• Gone Girl is a solid thriller, maybe even better than solid because Gillian Flynn is a cracking author with serious chops, and she kept me guessing • Gone Girl is a solid thriller, maybe even better than solid because Gillian Flynn is a cracking author with serious chops, and she kept me guessing until the final act.
• The way Gone Girl delivers a picture of how easy it is -- and how likely it is -- for a victim of abuse to remain with the abuser is astonishing in its subtle excellence. Some may look at the extremity of this situation and pass by it thinking, "Oh ... it's rare, an aberration" but it isn't an aberration. It is all too frequent. And the frequency of staying is gender blind.
• Flynn's balancing act between Nick and Amy, making us side with one, then the other, then neither, then one, then the other, and making both attractive and repulsive in turns is probably Gone Girl's greatest strength.
•Gone Girl's post film adaptation meme explosion of female empowerment is fucking frightening. Much the way Fight Club's meme explosion of male empowerment is fucking frightening.
•The supporting cast in Gone Girl is just as convincing as its dual protagonist/antagonists. From Boney to Go, from Tanner to Gilpin, I believed in them, and they all carried depths that surprised me.
•The perspectives of Nick and Amy were handled wonderfully, and Flynn really pulled off making them distinct voices, and one of them had multiple distinct voices. It was an impressive feat.
•Having listened to this on audio, I must say it is the first case of multiple narrators that I found fully satisfying. Both Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne made their characters come alive, and their takes on the supporting cast when in contact with Amy or Nick were just close enough to each other while being clearly from their own character's perspectives to be utterly convincing.
•I don't know how others feel about the ending, that open ended, up to us cliff jump, but I loved it; I know exactly what comes next in my head, and I think Flynn rocks for leaving that up to us....more
Deviant: The shocking True Story of Ed Gein, the Original "Psycho" is written more like a novel than an act of reportage. The reporting is still there, but Schechter is quite adept at hiding the reportage under a sneaky tale-telling voice, that sucks his readers in to the horror he's conveying and makes us want to reach the mysterious revelation even if we already know the outcome.
Ed Gein, is the prototypical American serial killer. He was the inspiration for Robert Bloch's now immortal character Norman Bates, and most horror movies owe some debt to the crimes of Ed Gein. His mother's farm house -- where he lived, killed and crafted after her death -- was a charnel house of horrors, filled with the victims of his killings, his collection of body snatching bits and pieces, and all of his human leatherworking.
Yet somehow Schechter's Deviant filled me with pity and sorrow rather than horror and revulsion.
Of all the serial killers I have read about, Ed Gein seems the most deserving of pity, and Schechter's Deviant deepened my feelings. What made him do what he did seems so clear, so much a fault of outside forces or forces beyond his control -- abuse, isolation, mental illness, gender dysphoria, religious fervour, neglect -- that I couldn't and can't muster anger at Gein for his crimes. Listening to Deviant (as I listened rather than read this book), I couldn't help wondering at how many points Gein's crimes could have been avoided by even a modicum of intervention.
When the last chapter finished pouring into my ears, I found myself thinking again of Stephen Crane's Blue Hotel, and the idea that we are all guilty. All of us. And that Gein, and his even nastier brethren, are simply the manifestations of all our sins. ...more
Third time through Red Mars, and I think I finally know why I love Kim Stanley Robinson's classic science-fiction book so much -- it reminds me who IThird time through Red Mars, and I think I finally know why I love Kim Stanley Robinson's classic science-fiction book so much -- it reminds me who I am whenever I need a reminder.
Who am I? Naah. That's not for this review. What's important is how Robinson captures the voices of his characters. His book begins with the first hundred people colonizing Mars, and though he adds multitudes to those first hundred, he really only focuses on a limited bunch of the first hundred. This approach sets Red Mars up for some criticism, however, because Robinson's approach borrows from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in that each narrative section takes the perspective of a different protagonist -- Frank Chalmers, Maya Toitovna, Nadia Chernyshevski, Michel Duval, John Boone, and Ann Clayborne. They are not telling stories about something else; they are, instead, having the story of the colonization of Mars told from their perspectives, which leads to more than a little archetyping in their characterizations, and let's face it, most of us have been trained to disdain archetyping in modern literature.
But in Red Mars this archetyping is the thing that allows me to look at myself and gain that much needed reminder of who I am. The thing is that Robinson's six major voices (and all those others who spin off from them) view their new, red world very differently, in ways so many of us would view Mars if we were there too. Now I don't think who I am matches any of the main six perfectly, but there are bits of me in all of them, and watching them act and interact is a literary mirror to my soul.
There is simplicity in archetypes, it's true, but there is also something revealing about archetypes, not about the archetypes themselves but about those of us who perceive them. The characters of Red Mars do that for me. ...more
The Big Sleep filled my yearly quota of misogyny and homophobia in one shocking shot.
I read this years and years ago, watching it somewhen around theThe Big Sleep filled my yearly quota of misogyny and homophobia in one shocking shot.
I read this years and years ago, watching it somewhen around the time I watched Bogie and Bacall in Howard Hawke's adaptation, although I can't remember in what order I read/watched the two versions. I do remember loving the book, though, and I have since seen the film a dozen times over thirty-some years. I remembered the hard-bitten cynicism of Philip Marlowe, I remembered Vivian Sternwood's languorous sexiness (although it turns out this is much more Bacall's performance as Vivian than Raymond Chandler's character). I also remembered the general nuts and bolts of the story. What I didn't remember, what I had no sense of at all, was just how normalized the disdain for women and homosexuals was in this book.
It is virulent.
Women are to be avoided at all costs. They are either the devil herself, or succubi there to tempt men into their own downfall. They are incapable. They are weak. They are irresponsible. They are foolish. They are objects in the worst ways. They are infantile. They are spoiled. And they are flat (which might not be saying much considering that every character in this story, including Philip Marlowe, is static and without a hint of growth). To read it now (or to listen to it, as I did) is to feel every moment of misogyny as a pinch to the nervous system. At least that's how it felt to me.
