copy (see picture after the jump). Did he or she feel a burning urge to try to drive a nail through a paperback, but then give up? Was it a tragic accident? Did TPO really hate it? Hate hats?

Saturday, October 02, 2010

A Classic English Crime – short story collection

I had time to kill before my pilates class last week, and nothing to do since the shops had closed. I hadn’t eaten, felt depressed and sorry for myself, so went into the library to feel worse, since I then had cause to yet again feel mopish about the library's lack of comfort reading for me. No unread LeGuins, Ngaio Marshes, Loveseys, Hares or Dickinsons … all very tragic. I went for the short story collections and picked out one science-fiction (more on that later) and one crime. In the large print section. To make me feel (unfairly) just that little bit more geriatric.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dorothy Sayers: The Nine Tailors

I found this newish copy second-hand and was very happy, until my coffee thermos flask leaked in my bag. Now I have a definitely more vintage-looking book, but no matter. It’s nice to own Dorothy Sayers’ books, so I can re-read them whenever I want. This one is a favourite because of the absolutely incomprehensible bell-ringing theme, nerdiness personified. Bell-ringing - sorry, change ringing - is noted down in series of numbers that make no sense at all to the uninitiated, but provide excellent cover for a code. Bellringers refer to bobs and grandsire triples, and spend eight hours ringing unmelodic sequences to ring in the new year and break an old record. What’s it like to live beside a church with an active and enthusiastic bell-ringing team, I wonder? Fantastic stuff.

This is before Lord Peter meets Harriet Vane / the book is from 1934), so it’s just him and Bunter (of unlimited loyalty). Their car crashes on New Year’s Eve near a little village on the Fens (this book is also good to teach you a bit about the fens, which in turn was helpful when reading The Golden Compass, if I don’t misremember). They stay over at the vicarage and Lord Peter helps out with the bell-ringing. Later, a dead body is found in the grave belonging to the local gentry-folk, and it becomes clear that the man died on New Year’s Eve.

It’s a good solid plot, but unrealistic that it takes Lord Peter so long to cop on to the solution. Well, I think the plot is solid, but according to a quote I saw in the novel's Wikipedia entry the whole premise for the death is faulty. I wouldn't know myself, I only ring bicycle bells.

Full props to Dorothy Sayers though for always being prepared to have very unusual murderers, and for – when the whole area is flooded and everyone has to evacuate to the church – including the detail of digging sanitation trenches. I don’t think Agatha Christie would’ve bothered with that touch of realism.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Charlie Higson: The Dead

So, time to add mine to the smattering of reviews out there on the net!

A bit surprisingly and disappointingly, The Dead takes place about a year before the events described in The Enemy. At the end the reasons for this become clear – it provides answers and backgrounds to some events and people from the first book, as well as background to what will probably become a plotline in the third book. I think that clearly Higson has been getting a lot of questions from readers, and he’s had to think about them and provide answers. Heh, always a problem with literature that is essentially illogical – someone will ask you to provide a logic to apply to it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mia Skäringer: Dyngkåt och hur helig som helst

Utan att alls egentligen, när jag tänker efter, ha sett väldigt mycket av Mia Skäringer (jag tittade inte speciellt mycket på tv när Mia och Klara gick osv osv), så tycker jag att hon är väldigt rolig. Att hon länge skrivit krönikor i Mama och även bloggat där kände jag inte alls till. Den här boken är en sammanställning av dessa krönikor och inlägg, och speciellt blogginläggen känns därför lite halva, enligt min åsikt. I en populär blogg är det gemenskapen och utbytet mellan skribent och läsare som gör en hel del av läsupplevelsen, skulle jag vilja påstå – men i den här samlingen finns ju naturligtvis inte läsarkommentarerna med.

Texterna i boken handlar om vardagslivet och de erfarenheter, svåra och härliga, som Skäringar samlat på sig genom livet, om barn, skilsmässa, dålig självkänsla och om att vägra ha sex om man inte verkligen vill. Jag tyckte bitvis den var fantastiskt rörande och bitvis bara sådär, men de bra bitarna gick rakt in i hjärtat på mig, och när Skäringer skriver om sin pappa gråter jag stort. Med andra ord ytterligare en bok som är helt värdelös att läsa på bussen. Att jag aldrig lär mig.

Chance of a lifetime

We only just the other day got home (ha, Swedishism) The Dead, the prequel-sequel to The Enemy. If Maxima hurries up and finishes it I might just be among the very first to review it online it seems (says I after just googling the book to see what critics are saying). One revels in small, tiny, minuscule glories, doesn't one.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Åsa Linderborg: Mig äger ingen

Efter denna bruntonade valutgång passar det ju utmärkt att skriva om en arbetarroman, även om det främst är ett porträtt av en älskad och saknad far. Åsa Linderborgs hjärta klappar dock envist och stolt på vänster sida i hennes bröst, och hennes engagemang för arbetarrörelsen lyser igenom denna kärleksförklaring till pappan.

Today is the first day of the future

And the future in Sweden, both locally and nationally, is a little bit browner. The racists got in. It is unutterably depressing. Let's hope they make fools of themselves sooner rather than later, and that the other parties don't work with them.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Left Hand of Darkness, re-read

I re-read it just now, and discovered that passages and ideas I remembered as dated or weak were less so, and that bits that I'd found perfect weren't. I really like this book. It's the same but a little different whenever I read it.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Two sad ones

I've made the mistake of reading two books with a lot of sadness almost simultaneously, and even though I've finished them both several days ago I'm having trouble shaking off the melancholy feeling I'm left with.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Donna Leon x 2

In my next life I’m going to be great at writing snappy headlines for blog entries instead of these boring “x 2/3/4” ones. Promise.

But hey, it’s a dull post. First, Death in a Strange Country, about the discovery of the corpse of an American um, something army something … well, he’s a doctor at the nearby US base, whatever rank that meant he was. Great pains have been taken to disguise this murder as a mugging, and Brunetti discovers that it’s connected to illegal dumping of toxic waste. Alright. Then we have About Face, which features prominently a woman whose face has been altered into ugliness by plastic surgery (we find out why at the end), and more illegal waste disposal. I sense a theme. Alright, again. Easy bus reading.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Melvyn Burgess: Bloodsong

I’m struggling a little to condense/describe Bloodsong, one of the most extraordinary books I’ve read this year. I mean, a mixture of science fiction and Norse mythology … how does one even begin?

Jasper Fforde: First Among Sequels

And the pièce de résistance – an entry commenced on the 9th of May in TWO THOUSAND AND EIGHT. And it’s pretty much done! Look!

The latest in the Thursday Next series, a series I’ve had great pleasure from. Now,we’re not in the eighties any more. Thursday and Landon are long married, with three children. Thursday no longer works with the Literary Detectives, since most of Spec Ops has been dismantled. She still works at Jurisfiction however, and her carpet laying business is a front for covert Spec Ops work with former colleagues – not to mention her cheese-smuggling side income. None of this is known to Landon though. Now, people seem to be reading fewer books, which puts the Book World at risk, and the Goliath Corporation seem to be up to something. And Thursday’s and Landon’s firstborn, Friday, is not looking as though he means to fulfil his destiny of heading the Time Police.

Nice blurb eh? All from memory. Go me.

I got a tad tired of this one, to be honest. There are too many puns and Bookworld jokes, and just not enough story. The Nursery Crime series looks like the better one at the moment – shame, because I love Thursday Next as a heroine. Love.

Jasper Fforde at his best manages to combine nonsense, wit
and there it stops. But it'll do, won't it? I can't for the life of me remember exactly what scathing put-down I was preparing.

Ellery Queen: A Fine and Private Place

This entry was started on the 8th of March 2009. 4rlz. If I had anything else to say, I don’t remember. This is what I wrote more than a year ago, and this it what I shall post now:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Simon Brett, a duet

Here is an entry from 8 of March 2009, people. Why didn't I post it then? Who knows.

I got these two Bretts, so I thought I'd do them in one post. First I started reading The Witness at the Wedding, and after a while started feeling like I'd read it before. Sigh. Not only had I read it, but it's the only Brett I'd actually WRITTEN about. Double-sigh. All the ones I hadn't blogged about I was aware of having read, but this one felt unfamiliar. Typical.

