Monday, June 21, 2010

#23 - The Lacuna

While I didn't make the Orange Prize deadline, I'm still reading the short-list nominated books over the summer. I am glad, however, that weeks ago I managed to finish Kingsolver's magnificent (and winning!) novel before the announcement took over the world that the prize belonged to her. I'm still going to read the other short-listed books (I've got them all now and might take them up to the cottage with me this weekend) but I've already made up my mind that this novel truly deserved the win.

The book opens with a fairly typical "memoir"-type first section. A young boy, terrorized by howler monkeys on an island just off the coast of Mexico, lives with his mother in a tumble down estate with a sort of stepfather. It's here that Harrison, born to a Mexican mother and an American father, finds his first lacuna, a hidden pool, which becomes significant later in life. The lacuna -- literally and metaphorically -- figures heavily in the novel, and not just because of the title. Harrison himself is a lacuna, keeping his inner life, his feelings, his sexuality, hidden except for the prime few who know the right times to dive in and avoid the tides.

The novel changes in tone after the first section, written by Harrison as memoir (he becomes a fiction writer as a career) and then we're invited into reading about the rest of his life through private journals he left in the care of his secretary, Violet Brown. Interspersed with the journals are newspaper articles, transcripts and all kinds of other ephemera, which encourage you to scavenge, in a way, for the story. Harrison remains a mystery until the end, and the ending of this novel is magical -- it's totally worth the little bit of time it takes to get into the story, and Kingsolver's masterly way of incorporating real characters into her fiction never suffers from what I like to call The Forrest Gump Affliction. It's inherent and real in terms of the story, which comes from excellent research (one would imagine) and a keen sense of how a novel should work.

It's one of my favourite books for the year, hands down.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

#22 - The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest

I was sitting with an author yesterday speaking with them about the web, how to use it, what's important, how and why to blog, etc., when she asked what my blog addy was, I replied, "But I'm a terrible example of a good blogger these days." It's a "do as I say and not as I do" kind of situation. There's just too much going on these days and I can't seem to get it together to sit down, ass on chair, and get writing.

Maybe I've lost my words.

Or maybe I'm just far too comfortable on the couch.

Regardless, things should quiet down by July and then I'll feel more in control.

Annnywaaaay.

At long last I finished the galley I had of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest about three weeks ago. A friend had sent it over to me when she saw my exuberant post about Larsson's previous book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and I started and stopped a few times before actually getting through to the end.

If we're being completely honest, as much as I am sucked in by Larsson's rambling narrative style, I find the excess of information, the journalistic tone of his writing, sometimes a bit frustrating. Does the book really need those chapter openers about the Amazons, the female warriors, etc. Do we really need to know every single detail of the founding of the secret government society (the so-called Hornet's Nest that Lisbeth kicks?). Probably not. But once you wade through all of that stuff, it's almost impossible to put the book down -- once the mechanics of the conspiracy are unraveled, which would be difficult to explain if he didn't go into painful detail about how it all got started, the book roars to its conclusion.

As the book picks up right where Fire left off (SPOILER), with Lisbeth in the hospital and her abhorrent father just down the hallway, it doesn't contain as much pure action as I would have liked. But, again, this novel isn't about action, it's about conspiracy, cover-ups, the responsibility of governments and the underhanded way Lisbeth has been dealt with over the course of her entire life. The machinations of the cover up and the reasons behind it remain so utterly despicable that it's easy to see Blomkvist as hero as he unravels and brings it all to light. Yet, he, like Lisbeth, is not without flaws -- and, as a reader, you appreciate this. These two characters, Lisbeth and Blomkvist, stop this novel from becoming a poor Bourne knock-off (often, in my head, I saw Treadstone in the place of the Swedish "secret" government agency). They're refreshingly different from the norm (although "downtrodden" seems to be the characteristic du jour for so many thriller-type protagonists).

What's more, I appreciate how Larsson's own writing never flushes into the Hollywood/movie-style of prose that so often plagues novels within the genre (like what Black Water Rising ultimately suffers from). He never relies on tropes or tricks when describing action and maybe that's his journalistic background, or maybe it's just his own particular gift. Regardless, the story hums because of Larsson's inherent capability to drive the action forward, despite how irrelevant some of it actually is when it comes to the end of the book.

The Girl that Kicked the Hornet's Nest isn't a perfect book but it absolutely won't disappoint fans (like myself) and truly feels like a fitting conclusion to the trilogy.