But then there is the homophobia, which isn't omnipresent like the misogyny (since women abound in the story) but is no less disgusting. The homophobia carries with it the stain of disgust that homosexuality carried with it in our general popular culture well into the nineties (and in so many places still today), and the gay characters in The Big Sleep are the worst kind of humanity. They are positioned as no better than vermin, and homosexuality is discussed in the book the way that child molestation is discussed today.
If the misogyny was a pinch to my nerves, the homophobia was a Vulcan nerve pinch to my bisexual mind (it's no wonder it took me so long to come to terms with my sexuality with such stories shaping my mind as a child).
Yet for all my anger and disgust over the misogyny and homophobia, I find myself guiltily admitting that I really enjoyed The Big Sleep all the same. I should probably be ashamed of myself, and I assure you part of me is ashamed, but Raymond Chandler could sure tell a tale. The dialogue was crisp, the pacing was taut, the story was compelling, the setting of 1930s' LA was everything my mind has come to imagine it to be, and The Big Sleep kept me so riveted I found myself setting aside the misogyny and homophobia as just a product of the time (yeah ... I know. I am guilty as charged).
I feel like there is more to say about all this, more I should say, and much self-criticism that I should ponder (and I will), but for now I will stop, and let you make of my guilt what you will.
One last thing, I listened to the Audible audio version, narrated by Ray Porter, and his performance was one of those uneven performances that drive me mad. His vocal feel for Marlowe and the other men in the book was spot on, and he really nailed the cadence of Chandler's dialogue, but his vocals for the female characters made Chandler's misogyny audibly tangible. He cannot do women's voices, so that every woman in the story sounds like the worst possible version of themselves. It is one of those cases where a shared narration with a woman performing the female dialogue would have elevated the production far beyond what it achieved. I will be avoiding Ray Porter narrations in the future. ...more
Anders Winroth delivered exactly what I expected in his book The Age of the Vikings, but he also delivered a little something more, and it was the surAnders Winroth delivered exactly what I expected in his book The Age of the Vikings, but he also delivered a little something more, and it was the surprise of that that little something more that filled me with a hint of wonder, rekindling my dreams of my career that never was.
Winroth's overview of the Viking Age was broken up into precisely the categories I hoped, addressing the stereotypes and our shared knowledge of what the Vikings were with a desire to dispel the myths and mistakes embedded in the knowledge we think we have. For instance, his discussion of our vision of the Vikings as bloodthirsty raiders takes on the witnesses who have passed this image down to us by analyzing much of the overlooked evidence that points to countless motives that go beyond mere bloodlust, and uncovering the many times the Vikings turned their ships around and went home when they were paid off by the "targets" of their raids. Then he takes his argument a step further, pointing out that much of the reports of Viking savagery come from the priests living under the incredibly bloody -- and genocidal -- reign of Charlemagne (a man celebrated today for his enlightenment despite the enormous death toll he amassed).
This deconstruction of our perceptions is at the heart of Winroth's history of the Viking Age, and it reveals that theirs was a culture of complexity, flexibility and durability that was much, much more than a band of violent raiders, pillagers, and plunderers.
But then there is that extra little thing that Anders Winroth delivers in The Age of the Vikings. It has to do with a commentary on history (and the places from which history draws its evidence -- archaeology, literature, religion, anthropology. Winroth's unstated thesis is that ultimately we just don't know the way things were, in any age, and we can't. All of our sources are biased, or speculative, or flawed, and that maybe the best any historian can do is eliminate things we know a time was not. That and give the best guess without pretending it is an absolute truth.
This idea brought me back to my sideways love of archaeology, of my desire, long held but never acted upon, to become an archeologist. And right here, near my home, I have one of the richest Viking finds connected to a school I love's archaeology department, and maybe 45 is not too old to just go ahead and start digging in the wet, cold soil and turning my speculative mind to the evidence of a thousand years ago. I like that. I like being reminded of those paths long overgrown but always waiting to be returned to....more
It's been a long while since I read a book about the First World War, but I've read many and was always going to find my way back to its histories inIt's been a long while since I read a book about the First World War, but I've read many and was always going to find my way back to its histories in this Centennial period of the conflict. The one book I had long wanted to read but had never gotten around to was Barbara W. Tuchman's The Guns of August.
I have heard of its excellence from many folks I trust, and their praise was mostly borne out --especially when it came to The Guns of August's two major strengths.
First is Tuchman's decision to focus on the leaders who brought the world to war, and the generals and decision makers who fought the war during that fateful August. It was a decision that turned The Guns of August into a dramatic character piece. It was told, at times, with a fiction writer's flair for her characters' strengths and weaknesses, their passions and foibles, their hatreds and loyalties. Ludendorff and Hindenburg loom large on the Eastern Front for the Germans; King Alfred of Belgium takes on heroic proportions as he saves his nation in the first weeks of the conflict; Franchet d'Esperey and Gallieni are the decisive figures that pull France back from the brink; John French, the commander of the BEF, comes off as a man out of his depth; while Joseph Joffre sits above them all as the calm, unflappable saviour of the Allied cause. It's all wildly entertaining, satisfying the craving to read about great people doing great things.
Second is Tuchman's microscopic focus on a tiny period of the First World War. No grand overviews for The Guns of August. This is, as the title states, a look at that first August of the war. We see how many (but not all) of the pieces fit together to lead inexorably to the conflict, and Tuchman delivers an thrilling account of all of August's engagements -- from Germany's almost victory and near capture of Paris to France's almost repulsion of the Huns and their near ending of the war in only a month. It all takes place before the trenches that have become synonymous with WWI are dug, before the war is mud and gas and horror and attrition, before hindsight could clarify and taint the decisions made by the great decision makers. As with her focus on great men, Tuchman's narrow focus lends itself compelling narrative, and reading this book is a thrill.