The other one was Death Under the Dryer. Carole Seddon goes to have her hair cut and a dead girl is found in the back room at the hair dresser's. I don't have much to say about it - it's a Brett, so it's weak on characterization and the plot is shaky. But it has a certain charm, of that type that makes The Midsomer Murders so popular outside the UK. I think these books are best read when you are recuperating from an illness. Not demanding at all.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ngaio Marsh: Scales of Justice and Hand in Glove

Let’s go on with two entries that have been (empty) on my draft list since 25 of June this year. I bought a stack of Ngaio books, as you may recall, and of course read them a long time ago. I’ve been putting off blogging about this because I wanted to have the covers in the post too, and I’d scanned them at work (norty norty), and I had to e-mail them to myself, and then remember that I’d done so … clearly this sank on my list of priorities.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Diana Wynne Jones: Archer's Goon

Let’s have a look at an entry draft that I started on February 1st, shall we? All I had written then was:

I read this to have something to read that wouldn't make me cry, and I have to say that it's perfect for that purpose. Archer's Goon has actually been filmed, too (extensive review here).

Now, it’s tempting to leave it at that. I could too, because the title is distinctive enough to allow me to remember it, and this blog is all about the purpose of me. But reading that Diana Wynne Jones is struggling with cancer and has decided to cancel her chemotherapy treatment means that I feel I owe her more. And now I am crying, a bit.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Andrea Camilleri x 2

My sister (the one who doesn’t read science-fiction) recommended Camilleri as better than Donna Leon, funnier, very Sicilian (“only in Sicily” is what you think while reading these I think she said).

Friday, August 20, 2010

Charlaine Harris: Lily Bard x 3

These are some of my summer reads, all mingling together in my memory now of course. Writing about the first Lily Bard I read I remember saying something about how racism is alluded to but not a main issue – well, they are a main issue in the series, I take it all back. It is still interesting to read that the status quo in the South seems to be that the best people, Charlaine’s heroines for example, are not racists at all, but there are plenty of racists still out there and it’s just not done to call someone on their bigotry. You leave people to themselves with their opinions, which they happily state quite openly, and then you only intervene if crime ensues. Must be a bloody awful society to live in, really.

Back to Blogger templates!

Seeing that they're so much better now. And I can get pages, something I'll be playing around with I think. The perfectionist in me would like a photo of my own books as a background, but, well, one has to actually snap the pics and upload them then, for starters ...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Alexander McCall Smith: La’s Orchestra Saves The World

I’m falling out of love with Alexander McCall Smith, I am. Clearly his writing works best on Botswana, because I don’t know it and therefore can just take his version as written (oh the puns, they do keep flying). In all books that deal with a cultural context that I’m not entirely unfamiliar with the simplifications get too much.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

David Weber: On Basilisk Station

Another one borrowed from my sister of the eclectic reading taste. She mentioned reading these weird space opera sci-fi novels a while ago, and upon my interest offered to lend me one, which happened when she came by last. And I have never read anything like this in my entire life. It is the oddest idea.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cory Doctorow: Little Brother

Ha, it only just now struck me that “little brother” is obviously the opposite of Big Brother, the all-seeing dictator. I can’t remember now if the hero of this teen novel is ever called Little Brother, which is what I was asking myself as the computer was starting up, but since this novel is about private integrity being threatened by state surveillance of, amongst other things, computer traffic … can’t believe it didn’t strike me before. How thick of me. Possibly I just don’t think about the titles of novels a lot once I’ve started reading them – or ever, I certainly have enough trouble remembering them at all.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Gerd Brantenberg: Egalias döttrar

Vi bestämde i bokcirkeln att vi behövde något lite lättare och roligare efter den senaste tidens dysterheter, så från den lista vi hade valde vi Egalias döttrar. En feministisk klassiker som jag vagt kom ihåg namnet på, men inte mer. Jag hade aldrig kommit på att välja den själv, kredd till bokcirkeln alltså, och tack. Det här är en av de mest tänkvärda böckerna jag läst på länge.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

I will catch up, I will I will

You have no ideaaaaaa how far behind I am. And I have a bunch of posts waiting to be edited and then published! Frightening.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Ngaoi Marsh: Off With His Head

This is the one I wanted to write about for midsummer, seeing as how it was about Morris dancing and all. Morris dancing is apparently not a vaguely silly, quaint dance, but an ancient ritual with a lot of deeper meaning. In this case, the dance (our Dame writes in the foreword that she's freely mashed together a few different ones in the name of fiction) shows the ritual death of the Fool, who then is resurrected. I forget the word for this, but you know - it keeps the world going for another year, that type of thing?

This dance takes place in the middle of winter in a small village that has stuck to the old ways in this respect, and that has succeeded in keeping out the tourists and others who might gawk at their customs instead of participating. Sword Wednesday is a big deal, and the primary part of the fool has been performed by the old smith Andersen for many years. His five sons too dance, and even this is part of the ritual. This time as usual they mime beheading the fool, but when it is time for him to be resurrected he lies there dead, his head away from his body. Who has beheaded him under the eyes of all the spectators at the dance?

And the cover? Well friends, it is not a folkloristic, pagan fool we see, no siree. This one wins the awful cover competition hands down and head off, all categories, all prizes. If you weren't afraid of clowns before, you will be now.

Donna Leon: Uniform Justice

This one is about a boy found dead at a very swanky pseudo-military private school in Venice. Apparently he's committed suicide, but it doesn't seem in character, and when Brunetti learns that his father is a politician well known for his integrity, who suddenly resigned and went into seclusion - then he suspects that the son is a victim. Ok.

Donna Leon: Death at La Fenice

The first of the Brunetti novels, and I see now why people like the series. Here the charm of the characters shows (which is why I read another one, and have borrowed more). I think I had some notes somewhere about things worth saying about the book, but I'm lagging behind, and have started on another truckload of novels so I'll be brief. Also, can't find the notes.

A world-famous conductor is found dead, poisoned, in the interval of a performance of La Traviata. The most likely suspect is his wife, but Brunetti doubts it, and finds the truth when he probes the conductor's past.

How's that for brevity? In other news, I'm so annoyed that Blogger came up with what certainly looks like three-column themes JUST as I'd done lots of work in downloading a third-party template. With this template I'm using, the "pages" feature (that I really want to use) doesn't work well - but it would, of course, if I was using Blogger's. Arse arse arse.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Caroline Graham: Death of a Hollow Man

The last of the library's four Caroline Grahams in English. Ironically, there are only four of her books in Swedish too - considering the popularity of Midsomer Murders I mean. I do not at the moment have the energy to see if they are also the same books, but that would be very funny.

The Hollow Man is set around an amateur theatrical company (of which Joyce Barnaby, of course, is a member), led by an egomaniac with delusions of grandeur. The leading man suffers from the same malady, and was married to the former primadonna, whose position in his life and on stage has been usurped by his new, superficially pretty little wifey. See all the dwama? During the opening night of Amadeus all manner of conflict comes to life and starts to come out on the stage, culminating in the razor that Salieri uses to slit his throat with being doctored. Resulting in a real throat-slit, right there on the stage.

I do like Caroline Graham, I've said it before. This felt rather more Midsomer Murderish, as in the TV series, due to both Joyce and Cully being present. Cully's aloofness and coolness is demonstrated very subtly by her wearing a t-shirt with an Eddie Izzard quote, in French. This book is from -89 so coolness and indie extreme, dudes.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sue Grafton: U is for Undertow

Wasn't I lucky last library visit, getting so many olden goldie favourites that I hadn't read? Janet Evanovich, Kathy Reichs, and now Sue Grafton. This one has the story set in both the present, in a first person Kinsey narrative, and in the past, from different third person views. Grafton has started to do this more frequently in the recent books. It does work well, making for more varied reading, the opportunity to delve deeper into fringe characters, and just generally breaking that specific writing mold that I suppose it's all too easy to fall into, if your heroine is a single loner who solves cases by following up leads, one at a time.

Kinsey is approached by a young man who thinks that he, as a child, witnessed the burial of a little girl who was kidnapped a short while before. He's only just remembered the incident. Kinsey starts picking at the oh-so-few leads that there are, and the mere act of picking of course makes the original perpetrators nervous, and their stupidity solves the case in the end. The kidnapping takes place in 1968 and a lot of the story is about the conflicts between the new hippies and the old establishment so to speak, but surprisingly it's rather focused on the hippies being slackers, druggies and losers, with little sympathy for them. It could be that just these particular hippies are repulsive, but it does come across rather as being the whole movement. Perhaps it's an attempt to scale it down, to focus on the small town's reactions when they just get a drop of the whole idea. Although the fact that the old-fashioned fuddy-duddies are lovely people, especially compared to the dirty, rude, immoral hippies. Who aren't even good parents. A leetle bit odd.

