Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Girl with the...

Short Attention Span

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Stieg Larsson
2008 (English translation) Alfred A. Knopf
(originally Män som hatar kvinnor – "Men Who Hate Women", 2005)
Norstedts, Stockholm

You'd have to be dead or comatose for the last several years to not know about this "Millennium"series published posthumously after Larsson's death in 2004. I've read Girl was the first million copy e-book. The widely promoted Daniel Craig vehicle/American/English movie (see photo) that follows close on the heels of the Swedish language version just opened. Personally I spent my Christmas Day movie capital on Sherlock Holmes but that is another matter.

I  finally read it after several years and found it interesting in some ways but  a bit slow-going. Many online commentators describe it as a mystery for those who don't read mysteries or who have grander ambitions for their reading time than some whodunit. Some believe that Larsson was murdered by mysterious forces due to his muckraking journalism rather than died of natural causes. His death adds a certain frisson to the reading. As many people have written, you need something to keep you slogging through the first 100 pages before journalist Mikael Blomquist finally starts seriously investigating the mystery disappearance of heiress Harriet Vanger at the behest of her still grieving uncle Henrik.

So much has been said about this best-seller that I will not reiterate but make the following observations:
1) I am not a huge fan of the claustrophobic Scandinavian SAD novels with their gruesome crimes and endless glasses of aquavit and herring sandwiches
2)  This novel really makes a case against the Swedish welfare state in which an employed young adult is kept in perpetual trusteeship by being uncooperative. This book does not make you want to visit Sweden!
3) Mikael Blomquist, also a journalist and muckraker and possibly a stand in for Larsson himself, can get any woman, even the most unattainable, merely by wandering by. Perhaps if he really looked like Daniel Craig. He seems a very uninteresting character, self-involved, and not very well-drawn or understandable.
4) Lisbeth Salander is an interesting character - her original solution to her victimization is quite enjoyable - but I think one gets tired of her.
5) The setting is fine but the characters are boring and obvious, the dialogue kind of stupid, and the financial crime sub-plot is just not that shocking. The main plot has a nice surprise then there are another 100 pages to get through.
6) A genre novel can rise above its conventions  and cliches into something  that takes one beyond oneself into another realm of self-knowledge and Weltanschauung. I've read some crime/mystery novels that do this Despite its reputation, Girl does not do this.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Death Comes to Pemberley...

Death Comes to Pemberley
P.D. James

I read reviews of this book and heard P.D. (Baroness) James herself on NPR talking about it. How she had thought about doing something like a mystery based on Jane Austen's novels. She chose to make the mystery a sequel to the classic Pride and Prejudice. No zombies. I love both Jane Austen and P.D. James so I looked forward to it. Also having greatly enjoyed Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen as detective and secret agent series, it was interesting to think what P.D. James would do with this material so different in some ways that that of her contemporary protagonists Adam Dalgleish, London Police commander, or detective Cordelia Grey. But those are cerebral introspective detectives relying on instinct and emotions as well as logic. they are well written, atmospheric novels. My personeal favorites include The Black Tower, Murder Room and the Skull Beneath the Skin.

James picks up the story begun in Pride and Prejudice and uses the same characters. She begins 5 years after Lizzy and Darcy and Bingley and Jane have all married and had families. The folks at Pemberley are planning Lady Anne's ball, held each year in honor of Darcy's late mother. Amid the hustle of the preparations for the ball, something terrible happens. Wickham, despised Wickham, is involved.

Well, it's well written and kind of cerebral. The innermost thoughts of Darcy and Lizzy are laid out- both have regrets and all kinds of complicated emotions. They are still very much in love- each acknowling their most deeply held ideas and fears. It's not very Jane Austen though. For one, it's not witty or entertaining. Everyone, even Wickham, are so serious. It does not make anyone ridiculous. It doesn't even make fun of the clergy! Or the law, prominently displayed. I found the change in voice, the introspection, complicated feelings and regrets so unJane-like it was a bit disturbing. Then I got over any notion that this was a Jane Austen novel rather than a P. D. James and started to enjoy it. Especially the police procedural and trial bits. I didn't so much like James bringing in references to other novels like Emma and Persuasion. P.D.! Please murder one Jane Austen novel at a time. Thank you.