For all of its quality, however, The Guns of August has flaws, and the flaws are also rooted in the books strengths. Tuchman's focus on the great leaders makes perfect sense to her history book, to the history it's trying to tell, but it also leads too easily to her own biases (which is something I find myself saying about nearly every historian. Sorry historians). It is too easy to tell who the people are that she most admires (a KitKat of French generals top the list), too easy to tell whose side she is on (England's) and which side she despises and blames (the Germans). These biases lack subtlety, and once they are put together with her narrow focus, their lack of subtlety are compounded by a tendency to oversimplification -- and increase of black and white, of contrast, and the decrease of shades of grey.
Regardless of its flaws, The Guns of August is an excellent piece of work, especially if you are knowledgeable about the First World War, but have taken a break from studying this decidedly depressing period and need a way back in.
p.s. Nadia May's narration of the audio version is perfect. She delivers light versions of all the accents, which work beautifully without any silly attempts at impersonation, and she sounds just like Penelope Wilton, Downton Abbey's Isobel Crawley (amongst other roles), which is a blast for any fan of Downton who loves Matthew's Mum. ...more
Stanley Karnow was a journalist before and during America's war in Vietnam, so he comes at his subject with all the biases of his era, his job and hisStanley Karnow was a journalist before and during America's war in Vietnam, so he comes at his subject with all the biases of his era, his job and his country (and admits as much in his Prologue), yet he still manages, for the most part, to present a balanced view of the history he is undertaking -- a history of Vietnam's wars rather than America's Vietnam War.
The title suggests that the book is going to be a history of Vietnam, an informative overview of its entire history. The title is misleading. Karnow has written an overview, it's true, but it is an overview of conflict. Once the minor disappointment over the focus of the book passes, however, it is easy to appreciate what Karnow has done.
I think this is a great starting point for anyone really interested in understanding how South East Asia become one of the most important moments in the history of a country so far removed from its shores. By tracing Vietnam's long history of warfare, from its attempts to dominate its Laosian and Cambodian neighbours and its prolonged attempt to hold off the influence of the menacing Chinese power to the north, to its disdain for French Colonial dominance and their ultimate war against (or use of) US Imperialism, the Vietnamese history of conflict shows us that wars, all of them, were likely inevitable, and that anyone taking the fight to them in their land was doomed to failure.
Karnow's best moments, however, are when the book leaves behind the jungles and cities and towns of South East Asia and returns to the machinations of the US politicians during the Vietnam Era. He addresses Kennedy's shortsightedness and belligerence (suggesting, to me at least, that his unsavoury role in Vietnam is one in a series of shortcomings his assassination have mystified for the public), Johnson's morass, Nixon's downright villainy and nuclear sabre rattling (which is a form of mental terrorism if there ever was one, and it was standard Nixon policy, actually called the "Madman" policy), and all the fucking about the other US players engaged in to prolong or fight or avoid or pull out of a war that should never have been engaged in but could not be avoided.
A good read. And a good start for anyone interested in understanding an important moment in time. ...more
The kindest thing I can say about Andy Weir's The Martian is that it is going to make an excellent Ridley Scott film. I will be thoroughly shocked ifThe kindest thing I can say about Andy Weir's The Martian is that it is going to make an excellent Ridley Scott film. I will be thoroughly shocked if the film is worse than the novel. I expect it to be much, much better on screen. This may sound like an insult, but I truly mean it as a compliment because from the beginning of the story until the end, I felt Andy Weir's fingers deliberately tapping out a tale for sale to Hollywood -- and good for him for succeeding so well.
The Martian is, essentially, a retelling of the real life Apollo 13 drama, but reset on Mars, with a botanist/engineer (oh what a happy and joyful confluence of skills) doing everything he can, both with and without help NASA, to survive.
The story glides gleefully all over the place, from the titular Martian's computer journal and his communications with Earth to some standard prose concerning what's going on at NASA, what's going on with the Martian's former crew mates, and what happens in the final, daring rescue mission.
It's a good story, and one of the more compelling audiobooks I've heard (in fact, it is the fastest I have ever blasted through an audiobook, a format I am not terribly fond of most of the time, but listen to through necessity), but by the end it feels much too happy. It is not a spoiler to say that the Martian is saved -- that is a foregone conclusion -- and if you are someone who actually thought he might not make it, then I'm guessing you didn't know the movie was coming soon or that you didn't recognize Andrew Weir's ultimate destination for the story. Hollywood wouldn't want a dead Martian.
I am looking forward to this in the theatre, although my greatest hope is that Ridley Scott and co. have given us something a little darker, a little less happy, a little more dangerous on the big screen. I doubt it, but it would be nice. ...more
I took the time to listen to John Lee's audio performance of Perdido, and it didn't disappoint. My love for the book remains intact. There is somethinI took the time to listen to John Lee's audio performance of Perdido, and it didn't disappoint. My love for the book remains intact. There is something magnificent about a book whose prose strives to evoke the cracks and fetidness of a city while lying dormant on the page, then doubles down its evocation when the words are given breath. It sounds as good as it reads, which makes the listening truly worthwhile....more
This is the first time I have ever read (listened) to a series of Conan stories that were all by Robert E. Howard, undiluted by his imitators and dimiThis is the first time I have ever read (listened) to a series of Conan stories that were all by Robert E. Howard, undiluted by his imitators and diminishers, and what a revelation. Howard's work was not the pulpy trash of his followers; it was accomplished, vital, deep and rich in characterization, and some of the finest world building ever achieved. It was that thing I love most: a novel in short stories.
Listening to this collection, one gets a full picture of Howard's Cimmerian. Not the "barbarian" his copycats like to present (it's interesting to note that Howard's Conan only ever refers to himself as a Cimmerian), but the man with powerful personal ethics, a good man born of a bellicose tribe in a time of war, a man whose lustiness is lustful rather than rapacious, a man as capable of personal brutality as he is of noble heroism as he is of tactical genius as he is of creeping stealth as he is shocking kindness as he is geniune responsibility. Howard's Conan is a possible man, a realistic man, a man who does great things and travels far -- rising from thief/pirate to general/king -- but a man who, despite his titular status, suffers consequences and faces situations with real stakes.