I did like this book, but it could definitely have been neater. I liked how the ending was totally anti-climactic (I still have bad memories of the one that ended in a battle between Kinsey and someone else in heavy machinery - diggers? anyway, it was not good). Would have been nice to see what a great and ruthless editor could have done, plus less pressure to come up with a product. Hm.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Kathy Reichs: 206 Bones

It's been ages since a Kathy Reichs book! I have however been "treated" to the pointlessness that is Bones on a fairly regular basis since the eldest offspring likes it. She likes crime series of the detective variety, coping with any amount of gore, but cannot bear anything with proper realism, anything departing from the crime-solving formula for shows (or books I suppose). It's sweet. Bones, however, is boring.

Having read a lot of good fiction since I last read Kathy Reichs I am more sensitive to the not-so-great bits of her authorship. Staccato writing, a weakness for ending chapters with cliffhangers that in the next chapter don't lead anywhere (invented example "I asked him if there was a problem. And the day got worse." - next chapter: it doesn't actually get worse. It's just not better.)

This one starts of with Temperance being buried alive in a small space, and under the guise of her trying to remember why she's been put there we get the whole background story. It's not great, really. But entertaining enough. I'd say that the plotline of academic fraud and ambition is farfetched, but since Reichs does work in that area she might just be tweaking the truth a little, not a lot. So it can pass. And on the whole she does tie up the plotlines. Fair play.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Janet Evanovich: Plum Spooky

Does what it says on the tin. No surprises!

I miss the dark streak that runs through the first few novels. Here Stephanie is actually threatened with a very violent and cruel rape, and she seems to just shrug it off? What the hell? If they keep the dark streak in it could make for successful filming. Maybe not this one, it has an over-human monkey in it - so eighties.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Seven books behind

So best get cracking, right? I've actually been, well, not swamped exactly, but let's say adequately supplied with work recently. So no time for furtive blogging at all, and I never get to the computer at home. Now I've got mr Bani's laptop (I remember fondly the days when I had my own and could use it ... now it doesn't access the internet, and really, what else are computers for in this day and age? But I digress. I snark, and digress) so will try to to loads here.

One of the books I've got in my pile is a Ngaoi Marsh that's all about morris dancing, which would be great to write about today when we're celebrating midsummer here en Suecia and the whole country happily has danced around the phallic symbol that is the may pole (or midsummer pole or what have you). Since they do morris dancing around may poles, I mean. But that book also has one of the best Ugly Covers ever, and the jpeg of that is on my work computer (naughty naughty!). So I'll save it.

Instead I'll turn to the latest book discussion club novel, one that I plugged hard for: Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake. I don't think I'd ever even heard of it, because I don't stay up-to-date with book news at all, but I spotted it in the cheap paper-back section on Bokus or Adlibris and fell for it immediately, what with my recent great Atwood experience with The Blind Assassin and my general hankering for some good sci-fi. So I pushed for it and we chose it.

Oryx and Crake is set in a future where companies that do genetic research are very rich and powerful and separate from the rest of society. They can afford gated communities for their staff and their families and are pretty much a society unto themselves. We get to know Jimmy after society has collapsed, when the only people alive apart from him are "Crake's children", humanoids that we understand are not quite human. Gradually Jimmy reminisces and tells us the story of his life, how he got to know Crake, a scientific genius who was so disillusioned with mankind that he wanted to start over with a new and better species. Now, Jimmy is alone, the sole bearer of the entire planet's history - because the children of Crake know nothing and can't understand if he tries to explain.

In theory this is a great set-up, with ample scope for melancholy and an almost claustrophobic void of loneliness. Sadly I was a little disappointed. The book didn't feel finished. It felt like an experimental science-fiction essay on the potential dangers of genetic manipulation half the time, and the characters were not developed enough for me to really sense them - one idea is that part of Jimmy's aching loneliness after the end of the world is that he has a whole language and no-one to share it with; Jimmy having worked with words all his life. But I don't feel this, I just read that it is so. There is a difference. The novel should have been put away for a few years and then taken out and re-read, because with a little more tweaking it'd be superb. Now it's good, but not more than that. We all enjoyed it as a good story, as entertainment, but it could have been the kind of book that keeps you awake thinking about it.

Oddly, despite a recurring theme of women and children being sexually abused and used - classic Atwood themes that she feels strongly about -  the female characters are the weakest. Oryx, the woman loved by both Jimmy and Crake, is hollow and empty. I wondered for a while if we were to deduce that she wasn't real, but a figment of Jimmy's imagination, but it's not that layered a book. That's disappointing, coming from Margaret Atwood.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Donna Leon: The Death of Faith

So amici, my first Donna Leon. I've avoided them since before the dawn of this blog due to a healthy suspicion of Americans writing books set in other countries, a suspicion fuelled by Elizabeth George and ooohhhh whatshername, I've read several of them ... Deborah Crombie, that's the one. I mean, it's bad enough set in England, in Italy it'll be terrible, I reasoned. But my other little sister nudged me on, so I thought I'd give it a go. And ok, it's not at all as bad as I'd feared. She does fall into the tourist brochure trap a fair bit, by not the worst I've read in that respect, and I can see myself reading some more of her books this summer. However, I'm not in love with Inspector Brunetti as a character. I find him and his wife and kids to be curiously bloodless and empty. This passage, about the family's mood at dinner, illustrates why:

There was none of the usual joking with which they displayed their boundless affection for one another.
If you write like that you do, at some level, think your readers are idiots. And then you can have all the untranslated Italian bits you like wedged in, it still shows. Also, apropos Italian, I'm just annoyed by the untranslation of certain terms and in particular titles. Dottore indeed. Bloody hell. It's merely pretentious! "Look at all the Italian I know!"

Anyway, the story is that Brunetti is approached by a young woman who used to be a nun and work at the nursing-home where his mother stays. Now she has left the order, and says it's because she feels something is being covered up. She asked some questions about some of the old people's deaths, and felt she was being told to keep quiet about it. Brunetti fishes for a bit but finds nothing to hold on to, but then someone tries to murder Maria the ex-nun ... There is a parallell storyline about the religious instruction at his children's school, and most importantly about the priest who takes confession there and who is clearly a paedophile. So a very up-to-date topic, really.

The author and therefore her characters are very anti-religion. As I've written somewhere before, I don't like conspiracy theories. I don't believe in them. And while I, as a Catholic, don't like Opus Dei or their take on my religion, I don't think that the organisation is worth the reams of conspiracy theories that are generated around it. I don't think that the bad and evil things that have been/are being done within the Catholic church can be ascribed to sinister plots by sinister men. I think that it's more awful, I think that most people are stupid and do stupid  and selfish things (at best), and then muddle about trying to cover them up, and then other people do the same. But it's not that organised. And this book has a lot of the classic thinking of Vatican as the big octopus with tentacles e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e. Maybe it's more true of Italy? Maybe I don't get it? But I think I do know a fair bit and have seen a fair share of the Church's bad side, and I don't believe in the conspiracy ideas. I think they're simplistic and a little silly. The truth is more complex and therefore worse.

Book oddity: reference to a "dead-hampster handshake". I seriously hope "hampster" is a typo. But on the whole I've never heard the term - bizarre!

Surely relevant in a blog with a lot of crime fiction

Idaho woman suspect in library condiment vandalism.

The nerve.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Agatha Christie duo

So, both Death Comes as the End and Black Coffee. One after the other. That's cured me for a while. Reading one okay book seems to have led me to forget all the others I didn't like. I think I was lured into it by the recently watched Doctor Who episode that shows Christie in a favourable light. And it wasn't even particularly clever, even considering how low my Doctor Who expectations are.

Black Coffee is the best one. Originally a play, it's been adapted into a book by Charles Osborne. In the foreword/introduction Christie's grandson says well done, Osborne, you'd never know it wasn't the Dame. Well, I think you kinda would. I mean, you can tell it's a play ... although perhaps I see it cuz I know it? But I think not, I think it is obvious. And I don't think that it would look like that if Christie herself had adapted it, because she'd have rewritten more. I think. Anyway, it's full of clichés and monotony and it's easy to spot the killer. But on a posititive note - it must be fun to watch in on the stage! You see everything happen before your very eyes, and then you have to think, did I see who did it? After all, when reading it's simple. It's basically laid out for you, right under your nose. So, it probably works really well as a play. Story: Poirot called to house of scientist who has invented new explosive, arrives just as scientist drops dead in armchair surrounded by entire household plus Italian guest. Quite silly. Like every Christie parody ever written I suppose.

