Wednesday, October 06, 2010

#48 - The Ice Princess

I probably should have blogged about this earlier in the week as I actually read this book a while ago. Having read all of the Larsson's, I needed a little bit of that Swedish mystery one week while I had umpteen doctors appointments. Mystery/popular fiction is very good crowded waiting room reading, isn't it? So, I downloaded the first book of Camilla Läckberg's incredibly popular series of set in Fjällbacka.

A beautiful young woman ends up dead, the so-named "Ice Princess" of the book's title, and Erica Falck, a writer trying to come to terms with the death of her parents, finds herself embroiled in the investigation. Everywhere she turns, she's connected to the murder -- the deceased was her best childhood friend, the family leans on her for support, her love interest is the lead investigator, and multiple other coincidences stick her to the case like glue. Unlike my favourite writer-slash-Swedish-crime-thriller-hero, Blomkvist, Erica writes mainly biographies. She's a woman's writer -- chronicling their lives for mid-list biographies. There's not a political edge to these mysteries; they're more straightforward, and interspersed are more personal details about Erica's life: her abused sister, her blundering love life, her male best friend. There's an element of romance novel in this book, and it kind of softened the hard-edges that I'm used to by reading Larsson and/or Henning Mankell.

That doesn't mean that this novel is ultimately successful -- certainly not to the level of the Millennium trilogy, but Läckberg has a talent with description and setting. The atmosphere absolutely infuses the level of intensity surrounding the case of the murdered woman. But the translation feels clunky and a lot of the set-ups feel unrealistic, and I honestly didn't care who had actually committed the murder by the end. I know, that's harsh, but the book definitely falls down in a number of ways. But my lust for Swedish mysteries these days seems unhinged. I just can't get enough of them.

Oh, and this novel should REALLY be nominated for some bad sex writing. Wowsers.

Monday, October 04, 2010

#47 - In a Strange Room

Damon Galgut has come to occupy a piece of my reading heart only formally held by Coetzee. Like Coetzee, Galgut writes with such skill and serenity that I find myself a better person for having finished one of his books. Until I discovered Galgut, I'd never read another writer who can write so simply (in terms of structure and punctuation) and yet who can still create such a compelling, moving Coetzee-like narrative. I don't want to just compare the two or lump them together but it's impossible not to notice the influence as you read In a Strange Room.

As of late, though, I haven't been as enchanted with Coetzee's novels, and, in fact, one of my pet peeves in books is when authors create and/or write themselves as characters (it's the main reason why I can't get through Beatrice and Virgil and why I've never read THE Paul Auster that everyone else has read). Coetzee's been doing a lot of this lately and as such I haven't been as enthralled to read his novels as I once was. Yet, when I got halfway through the first of the three stories contained in Galgut's latest, Booker-shortlisted, collection, and discovered that the narrator is in fact a travelling writer named "Damon," I kind of inwardly groaned, but I was so taken already with the story, with the setting, that I didn't put the book down. And I am very glad that I got over my bias because Galgut's three stories are incredible.

There's something about landscape in this short collection that defies description -- the idea of travelling, of how it leads you to become someone so much more than you are at home -- and pervades the narrative throughout this book. In each tale, more lost at home than he ever is on the road, the narrator often boxes up his life for months on end and takes to the road. The settings are exotic to a Canadian girl like me -- Goa, Zimbabwe, Lethoso, even Switzerland, places where the only chance I'll probably ever get to see them is through watching The Amazing Race. But it's the deeply personal aspect to travelling that I found so affecting throughout. It's not a travelogue. The stories aren't about the setting; they are simply informed by it, the dingy hotels, the hostels, the camping trips, the odd characters, the difficulties of travelling with a friend, the difficulties of travelling to unstable places, it never feels forced or fake. It never feels Hollywood. It never feels like he's using setting to "prove" something. The places he visits are often accidental (in the middle story, "The Lover," the narrator leaves for a two week "jaunt" to Zimbabwe and ends up in Tanzania weeks upon weeks later) and it's this idea of happenstance, the essential inability to know what's going to happen once you've put yourself decidedly out of your routine, that creates the bulk of the plot contained within the three linked stories.

Galgut switches up what I'd call perspective; in some sentences he's using "he" to describe the main character, in other places it's "I" -- both refer to the traveller "Damon," and as a reader, I sort of inferred that the character of "traveller" is very different from the "I" that recollects what happened upon return; two different sides of the same experience, in a way. The dual nature of the narrator, who he is at home (wondering, wandering, a little lost) and who is he on the road, willing to take risks, confident (in a way), was perpetually fascinating for me throughout all three stories. If I had to name a favourite, it would have to be "the Guardian," for it's sheer narrative force. I don't want to ruin any part of the story for someone who might want to read it so I'll just say that it's far less about travelling than it is about friendship -- the narrator takes a troubled friend to Goa and horrible things happen, and the sadness that Galgut projects even through his simple storytelling left me a little breathless by the end. Time and distance have such an affect upon tragedy -- it's an interesting perspective.

Anyway, I'm rambling. I truly hope that Emma Donoghue wins the Booker for Room. But there's definite worth in reading the other shortlisted books too, so far, for me, I've enjoyed the two I've read immensely. Oh, and Galgut is South African, which means I can add a book to my incredibly lame, utterly failing Around the World in 52 Books list for this year. I might be at 5 or maybe 6 countries if I'm lucky. Fail!

It's OCTOBER?

I keep promising to get caught up here and then never find the time. There's a good reason for that -- I promise. I haven't wanted to talk about it online at all because of the complex nature of the situation, but my RRHB and I are going to have a Rock and Roll Baby (RRBB) in November. It's a high risk, complicated pregnancy because of the disease but so far we're both doing just fine. But it means I've had very little energy for the last few months and will probably continue to be exhausted until RRBB makes his/her entrance in about six weeks. I have, however, been reading.

I'm through #43, #44, #45, which were the next three Sookie Stackhouse novels, Living Dead in Dallas, Club Dead and Dead to the World. I'm halfway through Dead as a Doornail. It's perfect reading for sitting and waiting in doctor's offices, and for commuting, which is what I've been doing. I'm finding more and more that I enjoy the TV series so much more than the books, but as far as fluff goes, you simply have to look beyond the absurd nature of these stories and just allow yourself to get sucked in. Although, I will admit that I rolled my eyes at the appearance of a pirate in the one I'm reading now. A PIRATE. Yawn.

#45.5 The Coke Machine
Because I'm not finished this book, and I hate writing about books before I'm done, I'm not going to say too, too much except that I'm finding some of the information within truly shocking. When I was reading the book in bed (I was feeling very unwell a couple of Thursdays ago). I kept yelling out to my RRHB, "Did you know THIS!" and repeating some absurd fact about the company, the way it runs its business and how shocking it all is. Makes me never want to a) drink a Coke (not that I do anyway), b) drink a Vitamin Water (although I'll reserve that for a treat at the movies; it's essentially pop anyway. POP!) and c) ever drink any kind of bottled water. Anyway, I'd highly recommend this book and I've only read 35% so far (I'm reading it through my Kindle app on my iPad).

#46 - The Comforters by Muriel Spark
We read this for my book club, The Vicious Circle, and I'm simply linking to Kerry Clare's notes about our meeting. She sums it up beautifully and I can't say any more wonderful things about the brilliant group of reading women I get to sit down with once a month. They're spectacular book people. Oh hell, they're just spectacular in general.

I have one more book I want to blog about but I'm going to give it its own entry, Damon Galgut's In a Strange Room.