That Conan, Howard's Conan, disappears in the writing of others, becoming a buffoonish barbarian pseudo-god, a "barbarian" in every caricatured sense of the word, a moron, a being of pure instinct and no intellect, the sort of character Arnold Schwarzenneger might play, rather than a real actor with a real brain (say Tom Hardy).
The stand out stories: "The Tower of the Elephant" (my favourite to teach), "Queen of the Black Coast" (recently adapted and serialized beautifully by Brian Wood for Dark Horse Comics), "Black Colossus," and "The Devil in Iron" are some of the finest short stories ever put to typewriter -- by anyone.
If the only Conan you know is the Conan co-opted by L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, Robert Jordan et al., and you enjoyed their pulpy goodness well enough, do yourself a favour and read the real thing. Robert E. Howard was the real deal, and I'll be surprised if he disappoints you.
One final word: the narrator of the audiobook -- Todd McClaren -- is excellent. His voice his clear, his feminine voice avoids insipidity, and the way he paces the tales is impeccable. I'll be seeking his voice out in the future....more
I felt like brushing up against the '60s last week, more as a way to uncover some more serious places to start reading than to truly inform myself aboI felt like brushing up against the '60s last week, more as a way to uncover some more serious places to start reading than to truly inform myself about the period, but I was pleasantly surprised by John Robert Greene's willingness to criticize the sacred cows of the generation.
Whether discussing JFK's poor legislative record (before and during the Presidency), MLKJr's lack of support from the Black activist community who felt he wasn't doing enough and was too quick to capitulate to the Man, LBJ's war mongering, Ike's diplomacy or Nixon's supposed crookedness, Greene suggests -- quite explicitly -- that the myths of oru expectations and memories are very different from the realities of these men and their mark on their times.
It makes me want to read more, more than I already did. Job well done, Dr. Greene. Your "further reading" sections already have me adding to my list of to-reads. ...more
John Lee, the narrator of many of the more famous Miéville books on audio, has a voice made for very specific kinds of stories. The City and the CityJohn Lee, the narrator of many of the more famous Miéville books on audio, has a voice made for very specific kinds of stories. The City and the City is one of those stories wherein his voice works, as it also does with Miéville's Kraken. He has the kind of voice that perfectly suits the cynical world of our now. Hard without being harsh (and without the gravelly phlegm of smoking too much), almost combative in his delivery and mostly humourless (which worked oddly well in the very funny Kraken), Lee sounds like the sort of guy Miéville is usually writing about in his Earthbound books. So imagining Lee's voice as that of Tyador Borlu, even with the English accent when it should really be some form of Balkan accent, is not at all difficult. His voice is perfect for the jaded cop from Beszel, expressing pragmatism, annoyance and righteousness (though not necessarily of the "self") in turns. I'm not as big a fan of John Lee when he tries to read the Bas Lag books, but for Miéville's stuff on Earth, there is no one better. ...more
What a fantastic way to consume an overview of an historical period. Ian Mortimer's decision to create a guide for tourism shifts the focus of historyWhat a fantastic way to consume an overview of an historical period. Ian Mortimer's decision to create a guide for tourism shifts the focus of history from the "Great People of History" to the "People You'll Meet while Walking by Shitbrook," and that turns out to be far more fascinating -- at least to me.
Want to know how to avoid prosecution for murder in case you slip up during your travels? Mortimer lets you know. Want to know what sports you can expect to enjoy? They're all here. Want to know what drinks to avoid, what to look for in foods, what roads to take, what protection you'll need while travelling, what to wear, what to read, what to carry with you? Look no further than this fantastic guide.
I'll be leaving for London 1362 tomorrow, just after one of the outbursts of plague has cleared up. That way I can take advantage of the decreased and depressed population, and hopefully avoid the buboes.
A Swedish national, a "sports" journalist, goes missing in Budapest, behind the "Iron Curtain." It's the height of the Cold War, and Swedish homicideA Swedish national, a "sports" journalist, goes missing in Budapest, behind the "Iron Curtain." It's the height of the Cold War, and Swedish homicide detective Martin Beck, about to enjoy his vacation, is sent, instead, to look into the disappearance.
A Canadian boy would expect a 70s Budapest to be riddled with spies and spying and suspicion. A Canadian boy would expect oppressiveness and oppression at every Hungarian turn. A Canadian boy would expect high adventure mixed with the KGB and CIA. A Canadian boy would expect an international murder, with international implications. A Canadian boy would expect something thrillingly action packed. A Canadian boy would be wrong, though.
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahloo were not as foolish as the Canadian boy. They didn't have his prejudices and indoctrinations. They knew the story they were telling, and they told it their way, with integrity. So their story has a beautiful Budapest, with bath houses, and quays and the Danube outside Metropolitan hotels. It has local police just like anyone else's police, no better or worse, just doing their job. It has a little danger at the hands of some German drug dealers who make their home in Budapest. And the solution to the mystery of the missing man is mundane and lying back in Sweden. Budapest was just a step in the path to the appropriately depressing conclusion.
It is what all the Martin Beck mysteries are -- true -- and that is the highest praise I can bestow on a work of fiction. ...more
I said I was going to listen to it the next time I read it and here I go.
An intelligent man I know is also an incorrigible literary snob whI said I was going to listen to it the next time I read it and here I go.
An intelligent man I know is also an incorrigible literary snob who believes that the last author of any true literary merit was Faulkner, and that anything that has come since must be poor by definition (himself excluded, though I suspect I am not). He reads more recent texts because he must (for school or pedagogical purposes), and his feelings about them are predominantly negative.
So he read the Wasp Factory at my behest while I listened to it, then we sat down and chatted. He was entertained by Frank's tale, but he feels The Wasp Factory is poorly written, that Banks is nothing but a sensationalist writing with overdetermination and a tendency towards the melodramatic. It's the only Banks he has read, and my opinion incorporates a reading of most of Banks' novels, but I disagree with my friend -- both in the case of The Wasp Factory and the quality of contemporary authors.