Death Comes as the End is worse, because it's pretentious. "As the wife of a prominent archaeologist" as the introduction puts it, Christie had learned a lot about ancient Egypt and set this story there. A young widow, Renisemb, returns to her father's house with her little daughter, just as he returns from a business trip and brings along a new concubine. The concubine is spiteful and catty and ends up dead. When more people start dying it is assumed that it's her ghost doing it, but Renisemb and the household scribe, Hori, unravel the truth. By means of gazing into the sunset and saying inane stuff that's meant to seem profound as hell, mostly. God it's boring. I struggled. There has to be some flesh and blood even in a fictional character, after all!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

An ickle bickle library visit

I went to the library yesterday, inspired by my recently discovered librarian blogs perhaps (although more probably because I had time to kill before pilates class) and picked a few random things out. I have a list of books to check out in my phone notebook but they tend to be things the library doesn't have. Sulk.

So I got Agatha Christie's Death comes as the end, Janet Evanovich's Plum spooky, Donna Leon's The death of faith (on recommendation from my sister, I've been avoiding Leon so this had better be good!) and finally a book by Charles Osborne called Black coffee, of which I have no memory now at all. I think it was crime fiction. Something on the cover made me take it.

[ETA June 10th: Ha, serves me right for just logging on to my library account and reading what that said. Black Coffee is an Agatha Christie play that has been adapted as a novel by said Osborne. THAT explains why I borrowed it.]

The first two of course could be as awful as anything. I'm actually reading the Christie and can attest to it being pretty dire. But I'll get back to you on that.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Ngaoi Marsh: Death at the Bar

There is a bookmark in this book, well, a business card from my pilates teacher, and on it I've scribbled "p 100 12 o'clock?" which is a reminder to myself to mention this when writing. However, page 100 in Death at the Bar mentions nothing about clocks, so I remembered that actually the reminder belonged to Overture to Death. I think. I haven't got the book here at work (from whence I'm furtively blogging) so I can't check. The note was to remind me of a mistake - Alleyn and Fox get to their inn after a hard night's work, at the crack of dawn, and mention that it's 12 o'clock. Something like that. So there you are. Pulp fiction fault I suppose.

Now, pulp indeed, feast your eyes on the cover to your left above on your left. A cover that, incidentally, is also wrong. The man who dies is not a middle-aged fellow whose eyelids have been glued to stay open - no, the man who dies is a young brilliant lawyer. Here you can note the title's pun - the bar, gettit?
Sorry for the spoiler, but hey. This annoys me a little, I have to admit. Even though it strenghtens my theory that they had a certain selection of people who posed for these covers and there was no young handsome man among those.

The story is that three men, an extraordinarily gorgeous actor (Parish), his cousin, a brilliant lawyer (Watchman), and their friend who is an earnest and talented painter (Cubitt) (no prizes for guessing who is the best man among them) have a tradition of holidaying in a small fishing village in Devon, a village with the curious and isolating feature of being virtually hidden behind a stretch of cliffs and only accessible through a tunnel through the mountain (unless you approach by sea, of course). This time when they arrive they find a new-comer, a slightly odd man who is a wizard at darts and who has rapidly risen to the position of secretary and treasurer in the local Communist party. Watchman starts behaving strangely towards this man and appears to wish to provoke him. After a drinking session he challenges the newcomer to throw darts between his fingers - a party trick that the newcomer has demonstrated earlier. This time he misses, and Watchman receives a minor injury (minor, not crucifixion as the cover implies). Within minutes he is dead - was the dart poisoned?

There are a few twists here which make it rather fun, but the most interesting aspects of this book are class and gender. Class - in the background is the Communist party, staunchly defended and supported by the pub-owner's son, whereas the pub-owner himself is a roaring Tory. A local young woman has been given a university education and is now trapped between her background and what she has become. To her the Communist party promises egality, but it's clear that she thinks only in matter of class, really. When Watchman sexually assaults her she dismisses it as "nothing, nothing she couldn't handle". In a sad echo of one of the Soviet Union's big equality failures and hypocrisy wins she isn't aware of any feminist theories on patriarchal power, instead pretty much takes the blame herself.

Also, I wonder if the distinction between public and private bars exists anymore in the UK? Would be interesting to see.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Two covers to make you quake

Scanners FTW. Here are the covers for Death and the Dancing Footman and Vintage Murder. For the former, one has to ask oneself how long the poor model was forced to sit in that position before the photograph was deemed perfect. "Just a little longer Gerry, we're almost done. No, you shouldn't have had that extra pork pie for your lunch, I agree, and definitely not the two pints. But that's not my fault now, is it? Alright everyone, take two minutes so Gerry can loosen his belt a little. Trudy, could you dab on some extra blood there on the back of his head? Thanks love. Careful, don't step on the pipe!"

And isn't Vintage Murder just too spectacularly tacky? Blood splattered on the snowy white table cloth, I ask you. It looks more like the head waiter has been bludgeoned to death by a disgruntled diner than anything else.

And then someone brought in a three-year-old who had just had a jam sandwich and let him wipe his fingers on the dead man's shirt.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Ngaoi Marsh: Overture to Death

Oh, dramatic isn't it? And I've just been taught how to scan something on the printer and get a jpeg file, so for your viewing pleasure:

Isn't it fantastic? Who is the woman posing? Was it a full-time or a part-time job? Inquisitive minds are dying to know. There is no information inside the book incidentally, none at all. This is functional art at its ... well, not best. Most lurid? I must get the other ones scanned too.

First published in 1939, it's set in a small village where the small society group in residence - the squire, his son, the squire's spinster cousin, the rector and his daughter (in love with the young squire-to-be), the doctor, the enigmatic single newcomer (also the doctor's lover) and the first, original parish spinster - decide to set up a play to raise funds for charity. The two spinsters are best friends and bitterest rivals, both constantly struggling to be the most important and most valuable lady-in-charge in the community, and both hopelessly in love with the handsome rector. Miss Idris Campanula is used to being the boss of everything, bullying herself onto committees and into first position always. When Miss Eleanor Prentice came to live with her cousin she used her gentler ways of manipulation to coax her way into the local petty positions of power, usurping Idris. With gossip and religious hypocrisy as the glue of their friendship they nevertheless get along by default. Miss Prentice is all set to play the music score for the play. When her finger is injured Miss Campanula jumps at the job, only to have her gloating self shot on premiere night (see illustration) by the booby-trapped piano. So, enter Alleyn and Fox. Also, bloody Nigel (sigh). Whodunnit?

Actually, it's obvious whodunnit almost from the beginning. I still enjoyed it though. There are some great Alleyn quotes in it, which I can't be bothered to look for at the moment. Ah well. It's interesting as an attempt at psychology, which must have been all the rage at the time because there are numerous references to this suspect "science". The crime is resolved after a show-down of the classic kind, with all the involved gathered back at the stage. Now, she cops out here Marsh does, because she resorts to this lame solution and tries to cover it up by having Alleyn very annoyed at having to use it - yet he does, so whatever. Also interesting is a general air of the times, a break between Victorian morality (the spinsters) and young, carefree (but not premarital) love.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Ngaoi Marsh: Vintage Murder

Just see that title - postmodern isn't it?

Vintage Murder was first published in 1937, and is set in the days of Alleyn's courtship of (with?) Troy. He is on holiday in New Zealand, getting away from it all. The whole book is basically a sort of colonial's defence of the real motherland, and also a bit of a tourist brochure to be honest.

Alleyn shares a night train with a group of travelling actors heading for the fictional town of Middleton. Two suspicious things happen on the journey: a theft and an assault on one of the managers of the stage company. The two incidents are seen as disturbing and odd, but are kept quiet. After their Middleton show, however, when the troupe and some guests are all gathered on the stage for a birthday celebration for the leading lady, murder is done. With a vintage bottle of bubbly, no less.

I enjoyed the book but it's not one of my favourites. The solution was hard to get to on your own unless you studied the plans of the theatre building, helpfully enclosed, of course.

