Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

DATE READ: December 2009 NOTES: The second part of Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy in which the intriguing story of Lisbeth Salander is continued. An ambitious young journalist approaches Mikael Blomkvist to ask for his help in publishing his revelations into criminal sexual activities that involve “respectable” members of society as well as vicious criminals. It soon becomes clear that too many people have something to lose if this research is published and soon a trail of murder ensues. Lisbeth, an anti-social and asocial young woman seems to be linked to three murders and a nation-wide search for her ensues. In the course of the story her background is revealed – we knew from the first book that something traumatic must have happened to her as a child but in this book it all becomes clear. It all moves along at a rattling pace. Lots of new characters are introduced and I found I had to back track a few times to remind myself who people were – Hedström, Holmberg, Ekström, Svensson and Johansson all took a bit of sorting out! The plotting is intricate and all the pieces seem to fit. I don’t know if Lisbeth’s amazing computer skills are actually possible but I’m prepared to go along with them….. The character of Lisbeth has definitely softened ….. she now shows concern for the feelings of others – I wonder if she will evolve even further in the third book? She is certainly one of the most interesting of modern heroines. This is a crime thriller written with passion and a social conscience. Highly recommended. Does IKEA pay royalties to the publisher for the product placement? I even recognised some furniture that I own!

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

DATE PUBLISHED: 1912 DATE READ: December 2009 NOTES: On the surface nothing much really happens in Death in Venice – man travels to Venice, sees a beautiful boy, pursues him but does not speak to him, then dies. But behind all that is much more. From the start Aschenbach is all too aware of his own mortality. He observes the characters around him and is often very denigrating about them. When he gradually comes to realise there is a cholera outbreak he tries to leave but is willingly drawn back when his travel arrangements go awry. At the beginning of the story from his gondola he sees and older man who has made conscious efforts to try to look more youthful and be part of a group of young men. Aschenbach is disgusted by his behaviour – but later on a visit to the barber he succumbs to being “improved” with cosmetics without being aware of how ridiculous he looks. Within Aschenbach there seems to be a constant struggle between the ascetic and publicly respected artist and the lustful fantasising alter ego. An amazing amount is packed into under 100 pages.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

DATE PUBLISHED: 1932 DATE READ: December 2009 NOTES: A classic science fiction novel recording the events of a utopia/dystopia of the future. Humans are now reproduced in laboratory conditions and carefully developed to produce differing castes which will be suited to specific tasks. “Happiness” is an imperative and everyone is issued with drugs to keep them docile and content. Individualism is frowned on. Lenina is shocked when Bernard said that he would like to be walking somewhere remote and solitary. Religion has been replaced by “Fordism” and industry produces an abundance of consumer goods. Although Bernard Marx belongs to the highest caste something seems to have gone amiss in his production which makes him a little different. He begins to feel dissatisfied and to question the prevailing orthodoxy – but this doesn’t last for the whole book. Instead Huxley turns his attention to John the Savage – a young man brought up in a reservation for native Indians. Brave New World was obviously influenced by other writing of the 1920s and early 1930s such as H G Wells and also by political movements such as communism. Although only short it is packed full of ideas and discussion points. Certainly deserves the label of “classic”.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

DATE PUBLISHED: 2004 DATE READ: December 2009 NOTES: Theo Wyre asks Jackson Brodie to find the man “in a yellow golfing sweater” who murdered his daughter. The Land sisters ask him to find their little sister who disappeared as a toddler from a tent in the garden. Something was found among their father’s effects that troubles them. Binkey Rain says that her cats are being stolen and asks Jackson for help….. From all these loose ends a fascinating story unfolds. As usual Kate Atkinson writes in an easy lighthearted and chatty style – and then suddenly socks the reader with violent acts. A toddler disappears, a young mother wields an axe and a man with a machete invades a solicitor’s office. Two of the cases involve parents who appear to love one child over another. A beggar girl “motif” runs through the story – though anyone who knows Atkinson’s work soon realise that her appearance is by no means accidental. Great fun and a very entertaining read.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Winterland by Alan Glynn

DATE PUBLISHED: 2009 DATE READ: December 2009 NOTES: Within a space of twenty-four hours two men die in Dublin. One, a known criminal, is gunned down. The other, a respected building engineer is found dead in his crashed car. They are uncle and nephew and have the same name. The family is overwhelmed with grief and confusion but the youngest sister Gina refuses to believe that the two deaths are just an unhappy coincidence and sets about asking questions and probing into what may have happened. She soon finds herself in a murky world of crooked politics, bribery, corruption and murder. But she is tenacious in her search for the truth and refuses to give in to the threats she receives. Winterland is a splendid piece of crime writing. Glynn give us a great sense of place and the characters are alive on the page. The first part of the book requires a lot of concentration as numerous characters are introduced but their role not entirely explained until later. One character pops us several times and seems to be unrelated to the plot until about page 179. The plotting is logical and gripping – you will find yourself making excuses to neglect other calls on your time in order to reach the last page! And it was great to have a young woman as the lead character!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts

DATE PUBLISHED: 2009 DATE READ: November 2009 NOTES: Heard this book referred to as “the best Science Fiction book of the year and worthy of the Booker Prize” – or words to that effect. Although no sci-fi aficionado I was intrigued…. Yellow Blue Tibia only loosely falls into the science fiction genre. It is in essence an alternative history of the Soviet Union. Konstantin Skvorecky and a group of fellow writers are brought together by Stalin and tasked with constructing a convincing alien plot. It had to be a serious threat that could be told to the people. After working cooperatively on this they were then told to forget all they had done there on pain of death and were sent on their different ways. Years later when Skvorecky is working as a translator strange things begin to happen – and it seems that the story concocted by sci-fi writers appears to be coming true. The strength of the book lies in its humour and quirky dialogue while at the same time raising questions of truth, belief and and reality. He raises the need for an enemy or a serious threat in order to galvanise the population – very prescient in a world of dodgy dossiers and alleged weapons of mass destructions. My favourite scene was when Konstantin is confronted in a Moscow street by two KGB men threatening to kill him. Passers-by think that something is about to be sold and begin to form a queue hoping that there may be oranges or vodka on offer!