I am mostly talked out after our discussion of the other day, where we left things unconvinced by the other's arguments. Suffice to say that I find much to admire in the emotional, sometimes passionate, sometimes cold first person revelations of Frank Cauldhame. Banks told the tale in the voice the tale required, and the tale of lies upon lies upon lies upon half-truths is to be much admired as an entertainment and as literature. And a world, such as my friend desires, wherein Dickens would be top-middle-bottom of the reading menu, is a world that would bore me to coma. Leguin, Mieville, Banks, Morrison (an author my friend admits approaches quality), Vandermeer, Hope, Katzman, Atwood, Allende, Mitchell, Murakami, Ishiguro, and others I'm not remembering make my imagination tremble.
I'm glad he read the book for me; I am sad he didn't like it more; I surely loved our conversation, though. Books (and the people who love them) really are good, aren't they?...more
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö wrote their Martin Beck series in the sixties and seventies. They wrote ten novels in ten years. They wrote about a time wi Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö wrote their Martin Beck series in the sixties and seventies. They wrote ten novels in ten years. They wrote about a time without computers and modern gadgets, but apart from those conveniences themselves, the books could have been written yesterday.
These books are about everything that continues to be wrong in our societies. They are about carceration, misplaced conceptions of justice and the omnipresence of injustice. They are about the militarization of police forces and police culpability in the crimes they are expressly formed to fight. They are about an environment under siege by our way of living. They are about our fears of sexuality and society's role in controlling our desires. They are about rape culture and the fight of women to control their bodies and own their sexuality. They are about the disaffection of our children and young adults. They are about failing economies, people without work, the haves having more and the have-nots having so little that they turn to crime in despair. They are about the need for forgiveness. They are about guilt and conscience and ethics. And they show that not a damn thing has changed (at least in the Canada of today, the country I live in, it hasn't. Canada right now is the Sweden of the seventies and that is fucking depressing).
Into all of these issues, spanning nine years a this point, are thrust Martin Beck and Lennart Kollberg. They solve murders for the National Police Squad. They are men of conscience, actively struggling everyday with the issues Sjöwall & Wahlöö drop in their path. (view spoiler)[By the close of the book, one of them resigns from the force he once loved and now disdains. The other goes wearily on. People die over the course of Cop Killer, even a cop (though the "actual" cop killer is rather surprising). The wrong man is railroaded into prison to await trial for a crime he didn't commit simply because it is the path of least resistance. Other men are hunted and ear-marked for death because of coincidence. A girl is bitten repeatedly in the groin by an attack dog because she helped some friends (though she'd already surrendered when the dog attacked). A cop and a man he helped convict of murder (now free after serving his sentence) sit down over a seltzer water and an aquavit to share their guilt over the people they've killed. And one cop looks forward to eating a meal with the woman he loves. It's all here in this marvellous book. (hide spoiler)]
Make no mistake, these books are not to be taken lightly; they are literature. They should be the canon of police procedurals. If you love detective stories and you've not read the Martin Beck books you need to get started. You'll see why.
p.s. If you decide to read this series take my advice and reread Roseanna just before you read this for the first time. I did quite by accident and a happy accident it was.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
**spoiler alert** All the main characters, Aubrey and Maturin included, faded into the background of The Mauritius Command, becoming a kind of landsca**spoiler alert** All the main characters, Aubrey and Maturin included, faded into the background of The Mauritius Command, becoming a kind of landscape upon which the drama of Lord Clonfert played out. His was the story that most captured my attention this time through.
Clonfert begins the tale as the captain of HMS Otter. He is a vain man. A handsome man who cuts a dashing figure in his finery. He has developed some bravery (after a shaky beginning to his career), is a "capital seaman" and has the loyalty of his men. He is also an unabashed liar when it comes to his accomplishments (even suggesting he was present at the killing of a unicorn, using a Narwhal tusk as his evidence), but his vanity quickly undermines his spirit when he's thrust into the shadow of his former shipmate, now commanding officer, Commodore Jack Aubrey.
Clonfert is eventually made Post-Captain by the man he sees as his nemesis and is given the frigate HMS Néréide as his command. He eventually loses his ship and half his face in a poorly executed action, and once he realizes that Jack Aubrey will again return him to command, after the Mauritius Campaign has reached its successful conclusion, he takes his own life in his convalescent bed.
It's not a tragic death. It's rather pathetic, actually. O'Brian's expression of Clonfert's fall, however, is touching and strikes at a truth I've witnessed amongst many of those who find themselves in competition with one another. Quite often, the successful person, the "bull" in an analogy of Stephen Maturin's, has no idea that the less successful person, the "frog" in the same analogy, envies him, hates him, or obsesses over him in any way. So the bull steps on the frog without ever noticing, and as Dr. Maturin suggests, "how can the bull be blamed ...." How, indeed?
I never want to be a frog, but I fear that there is a bit of that beast in me despite my desire. It is something for which I must be wary. I should probably be wary of being the bull too. Wariness may just be the most benevolent policy.
I just took a second listen to The Mauritius Command, and Simon Vance's performance held up very well. I know many adore Patrick Tull, and perhaps I would too if I ever had a chance to hear his work, but I have listened to four of the novels now (having read them all first) with Simon doing the narrating, and I feel like my brain has settled in on his rhythms. He's become the voice of these men for me. He's never been my favourite narrator of fiction (I most recently listened to his Dr. No, James Bond), but I have enjoyed his Egyptology readings. His voice just seems to suit the more historically driven tales. Maybe it is the pomposity he can achieve with his voice. I dunno. I do know I liked it, though. Again. ...more
I exhale my breath in a long deep sigh. I've just finished listening to what is probably the most cinematic of all the Sjowall and Wahloo Beck books (I exhale my breath in a long deep sigh. I've just finished listening to what is probably the most cinematic of all the Sjowall and Wahloo Beck books (maybe not the best, but certainly the most evocative), and for the first time (despite the excellence of the entire series) I want to drop everything I'm doing and get started on the next book.