Definite what-the-hell moment for the description of the Maori doctor, Rangi Te Pokiha. You see, he's civilized, just like us, but when he gets angry the savage comes out! Not so modern that. But I seem to perceive that the word savage, when applied to a person who was of native descent, wasn't as harsh as we'd percieve it today. I must look in some old dictionaries.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Ngaoi Marsh: Death and the Dancing Footman

It feels very trivial to be writing a blog entry on a vintage crime novel when the Middle East is in such turmoil. I keep checking the news, hoping that information will start to flow soon, that reason will start to prevail and most importantly that everyone accepts their own responsability for what they themselves have done. My opinion is that it's horrendous for a nation to board ships in international waters - unless there's a very good cause indeed, in which case the information should be out there for all to see. Yet it's even more depressing to contemplate even the possibility that there might have been activists preparing for violence. I sincerely hope that this mission  wasn't deliberately sabotaged in that way. There were a lot of people involved who wanted it to be a mission of trust, and whose reasons for going were as much about defying Hamas as defying the Israeli blockade, I'm sure of that. What a minefield it all is.

Shall we lose ourselves in the world of house-parties and gentlemen detectives instead? But with a little nod towards war, nonetheless. Death and the Dancing Footman is from 1942, so WW2 hovers over the proceedings. The real shortages hadn't started when she wrote it, that's clear, as Jonathan Royal prepares a weekend party for a motley group of guests, all invited precisely because there is tremendous enmity between them. There seems to be no lack of great food and booze for mr Royal. His friend and confidante is a playwright named Mandrake. Being the only one with no ties to any of the other guests he is told about Royal's plans for the weekend. Royal wishes to be creative, but having no painting, musical or other skills he has decided for the unconventional medium of people. By forcing together people who dislike each other he hopes for drama and for the resolution of conflicts and lovers' tiffs. Obviously, someone gets murdered.

I was rather pleased with myself for spotting the murderer quite soon, and based on clues in the book too. It really was obvious, only one person could have done it.

I'd like to take a picture of the covers of a few of these Marshes I bought. They really are spectacularly odd - a set of the murder has been arranged and photographed, including pools of unrealistic blood. I wonder who these people were who posed for these covers? Actors of the lower grades? Artists' models? Friends of the publisher, doing it for a laugh? Was there a special guild? Special agencies? Could one trace one of the models now and ask? So many questions.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Revamped and raring to go!

I have all but one book left in that stack of Ngaio Marshes I mentioned. Sad isn't it that I haven't written about any of them yet! I got a bit pre-occupied with trying to do the blog up. I'm fairly pleased and hope it'll be easier to work with. And I hope to take a photo of loads of my fave books (that I own ... ) soon and change, the seaside one is lovely but I do need a book theme.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Biting the bullet and going for three columns!

Let's see if this works! I've downloaded a template from and am hoping to make great things happen with it. It's an awfully messy site, slow and difficult to find one's way around and all, so I just ended up taking the first best one. Now, apparently I'll have to re-add links and all. Work to be done!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Book discussion club x 2

Well, the one meeting never seems to be taking place, we've had to postpone and cancel due to illness and what-have-you, but the other one ticks right on ahead like a fabulous old railway station clock. For the former we read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, a book I've been wanting to read for years and plugged hard for for that reason and because I was sure I already owned it ha ha ha. Only to come home that night and be reminded by my husband that we gave our pristine copy away to a friend ages ago when we hadn't had time to look for a present. So we re-bought it. Re-buying should be just as well-known as a word as re-gifting is. Anway, I'm not sorry because it's a great book, more on that in a while.

For the other group, meeting tonight at our flat (fingers crossed that goes well, that Minimus cooperates and goes to sleep with no problems, that rest of family don't feel too put out etc.), we read Sofi Oksanen's Stalin's Cows. It doesn't seem to exist in English yet, but her most recent novel, Purge (Puhdistus), has been translated into several languages and is being heavily promoted, so I think it's only a matter of time. Oksanen is a sort of wonderchild, one of those authors whose themes, talent, outspokenness and appearance combine to make her a media superstar, loved and hated to the max. Finland has a small population and a tradition of homogeneity in culture and ethnicity which we here in Sweden use to explain (away) the superior results Finnish children reach in national tests compared to Swedish children. Oksanen shows a darker side of the coin, with those qualities serving to alienate people who are different, to ostracize them, to openly abuse them and take advantage of them.

The book is about Anna, and her Estonian mother who married a Finn and came to Finland in the late seventies, and her grandmother who raised two children under Stalin while her husband hid in the woods. A lot of stuff written about the book focuses on Anna's eating disorders, but this is more than a book about a girl/woman with bulimia - to me her bulimia is only interesting because it is juxtaposed with the starvation and deprivation of the war and Communism. Her grandmother struggled to feed her family, the relations in Sibiria battled starvation daily (at one point we read that the Sibirian cookery book is simple - for vegetable soup you need vegetables and water, for flour soup flour and water, for cabbage soup cabbage and water). After the war the shortages continued, with endless black market bargaining, different ways to cheat the system, constant queuing. It's three generations of eating problems, Anna is just the final stage.

I can see why this is so controversial in Finland. According to Oksanen, the Finns ignored the Estonian brother-people and dismissed them as Soviets during all the Communist years, and the Estonian women were just Russian whores. After independence the Finns flock to buy cheap alcohol and cheap prostitutes. Now the Russian whores were recognized as Estonian, but they were still whores. At age 11 Anna is approached on the ferry by a Finnish man who whispers "how much?". The Finnish men can't be trusted in this book, they visit countless prostitutes and keep cheap mistresses on the side behind the Iron curtain. (It's a brave book to write seeing as how it's inevitable that the reader will confuse Oksanen with Anna - is she saying that her own father was a cheating drunk?) Anna learns this, and also that probably all women are prostitutes who will sell themselves for a pair of tights, for food, for a life in the West maybe. "Eat up" says the mother and grandmother who remembers the war "but not too much, because you have to stay slim and attractive to get the right kind of man".

I can relate to so many things here, even though I come from a different background. Many of the emotional experiences of belonging to two cultures apply, although I never had to learn how to shut up in passport controls, how to smuggle, how to play up one side and play down or lie about the other. That paranoia was never mine - but I remember reading about it, I remember friends going to visit relations and talking about all the things they had to bring.

A wonderful writer and even though her writing is heart-breaking and has no happy endings, I'll simply have to read more. These are stories that need to be told, not just for Estonians and Finns but for everyone.

Oscar Wao is another one. For one thing, what do I know of the Dominican Republic? Nothing. It's the one next to Haiti, and most of what I know of Haiti I think I learned from Graham Greene. Fiction, that's where the history is. You can't beat this for education, the kind that makes your blood boil and the tears roll down your face. So much injustice and so much violence, and it never seems to end. And despite the book being almost entirely half in Spanish (it sometimes feels like), I understand it, because it compensates by referencing the kind of popular culture that I know about - Lord of the Rings for example. The dictator is Sauron - no matter if the rest of the sentence is in Spanish, I get it anyway. And poor Oscar, the Dominican geek - reads LOTR for comfort but the sentence "black men like half-trolls" makes him put it away. How I wish Tolkien hadn't put that in.

Wonderful story-telling, fantastic and imaginative language, hilarious, angry and heart-breaking. I'm thrilled with this. There's a lot written about it already and I'm running late now, so I'll leave off now despite the unfairness of Oscar getting one paragraph and a bare half - it's worth more and everyone should read it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Fooling around.

I borrowed a template from, a site that on the whole is a little too shabby for me really, but it had books in it and I'm so tired of being too lazy to make my own. But I dunno. *thinks* Something must be done though.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Charlie Higson: The Enemy, also Melissa de la Cruz: Blue Bloods

My daughter had her first two weeks of work experience through school this spring, and had landed it at Uppsala English Bookshop, of all brilliant places. In the staff kitchen there they have two bookshelves full of books that she was encouraged to peruse - mostly promotional copies judging from what she brought home. At the end of her two weeks she was given the books she had read as a present, and her first thought was "Great! I get to keep The Enemy!" and her second "Oh. I get to keep Blue Bloods." Possibly her third was "Why didn't I knuckle down and read more?", but who knows, maybe that was just me.