So on the whole, good stuff. Most enjoyable Regency crime novel. Don't think about Jane too
much and you'll like it. Or check out these folks for some fan fiction: http://www.pemberley.com/

One for the Money movie premier

Trenton area Stephanie Plum fans are invited to join a bunch of other fans at the Hamilton AMC 24 on January 27. 2012. Time is TBA. Please comment or contact me if you are interested.

Janet Evanovich On Love, Laughs And Being A Voyeur (NPR)

This is from NPR's website accessed on my iPad app.:
All Things Considered 12/15/2011

Best-selling author Janet Evanovich has a lot to laugh about: She's sold more than 75 million novels.

Her latest, Explosive Eighteen, is the 18th in a series of crime novels featuring Jersey girl Stephanie Plum, a bounty hunter with big hair and an even bigger personality. She works for her bail bondsman cousin, has a couple of love interests and many laughs along the way.

Evanovich started out as a romance writer. She tells NPR's Lynn Neary that it was a pretty simple existence.

But then she introduced the world to Stephanie Plum.

"The first thing that happened to me, of course, is that I sold it to the movies," the author says. "And I sold it for $1 million."

Suddenly, her family's lives changed. She and her agent husband paid off their children's school loans, and then the kids joined the empire that became Team Evanovich: Her daughter handles the website, her son the finances.

Plum is not autobiographical, though Evanovich gave the character a lot of her own history as a way to keep her consistent.

"I wanted this to go on for a long time," she says.

Evanovich says she knew she wanted her heroine to be likable — tenacious yet vulnerable, a little flexible in her makeup. "She wouldn't be perfect but she would try very hard," she says.

As a romance writer, Evanovich had to give Plum some hot guys in her life, so of course, there's a love triangle. The author likes that her heroine is a bit indecisive.

"We all live a little vicariously through her," she says. "How bad is that? Here's this woman who sometimes can't get the snap together on the top of her jeans and she has a lot of bad hair days and she's not fabulous at her job, but she sort of gets it done. She doesn't have a great car, and she has these two amazing men who just think she's the most attractive woman on Earth. We should all have this problem."

Plum doesn't take herself too seriously, though.

"I think this is a good thing in today's world," Evanovich says, "because I think there are a lot of people out there who do take themselves way too seriously. And, you know, we need a little humor in our lives to balance all that out.

"We don't appreciate the value of humor sometimes. You can get through very serious and sometimes horrible and sometimes embarrassing and very awkward situations with humor. It gives us a way out."

After 18 Stephanie Plum novels, Evanovich has no problem coming up with ideas.

"There's just so much craziness out there in the world; it's like I couldn't fit them all in my books," she says. "I'm a real voyeur. I go to bars and restaurants, and I sit and I eavesdrop on people and I watch people in shopping centers and, you know, I read the newspapers and I talk to the Trenton cops, and I just get a lot of information that comes in that somehow turns into a book." [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Chrstopher Hitchens

I was sad and upset to read of the death of Christopher Hitchens, curmudgeonly essayist and author who died Thursday at 62. I first read his stuff in in Vanity Fair years ago and regularly read his column, Fighting Words, in Slate - either in agreement with his erudite spearing of his subject or yelling at his pigheaded wrongness. He got to play Devil's Advocate for the canonization of Mother Theresa for example. In the face of so many poorly written and ill-chosen words in the world, I will miss his columns dreadfully.

"The instruments we have agree/the day of his death was a dark cold day..."

Christopher Hitchens Is Dead at 62 — Obituary
Christopher Hitchens wrote in the tradition of Thomas Paine and George Orwell and trained his sights on targets as various as Henry Kissinger, the British monarchy and Mother Teresa.