I need to know how the serious cliffhanger resolves. I need to see the fallout of everything that's happened, I need to see how these men, some of whom I hate and some of whom I love, handle the carnage they've been part of and have helped to bring about directly or indirectly.
I sit here typing with a slight pain in my back when I should be cleaning or grocery shopping, and I think of writing a book with the qualities of The Abominable Man. Its unique in the Beck series for taking the shortest time from crime to resolution. A day passes. That's all. And that is a huge departure from a series that is all about the banality of police procedure. It is a crime where the criminal might actually want to be caught, but we can't know that for sure. It's a bloody crime that leads to a crime some might call crazed (with a lone gunman on the roof of an apartment block killing police) but I call desperate.
It moves from action to action to action. It throws together two pairings of cops who hate each other, separating them from their usual, comfortable partners. It makes us care about them all. It makes us care about two of the other victims, dumb ass radio cops from earlier books. It makes us care about the murderer, to see where he is coming from. It makes us loathe the murderer's first victim, and love our eponymous hero more than we ever have before. Thus I realize that I couldn't write a book with The Abominable Man's qualities. Not from scratch. The Abominable Man is excellent because it is preceded by six other books, and those books built the milieu through which all of these men heroes, villains, victims, victimizers and buffoons move. It is a book that only patience of purpose and playing the long game could create.
I'll need seven books to get there. Better get writing. ...more
I can't remember what I've said previously about the Martin Beck books (beyond my general positivity), so I apologize if you find me repeating myselfI can't remember what I've said previously about the Martin Beck books (beyond my general positivity), so I apologize if you find me repeating myself (I am too lazy to go back and read all my previous reviews). I think it is also important to note that my star rating here is contrasted with the other books I've read in the series. The rating doesn't reflect my feelings about The Fire Engine that Disappeared compared to all books -- only other Martin Beck books.
That business complete, I have to say "I dig these books!" They are amongst the best police procedurals I've read, and all Swedish crime fiction (perhaps all crime fiction) since the sixties, including (especially?) Steig Larsson, owes these books an immeasurable debt. But I don't care about the plot of this book tonight. I care about the characters, which is, I think, what Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahloo most wanted us to care about.
Martin Beck -- The man from which the series gets its name is not much more than a bit player in this tale, but he's still the place to start. He is the pivot around which everything else revolves, and the relationship between himself and his daughter, Ingrid, is one of the most beautiful father-daughter relationships I've ever read. It is true in a way that other manifestations simply aren't. At one point, she suggests that he should move out of the family home as she's about to do, hinting at a much needed divorce from the wife and son that make him so miserable. It is an expression of trusting intimacy that is potently honest. I can't help but love them both for that moment.
Kollberg -- Sarcastic, bombastic, sextastic, Kollberg has been my favourite throughout the series, and he remains so here. He starts out petulant and sarcastic, fucking with the rookie, Benny Skacke, incessantly, and winds up with nine inches of steel in his belly. It's a sweet little arc that keeps my favourite vibrant and alive. Will he still be anti-gun after his stabbing? I'm guessing yes. Dogmatically so.
Benny Skacke -- And speaking of young Skacke ... not too bad. He's a smart operator, and it is all down to his tenacity. I get the feeling that his desire to be Chief of Police is going to come to fruition by book ten. And his final error, the error that leads to serious danger, is the kind of error that will be misconstrued as heroism -- much to his benefit. Lucky bastard.
Gunvald Larsson -- Perhaps the most important man in this book, Gunvald Larsson is also the biggest prick, the most unlikeable, the most insufferable. He's the ugly cop. He's not dirty, no, no. But he is brutal, unswerving, unreasonable. He is a bully of the worst kind. He is mean, insulting, close-minded, foolish. Yet he starts this book as a hero, dragging eight people from a horrible house fire. And he milks it for all he can.
Einar Rönn -- He's Larsson's best friend, and he brings Gunvald a bunch of flowers while he's recovering from his heroism, to which his friend wonders aloud: "Did you pick them off a grave, Rönn?" Rönn winces, genuinely hurt, but his love for Larsson never wavers. Dumb? Yes. But I can't help loving him for it, and as cops go he's actually kind of okay.
Fredrik Melander -- is just plain old Melander. He pseudo-solves things early on. He loves his Plain Jane wife. He is his ordinary boring self. I can't do anything but love him for who he is.
And that, ultimately, is what makes me love these books. The characters. They are true. True and real. And I can't and won't ask for more.
One of the things I dig most about the "Martin Beck" mysteries is that they are only named "Martin Beck" mysteries out of convenience. He's the highesOne of the things I dig most about the "Martin Beck" mysteries is that they are only named "Martin Beck" mysteries out of convenience. He's the highest ranking policeman in Sjowall and Wahloo's Stockholm Homicide Division, and a couple of the early books tended to focus on him, but as the series goes on the books can be about any of the men who work with Beck.
The Laughing Policeman revolves around two of the detectives: Lennart Kollberg and Åke Stenström. In fact, the central mystery of the book is the shooting of Stenström and seven others on a double decker bus on the edge of Stockholm and Solna. No one has any idea what Stenström is doing on the bus, and the hunt for a mass murderer in 1968 Sweden is all a bit surreal to the detectives who expect that kind of thing in Vietnam war torn USA, but not late-sixties Sweden.
The investigation (refreshingly bereft of the "cop killer" chest beating we've come to expect from our police procedurals) digs deep into the life of Stenström, trying to figure out what he is doing and why he is on that bus. We meet his girlfriend and future cop Åsa Torell, we discover their sexual proclivities, Stenström's love of guns, and his lofty ambitions.
It is Kollberg who does most of the work on this front, befriending Åsa Torell after Stenström's death and going so far as to invite her to stay with him, his wife, Gun, and their baby (only one at this point) for a while. We discover much more about Kollberg's Socialist politics, his disdain for guns, his and Gun's sexual proclivities, and that he is a damn good detective. No wonder he and Beck get along so well.