The Enemy (do check out the website, he's made a trailer and all, it's great!) is the first in a planned series for young adults, set in a dystopian future in which all adults over the age of 14 have succumbed to some sort of disease that either killed them or turned them into crazed, pustulent creatures who prey on the surviving children for food. (Yeah, zombies. Kind of.) This was only about a year or so ago, we find out. Things happened very fast.  Later in the book we come across a third group of adults, who seem to be able to remain normal if they stay in the dark - but since they also turn out to be predators it isn't certain how normal they are, really. I hope that avenue is explored more in the subsequent books.

We follow a group of kids who have barricaded themselves in a Waitrose supermarket. Every day a small party go out to scavenge for food, and the book starts with the scavenging party falling into a trap that surprisingly intelligent adults set for them, leaving one of them dead. When the survivors make it back to Waitrose they learn that one of the smaller kids was taken from the supermarket car park while they were out. They're feeling desperate and beleaguered. So when a strange boy arrives with the news that a group of kids are setting up a new, paradisical society at Buckingham palace they team up with kids from another supermarket nearby and trek across London. However, the palace turns out to be a disappointment, and the book ends with them leaving with their hopes set on another safe haven. 

I found this book very disturbing and ... well, moving, I suppose. I'm surprised at how much it's affected me. Now, the prose and story-telling technique are good, but not spectacular, so the charm lies a lot in identification and recognition. Since this is a new book, set in what could be the present or just a year or two in the future, an imaginative person such as myself can get swept away with the idea that this could really be happening or this could start happening tomorrow. The kids whisper in the dark about their lives before disaster struck. Did you have an iPod? We used to order take-out on Friday nights and watch a film. I loved to ride my bike in the park. One boy's parents abandoned him and his sister before they got too sick, kissing them goodbye and crying, rather then risk turning on them. One boy killed his mother when he saw that she was going feral. Another dreams of his mother's smiling face and then sees it morph into a bloodthirsty snarl. I sat reading this on the bus, sobbing my eyes out thinking of my own kids. Only the youngest two would survive according to the story premise, since they're under 14 (13 and 3, respectively). The idea of them having to fight the rest of us off really tore into me.

Yes, I know, it's more than a bit embarrassing, but there you are. I tried to calm myself by remembering that this is not that original (hello? Tribe? they also hid out in a shopping mall!) and what is this with 14 being a cut-off age? Biologically some sort of weight limit or hormonal development limit would make more sense. Didn't really work though. I was emotionally affected, that's just how it is. My poor babies!

Higson, who also wrote the Young Bond series apparently, not that I've read them, does a good job of writing a horrific and very gory book without too much of the stuff that is seriously disturbing. Like how youth gangs in the early days must have roamed the streets and done whatever they liked "drugs, drinking, shagging". There is not much mention of sex, for example, which could become seriously personal. "Our" group do come across another group that has babies, however. I get the feeling that it has a few levels - younger kids will only read it as a horror book but not pick up on the more adult, complicated themes. Alright, to sum up, there are plenty of quibbles with pace, character development and general logic, sure, but what the hell - this book has etched itself into my imagination which is more than can be said for a lot of literature.

Blue Bloods has to be mentioned even though I only read a chapter or so. It is utter, utter rubbish. Some sort of Gossip Girl meets vampires. The beautiful young teenager wearing [brand] shoes, a fabulous [brand] dress and flashing a [very expensive brand] bracelet glitters her fangs - that type of thing. It was horrible. This needed to be said.  I can't believe it touched the inside of a printing press.

I have to edit this on May 18th to add a link to a great blog post about Higson's visit to a school. In which he openly admits to stealing a lot if his ideas (that's how you get the best ones). Cheers for honesty! I'm hoping my nephew WILL read this book. Although he mightn't sleep for a week.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Tad Williams: Tailchaser's Song

My sister lent this to me with the caveat that it wasn't that great, but if you like cats (like she does) it can be kind of fun.

Me, I don't hate cats or anything. I'm not cat-mad, that's for sure, but I don't hate them.  However, this absolute disgrace of an excuse for a novel I think can only be enjoyed at all by someone who really really really gets a kick out of cats. It's pretty much unreadable tripe.

It starts off not too badly, with establishing that cats are The Folk, who have their own mythology and see humans as a ruined, inferior offshoot of the cat family. Fritti, the hero, decides to leave his clan to search for a female cat he knows, amid rumours that cats are disappearing and that something terrifying is hunting them in small but increasing numbers. There's a bit of cultural explanations, and some language invention, and some other fantasy basics. A little silly-feeling, but okay. Not everything one reads is awesome.

Then Fritti goes off on his trek, teams up with a kitten, meets a madcat, a bunch of other cats including a psychic one, meets the royal cats at court (this was DIRE), discovers that the origin of the evil is a cat-figure of evil from their mythology who contrary to what the myth says is not dead, but now lives inside a hill gorging himself on cats, forcing cat slaves to dig tunnels for him, creating evil slaves by breeding cats with maybe even DOGS (who are called Growlers - ohdearchrist). It is truly terrible and completely completely unoriginal.

If you're ever in a library and the new ice age is coming, forcing you to burn books for your survival - reach for this one first.

Thursday, May 06, 2010


Found a whole stack of Ngaio Marsh novels, ratty old paperbacks with lurid seventies covers, at the Red Cross charity shop yesterday. Am very pleased.

Monday, May 03, 2010

A reprieve

The book discussion club meeting is postponed until next week. Score. I've been reading NOTHING recently. It's SO DEPRESSING.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Time is running out.

By the third of May I am to have read The Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao for my book discussion club. I don't have the book yet. The suspense is tangible.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Utterly utterly down in the dumps.

I was meant to go on a long-awaited and much-anticipated trip to England this week, but volcano ashes put a stop to it. It's very unfair and I feel very hard done by - I'd been looking forward to it so much, and I hardly ever get to travel. Plus I've lost money on it, which is very upsetting.

All in a trivial, industrialised-nation way, of course. But I really am sad.

In my childhood I used to always escape into books when I was down, preferably something homely and familiar like Enid Blyton. I don't feel the same urge now (possibly because I don't think it will work). Although I wouldn't say no to a stack - a STACK - of vintage crime. Do I have any? No. And part of looking forward to my trip was thinking about the possible second-hand bookshops there, just brimming with old Cyril Hares, Patricia Wentworths, Ngaoi Marshes.

I read a Patricia Wentworth recently, a book called The Silent Pool that I bought off Tradera a while ago and saved. It was enjoyable in it's own way, but the killer turned out to be the same type of character as in another one I read, so it was predictable. It's about a rich former theatre star who thinks someone is trying to kill her, and her suspicions are confirmed when murder is done and it is obvious that the killer thought it was her. Nothing special, but grand for it's purpose.

I've also read a very disappointing Kazuo Ishiguro collection of short stories, Nocturnes. Oh why can not a favourite author remain perfect? This was dull. The meticulous, careful, detailed and simple language that works so well in Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day feels bland, trite and almost contrived. Very disappointing. There is an overall theme to the short stories, namely music, and some of the characters appear in more than one, but I don't get that carefully crafted Shortcuts effect, I just feel meh.

Oh I just feel meh in general. But at least I've done my blogging duty.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Neil Gaiman: The Graveyard Book

Oh I think I like Gaiman's children's books the best, and I even think I've pinpointed why: he can't be too long-winded in a children's book. He is forced to be a little briefer, and it's for the good. I loved this story about a toddler who escapes the massacre of his family and is adopted by the ghosts in the nearby old graveyard. It's beautifully imaginative, yet has familiar characters - ghouls, werewolves, possibly vampires - that are all given the Gaiman touch. Very scary and doesn't shy away from the brutal truth (the killer wiping the blood from his knife as he goes upstairs to find the baby), and I think children sometimes need to read stories like this that send a genuine tingle of horror down their spines, to process all the horror they read every day in the headlines.

Very pleased. One quibble: we kinda glide over the whole evil guild of assassins thing really. It just suddenly appears and then is resolved. But for a kid's book that's fine.

Monday, April 12, 2010

P. G. Wodehouse: Something Fresh

A while ago I visited one of Uppsala's newest libraries, in the new "cultural centre" in Stenhagen. It's still very sparsely stocked with books, so I wandered around a bit and felt a little sad when I saw that the English fiction all fit into pretty much one shelf. If I want to donate some books I'll know which library to prioritise, clearly. Anyway, I did borrow this and two more: a short story collection by Ishiguro and a children's novel by Gaiman. So not all bad!

I read this one first, on the sly (trying to fool myself that I wasn't really reading in defiance of my self-imposed ban). It's the first of the so-called Blandings novels, which means that Blandings Castle and its inhabitants stand somehow at it's centre. It's the usual Wodehouse thing, with a young couple falling in love and the necessity to recover a stolen something (in this case a rare Egyptian scarab).

What struck me was how modern it was. The young hero and heroine are both working people, trying to make a living writing for cheap magazines and struggling with it. There is talk of emancipation and the struggle for the vote. It is taken for granted that people will want to choose freely whom to marry. It feels a little as though it's 15 years before its time, at least. Definitely recommended on this fact alone. I had to struggle to put the characters in the right type of clothes in my imagination!

It was apparently first printed in the US which explains why prices are sometimes given in dollars and sometimes in pounds. Bit so-so on the editing in general, but then he was a productive gentleman and didn't perhaps have time for cleaning up his manuscripts.

Cute and funny, I liked it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Carl-Johan Vallgren: Den vidunderliga kärlekens historia/The Horrific Sufferings of the Mind Reading Monster Hercules Barefoot: His Wonderful Love And His Terrible Hatred

This is one of the few Swedish books my sister owns. She got it from our aunt - most likely an open attempt to force her to read more in her second mother tongue, but it worked. My sister enjoyed it, to her surprise, so she recommended it to me when I last was on a borrowing spree.

Now, it's a skilful book - hang on, I just realised I was writing in English. I hadn't meant to - the curse of being bilingual! Well, I'm not going back to change what I've written, I'm too tired. It'll stay in English... so... adding the title for the translation... there, and here's the link to an "about the book" page. Back in business. By the way, this is the author's homepage, one of those monstrosities where they think we have they energy to wait for things to load. We don't. Like I was saying, skilful book, yet I wasn't that blown away because it reminded me of something else I've read and I can't pinpoint what. Possibly P O Enquist, and if so Enquist to my taste is much better, even though I had issues with the one book I've read  (ha ha ha) that I linked to there. So it didn't grip me altogether, plus I always hate when a storyline has a huge Catholic priest conspiracy with evil killer priests. Boring boring boring. I would recommend it though, it's worth a read, but it's very personal whether you really enjoy it or not I'd say.

Fredrik Falk: Överlevnadshandbok för cyklister

Lånade denna lilla skrift på måfå för att jag råkade gå förbi den på bibblan, och trodde att det skulle vara ett fyndigt litet debattinlägg. Men det är en ganska självgod, överdriven och ooriginell historia. Med en hel del goda poänger, visserligen, men alldeles för mycket "putslustigheter" av den typen som får mig att misstänka en överkonsumtion av Grönköpings Veckoblad.

Men jag ska skriva en sak jag gillade, och det var påpekandet att man ska betrakta övergångsställen som en fortsättning på trottoaren som råkar korsas av en bilväg. Det är med andra ord gångvägen som är huvudled. Ingen bilist skulle väl ha något problem med att väja för en huvudled avsedd för bilar? Man ska tänka om helt enkelt. Det var bra.

Boken är för övrigt försenad till biblioteket, tillsammans med Dannyboy och Kvacksalveri. Jäkla skit, jag har hyrt böckerna.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Terry Pratchett: Monstrous Regiment

I quite liked this one - I think as a general rule I quite like the Discworld books with female main characters. He's quite the feminist our Terry and does a good job of describing a woman rebelling against her traditional lot.

In Monstrous Regiment we meet Polly who joins the Borogravian army, disguised as a boy, to try to find her brother Paul. Borogravia is a country forever picking fights with its neighbours and suffering under the increasingly arbitrary commandments of their god, Nuggan, who has condemned a million things. This includes women in the army, but also red hair and garlic.

Polly's new regiment includes a vampire, a troll and an Igor, apart from a selection of humans - one of whom is extremely religious and claims to speak to the Duchess (the by now almost mythical leader who acts as a go-between to Nuggan). Gradually Polly begins to suspect that she is not the only woman (this is not a spoiler, given the title of the book). They also discover they aren't doing so badly on the fighting front, and that someone is clearly frightened of them, and someone else looking out for them.

There are many very funny and clever bits in this Discworld novel, from the satirical portrayal of military brass and religion to the character spins - Pratchett's trolls and vampires are in their own league. My one quibble is that I didn't really understand the end, but I was in a rush then and skimmed it (not expecting him to want to Say Something). I may re-read it.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

More on Trick or Treatment

Not being allowed to read (which I've done anyway, so I'm going to try to blog quickly now at work before my train leaves) led me to buy a woman's magazine for the crosswords. There are four or so main ones of this inexpensive type in Sweden. They contain recipes and some crafts, cheap serial stories (preferably with an historical theme), crosswords (natch), "ask the doctor", "ask the lawyer", "ask the therapist", "ask the psychic", true-life stories and pictures of people's grandchildren.

These magazines are always full of alternative cure articles. "I never thought I'd be rid of the pain, but [insert alternative therapy here] saved me!" Granted, there is always a doctor's opinion too, but in general these articles cater to these masses of women out there with aches and pains that the medical profession has ignored for years "because they're only old women". It annoys me to hell that all these people feel that alternative therapies are the only solution for them.

The article in my copy was about acupuncture increasing the chances of successful IVF treatment.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Happy Easter!

A quick pop-in to wish everyone a wonderful holiday, whether you celebrate or not. In Norway I know they have a tradition of reading crime fiction over Easter - sadly I can't participate because I'm still not allowing myself to read until I'm finished blogging about the ones that I have read. But I strongly recommend everyone to make Norway proud if you happen to have a few days off. Go for it.

Now - off to Mass. Soon!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Daniel Åberg: Dannyboy och kärleken

Den andra bokcirkelboken! Det är träff ikväll, så hög tid att blogga om den. För övrigt har jag läsförbud tills jag bloggat klart det som ligger och släpar. Numera finns det en Allers i väskan, för korsorden. Och en hög böcker hemma som väntar.

Det är inte ofta jag tar mig för att läsa ny (nåja, relativt ny. 2006 eller nåt, det är väl ganska färskt?) roman av en ung svensk författare, så det var roligt det här. Dessutom har romanen Uppsalaanknytning, och som bonus även Sandvikenanknytning, vilket är skoj om man har lite känningar i de trakterna. Vilket jag har, men mest min man. Som dock inte verkade fatta det roliga när jag bad honom läsa Sandvikenbitarna? Märkligt.

Huvudpersonen är kanske ett alter ego till Daniel Åberg, som själv är uppvuxen i Sandviken och har pluggat i Uppsala. Vi får inte veta hans namn, men senare i boken ett smek-/öknamn sedan gymnasietiden. Boken inleds med att han, i full frackmundering, springer genom Uppsala och hoppar på Stockholmståget utan vare sig pengar eller biljett. Väl i Stockholms tunnelbana stoppar han en tjej från att kasta sig framför tåget, och när de stulit Alexander Bards plånbok har de flera tusenlappar att lägga på en natts festande. Nutiden varvas med återblickar från hans studentliv i Uppsala (mestadels). På det här viset cirklar de runt varandras ursprungsproblem (varför flykten? varför självmordsförsöket?) och kommer slutligen till en insikt om att det inte går att fly.

Trots att jag hade rätt roligt när jag läste den känns det inte helt klockrent detta. I början fick jag definitivt lite "kartvarningskänsla" och upplevde att Åberg specificerade alldeles för mycket var någonstans i Uppsala vi befann oss - något jag avskyr - men den känslan avtog, så jag är inte helt säker på om jag bara inbillade mig. I slutändan vet jag helt enkelt inte om jag blev så intresserad. Det var kul, men inte så engagerande egentligen. Vad vill han? Hm, ska bli intressant att höra vad de andra tycker.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst: Trick or Treatment?

This is for one of the book discussion clubs. I nearly bought it, but the library had it in (in Swedish) so I borrowed it instead. It is the kind of book that theoretically is good to own, but after reading it I'm not sure I'm that bothered. I find the subject terribly interesting, but there was something lacking from the book. The idea of it all is that Singh and Ernst review different alternative health treatments to see if they have any effect or if people are just wasting their money. The basis for their review is a scientific approach and evidence based medicine, terminology which they explain quite thoroughly. Their target reader seems definitely to be the people who are more inclined to want an alternative treatment than conventional medicine, so they need to explain why we need to use certain methods - like randomized blind studies -  to discover if a treatment is working, and how history has shown that this is the better approach and not the traditional way of, well, guessing and trusting tradition. This is sadly repeated time and time again. Maybe it works better in English, the same way that inane pop lyrics work in English. I found it a bit repetitive. While I don't doubt their findings, I felt as though they didn't really trust me to understand them, and I would have liked a more science-paper-style book on the whole. With footnotes, so I could see where the source material came from, not just a reading list at the end. I would also have liked a more in-depth look at why people opt for homeopathy rather than actual medicine. The authors do touch on the idea that people are disillusioned with "scientific" medicine after scandals such as the thalidomide one, but I would have liked more. So maybe I'm not after more science then, maybe I'm after more philosophy.