The Kollberg and Stenström stuff is exactly the kind of stuff I love. Getting to know characters in the midst of whatever it is they are supposed to be doing. But what Kollberg is supposed to be doing, along with Beck and Melander, Larsson and Rönn, is finding a mass murderer. And that part of the story is as satisfying as it can possibly be. If you love mystery novels, and if you're even mildly interested in Swedish crime fiction, you will love this book. I did. ...more
I like listening to this book better than reading it, I think. This one is steeped in the emotional lives of Jack and Stephen. It's the first that reaI like listening to this book better than reading it, I think. This one is steeped in the emotional lives of Jack and Stephen. It's the first that really starts showing us how deeply these men feel about each other and the others they care about, and hearing it rather than reading it adds a level of intimacy that increases the novel's emotional satisfaction.
It opens with Stephen's torture at the hands of the French, and Jack's daring rescue. Captain Jack cares for his wounded friend with a tenderness that belies his massive frame, and he can't help but be rattled by the state in which he finds Stephen.
HMS Surprise continues in this vein, moving from emotional moment to emotional moment. Jack loves Sophie Williams, but cannot marry her because he is arrested for debt and Mrs. Williams wants a rich man for her daughter, not just a rank or name. It cuts Jack to the quick.
Stephen loves Diana Villiers (Sophie's cousin), but she has run off with Canning, a much liked Jewish merchant with interests in Diana's birth home -- India. Stephen also comes to love a little street urchin named Dill, and he eventually loses both Diana (for now) and Dill (forever). And he kills Canning in a rather spooky dual, where Stephen, even with his torture-warped hands and a bullet in his chest, manages to end the dual with the death of his rival. Death and heartache are Stephen's lot.
And then Jack and Diana, and Bonden and Killick and all the Sophies (the crewmen of Jack's first ship), are in a deep state of dread that Stephen will not make it through the infection left behind by his surgery (which he himself performed) -- and the love that they all feel for the too intense, rather ugly, brilliantly talented doctor is revealed.
Listening to Simon Vance bring this to life increases the intimacy for the reader/listener, making this a rare case when the audio book increased my enjoyment. I wonder if this will happen again? There're still 18 books to listen to. Perhaps it will. ...more
I am a big fan of multi-multi-part series. Series that follow the same character(s) for eight, nine, ten or even dozens of books have an ability to plI am a big fan of multi-multi-part series. Series that follow the same character(s) for eight, nine, ten or even dozens of books have an ability to play with characters and let them grow and breathe that one shots or even trilogies don't.
The best, like Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey Maturin Series, do such a fine job that their characters become members of the family. People you know intimately and love despite all their flaws. The worst, like most of the Fantasy and Sci-Fi series that have multiple authors, remain a fascinating way to examine how different authors present their different takes on the characters they're writing about. They're often worth reading despite the contradictions and lapses in authorial judgement.
The mystery genre is probably the most prolific producer of multi-volume sets -- especially when it comes to the police procedural. It makes perfect sense to follow a cop or forensic examiner or whatever else over the length of his/her career, and their stories have the easy crime hooks that land our attention. Fans of crime novels all have a favourite detective -- mine is Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander (I am setting aside Mr. Holmes for this discussion) -- and we all have plenty that do nothing for us. But the one thing that can be said for all the "big" characters of the genre, whatever the skill of their creators, is that the more books that are written about them, the more they come to life.
This is, of course, also true of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's exceptional Martin Beck series -- only more so.
Beck and his colleagues -- Kollberg, Melander, Larrson, Rönn -- exist in Sjöwall and Wahlöö's sixties Sweden with an ease that seems entirely unreasonable. The Beck books are short (at least the three I've read so far), yet these characters, in tiny, almost imperceptible ways, achieve depths that other characters can't and don't. They don't seem like characters anymore. They feel real, as though these books are a chronicle of men who once existed.
Perhaps this has most to do with a peculiarity of Sjöwall and Wahlöö's books that popped up in The Man on the Balcony. It struck me that there books are unique in one very important way. Unlike every other multi-part series I've ever read -- and there've been quite a few -- the Martin Beck books are not really multiple parts. Sjöwall and Wahlöö weren't writing ten Martin Beck stories, they were writing ONE Martin Beck story, and each "part" was really just a chapter in the greater whole.
That, more than anything else, allows Sjöwall and Wahlöö to breathe life into their policemen. References in The Man on the Balcony to the first part of their story, Roseanna, aren't simple reminders of some action that happened in the past, they are experiences that shaped their characters' personalities and altered the way the men are now reacting and behaving. Everything about these men is built as if they are real. Not just characters on a page, but men whom Sjöwall and Wahlöö can bring into existence through sheer force of will.
It's no wonder this series is seen as a seminal work of the genre. Its influence should be tremendous for anyone writing about cops. Hell, I don't write about cops, and its already influencing me. ...more
This book is widely considered one of Hemingways worst, and there's even a tale floating around that he told director Howard Hawks that he thought itThis book is widely considered one of Hemingways worst, and there's even a tale floating around that he told director Howard Hawks that he thought it was a pile of shit. It's not, though. It's neither his worst nor a pile of shit. Nor is it his best. But there is much to admire in To Have and Have Not, and those things are amplified by Will Patton's award worthy vocal performance in the audio version.
Patton's quiet, simmering rhythm, and his hushed tones -- even in the most violent moments -- bring out the story's melancholy, its hopelessness, its pity, its hope.
And it makes it much easier to see the love and respect Hemingway has for his characters in a way that might not be so clear when the words are sitting stagnant on a page. It really feels like this book, more than any except The Old Man and the Sea, was meant to be heard. Pick up your copy and read yourself Chapter 12, then flip over and read yourself Chapter 19 right away. Read it slowly and calmly. Can you feel the intentional flow? Can you feel the way Hemingway loves Marie?
He does. Hemingway loves Marie the way he loves Pilar in For Whom The Bell Tolls, and it is beautiful -- especially the way its read by Will Patton.