Promising, but for me it didn't live up to the hype.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Terry Pratchett: Jingo

Another one from my little sister. She has looooots of Terry Pratchett, so I asked her to recommend a funny one because I find the quality varies. She likes the books about the guards of the Watch, so this is one of them. I have another one waiting that I'll start on tomorrow (but before you get to read about that one I have to blog about the two book discussion club books I've read inbetween).

This is one about an island mysteriously rising from the ocean, and how Ankh-Morpork and their neighbouring country Klatch both claim it. War brews. Assassinations take place under the eye of the Commander of the Watch. How to solve this.

Bits of this are hi-la-ri-ou-ssssss indeed. The butler going to war and switching between servile mode and rabid plutoon commander mode is very funny. In general though it can seem a little cramped. I'm not always sure I've grasped the whys and whatfors. Good entertainment though. Three cheers!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

John Connolly: The Book of Lost Things

I had not heard of Connolly before borrowing this book from li'l sis, but apparently he has written some crime fic, and I'll be sure to check it out since the library has it in. (This book contains criminal acts, but since the crimes are mostly committed by a fairy tale character I think we won't call it crime fic even in the loosest sense of the word.)

Reading this after reading the similarly themed shambles that was The War of the Flowers was very interesting. This is a much more researched and well-planned book in many ways, utilising the dark horror of original versions of fairytales, giving them a bit of a spin, and weaving it all together into a story about growing up and about loss. And sorrow of course, sorrow comes with loss.

Set at the beginning of WW2, we meet David, a boy of about 12, just as his mother is dying. The disease works at her slowly and painfully, and David escapes into books and OCD, thinking that his counting habits and rituals will somehow protect her. His father meets another woman so soon that David subconsciously realises that the affair went on while his mother was alive, leaving him feeling that there is really no-one he can trust, who is on his side. When Rose, the new woman, becomes pregnant, they all move to her family's house outside London, since it's safer. It's a big house, and David gets the room in the attic that used to belong to a boy called Jonathan, who also loved to read and who tragically disappeared together with his foster sister, many years ago. The birth of a demanding baby brother creates even more tensions in the new family. David feels unwanted, and starts to hear the books talking to each other. He also sees a strange man sometimes, a crooked man whom he perceives as somehow threatening. One night David finds the crossing into another world and goes through. The fairytale land is not what he expected. Talking wolves, trying to be human, are ravaging the land, and there are other monsters. David's journey on the way to see the King becomes a quest. He grows up. On the way he meets many characters from stories and tales, but with a twist. Some are horrifying, and in general there is a lot of blood and gore in this book. It's not gratuitious though - the original fairy tales were much darker than the versions we read today, and this is what Connolly taps into. David finally reaches the King, and completes his quest and gets home. Getting home does not mean a happy ending though. The last chapter tells us how David's adult life turns out, and how all his loved ones do die in the end. It's terribly sad and moving, yet ends with a sweet hopeful scene. 

The second half of the book is an interview with Connolly about the book, and an explanation to the fairy tales behind some of the themes in the book, plus the original stories. It's very interesting on the whole. On the annoying level (there's always something) - sometimes the book feels "off", like it's anachronistic or something, but the only think I spotted for sure was David making a reference to a tingling in his hand that feels like poison ivy. Which surely is nothing an English boy has experienced? Anyway, recommended to anyone who enjoys fairy tales. I was reminded of when my friend E's husband, a teacher, once complained about their school librarian's stupidity in not understanding what books to order when the teachers were working with the students on fairy tales. Instead of getting original versions of Grimm's collections or similar, she got Astrid Lindgren. Lame! This book though would have made an good addition to the theme.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Tad Williams: The War of the Flowers

I have a younger brother and sister who unlike me got more into the fantasy reading after Tolkien, whereas I sampled some of it and decided that it was pointless, because it couldn't hold a candle to The Lord of the Rings. I read the first, maybe the first two actually, of a David Eddings' series for example, and got bored when I realised this would never end. Which is odd, because part of what you want when you read this type of escapist literature is for it to never end, obviously. But I think I saw the difference in quality between a trilogy that is really one book - where the different climactic, pivotal events are spread out so the series has a certain pre-planned tempo and their significance is well thought through - and a series that is really just a fantasy soap. Soaps can grab my attention for a short time, but I tire quickly. I resent being shackled to the story, I resent never seeing the end.

So anyway, my brother and sister felt differently and got into the entertainment that is fantasy serials. Through them I was introduced to the Otherland chronicles (note this: important fantasy term!), an earlier work of Williams's that really impressed me when I read it in.... well, I don't remember exactly... turn of the century sometime? (it is SO COOL to be able to write that about MY life!). The War of the Flowers is of a later date, but has the similar idea of a person/persons from our world being transported into another world, another kind of universe. Otherland is set in the near future, where we go online into a virtual universe, using avatars of ourselves to move about in a more literal version of real life - your avatar walks into the virtual shopping centre and takes things off shelves, etc. A wealthy group of individuals have created an incredibly varied and realistic virtual world, into which children are being lured (can't remember why, more on that later), causing them to become comatose in the real world. I thought it was very clever, having the fantasy part, the secondary universe, as a computer programme, and also I thought the description of the future was great - not too much difference (no hovercars), and based for the most part in Africa, thus allowing Africa to be something else than the mud-hut place of starving children.

In The War of the Flowers we meet Theo, who is too old, 30-something, to be the musician-waiting-for-a-break/delivery boy that he is. When his girlfriend miscarries, and his mother wastes away in cancer, Theo wants to reassess his life. Before he gets to do that, a Tinkerbell-sized fairy arrives and brings him through a portal to Faerie. He is wanted there by several factions, but nobody tells him why. Faerie is confusing and much violent and cruel than Theo had thought. He learns that the King and Queen died a long time ago, and that since then the seven most powerful noble families have taken control. All the other fairy species are under their thumb. To get the magic needed to fuel Faerie - magic that the King and Queen could generate by themselves - they use slave labour in factories, to suck the magic out of them. It's a not-very-thinly-veiled critique of our exploitation of the planet and fellow men, basically.

Anyway, so. Tad Williams. The man likes to write a lot of words. My sister lent me this and a pile of other books (so watch this space as I go through them - I'm on the next one in the pile now and it's another fantasy-trip-into-fairystoryland so comparisons are interesting!) and she said "well, his problem is that he's a bit wordy". And so he is. This book could EASILY have been half as long, without suffering for it. Also, if we're doing modern versions of mythology, let's just face it: Neil Gaiman does the best work. I'm not getting into the who was first debate though, they're both pretty contemporary. But Williams's violence and cruelty lack the bite that Gaiman's work has. Gaiman makes his characters more believable and true, so the reader cares more and takes it seriously. Theo is one of the most annoying characters ever. The sprite that brings him across calls him thick all the time, and she's right. Good God. He seems to exist purely to ask stupid questions so that stupid readers can get e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. explained. I find it very depressing that Williams finds his readers so moronic. For example, we come across characters with the surname Daisy. Then some called weft-Daisy. This is not explained. After some chapters something is mentioned on the aside about fathering children on the weft side. Since we are not idiots we now understand what weft means. Theo however goes another few chapters I think before asking outright and getting the full explanation. Why? Why bog down a fairly entertaining fantasy story with this? Was this in any way a loose end? No it was not. It was detail that helped us make up an imaginary, believable secondary universe. We wouldn't understand everything if you dropped us in Beijing either - you don't have to explain!

That is just one example of many many many. This tedious lengthening of the stories just causes me to forget heaps of details. Otherland deteriorated in the last few books (I think there are four?), so I can't remember what the actual point of it all was.

Okay, this is a bit more than the book deserves. I get a little worked up, and that's because it could be so much better. And because I liked Otherland despite it all, and this I can't like. Disappointing!