For me, this time, To Have and Have Not was about Marie, and by the end I am sure she's going to be just fine. I really wish Hemingway had gone and told us more about Marie Morgan. But I love what he have. ...more
I could hear the cigarettes and bourbon tearing apart narrator Tom Weiner's vocal chords as I listened to his reading of The Man Who Went Up in Smoke,I could hear the cigarettes and bourbon tearing apart narrator Tom Weiner's vocal chords as I listened to his reading of The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Weiner's voice adds aural texture to a book overflowing with atmospheric texture; he compliments the Martin Beck tale perfectly with his slurry gravelly voice.
And that's seems important to me here in a way that it doesn't in all audiobooks. I think it is because of how important this series is to its genre.
Mankell's debt is easily traceable. His Kurt Wallander novel, The Dogs of Riga, is a direct descendent of The Man Who Went Up in Smoke. Wallander spends his time in Riga, Latvia, at the height of the Cold War, investigating a murder, just as Martin Beck spends his time in Budapest, Hungry investigating a man's disappearance. The similarities are such that they feel like companion pieces, pieces meant to be read together as a way to consider the same tale from the perspectives of different eras.
But I discovered a potential link of inspiration that surprised me (and I'd love to have an admission for this from the author himself -- just to satisfy my curiosity). I am willing to bet that China Miéville read The Man Who Went Up in Smoke when he was gearing up to write The City and the City. In a much simpler form, the tale of Tyador Borlú's search for the killer of Mahalia Geary is present here. But the most interesting link is the way Beck moves between the cities that are Budapest. It is a city and a city, and that idea is playing on the edges of The Man Who Went Up in Smoke.
These connections and those who've been inspired by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahloo don't really matter for too many of us. What does matter is that these are some seriously satisfying mysteries. Must reading (or listening) for any serious fan of the police procedural....more
WARNING: This "review" (if you can call it that) contains some veiled but serious spoilers. Only read this review if you've read Kraken or aren't planWARNING: This "review" (if you can call it that) contains some veiled but serious spoilers. Only read this review if you've read Kraken or aren't planning to read it for some time.
Star Trekiteuthis: The Original Series Episode: TOS 061 - Spock's Brain Season 3 Ep. 1 Air Date: 09/20/1968 Stardate: 5431.4
The U.S.S. Architeuthis is on a routine mission in its preservative bottle when a riffling, ink stained, paper tiger beams into the National History Museum. Without a word, the tiger reorders the ink of its pages and everyone is rendered unconscious. It moves around the Museum until finally it comes to Miéville. Smiling an inky smile, it lays a hand on the author's head, as if it's found what it was looking for.
When Wati Kirk awakes, Miéville is gone from the Museum. Before the labour organizer can find out where his author has gone, Dane Parnell calls, demanding his presence immediately. Miéville's body lays on a diagnostic table, on full life support. Dane Parnell explains that his brain is gone ... miraculously removed with some technology that the Kraken Agent has never seen before. Every nerve was sealed and there was no blood lost. However, Parnell tells him if the author's brain isn't returned to his body within 24 hours, Miéville will die.
Wati Kirk orders the city's familiars to pursue the paper tiger. By following its lack, the Architeuthis arrives at the Sea's embassy in Varmin Way. When Wati Kirk and party shift inside, they find a soaked, underwater world inhabited by two villains: Grisamentum, who is comprised of ink and paper, and the Tattoo, a crime lord tattoed onto the back of a man named Paul. While Grisamentum is resurrected in the liquid body of ink, he doesn't fully understand the power of metaphor. Only the "Great Prophet" -- a.k.a. Billy Harrow -- has this knowledge, and he was left behind by ancient squid cultists (or bottle angels) who once lived on the planet.
Dane, having borrowed a device which will control Miéville's body without the aid of his brain, goes with the author to join Wati Kirk and his party. They find Grisamentum, the tiger who came into the Museum. They quickly realize that Gris doesn't have the skill or knowledge to have understood the operation on Miéville, and the Londonmancers tell them about the Great Prophet.
Finally, Wati Kirk finds Miéville's brain. The Tattoo has hooked it up to control his main thug, Goss and Subby. The brain is now revered by the thug as the "Controller," which the thug hopes will fulfill his (its? their?) murderous thirst for the next 10,000 years. After trying unsuccessfully to get Gris to repeat the operation on Miéville in reverse, Dane submits to the Great Prophet and gains the knowledge of metaphor needed to restore Miéville's brain and save both the author's life and all their existences.
Without his Controller, Goss and Subby succumb to the wrath of Paul who conquers his Tattoo. Wati Kirk suggests the familiars go on strike once more, and Grisamentum's attack on Miéville never-was.
I'm slowly getting sucked into the world of audiobooks and loving them more and more, but I nearly abandoned this one. I am glad I didn't, though.
ThisI'm slowly getting sucked into the world of audiobooks and loving them more and more, but I nearly abandoned this one. I am glad I didn't, though.
This Blackstone edition suffers from one of the most painful voices I have ever heard -- some guy named Richard Brown. He has a nasally, whiny, smoke-too-much voice that grates the ears the way skin grates when a thumb slips off a carrot and gets shredded. He makes no attempt to offer performance of any sort, opting instead for straight reading. No variations of emotion, no variations of tone or vocal quality, just him reading Solzhenitsyn's words translated (albeit from H.T. Willets' reputedly excellent authorized translation) into English.
My kids listened to about an hour of the story one day while we were driving, and much to my surprise, they loved it. Bronte said that Brown sounded really cool and that his voice was perfect. She got me thinking, and I had to admit that she was onto something. His voice is perfect. His adanoidal drone, the sort of voice you'd expect from a "evil" English rodent in an animated movie, was perfectly suited to Ivan Denisovich Shukov, the carpenter/bricklayer/"spy"/zek banished to a Siberian Gulag in Stalinist USSR.
Brown's voice really does capture the grind of camp life. The crushing weight of scrounging for food, working for pride despite the hardship, the biting cold, the loyalties and pities that dictate every minute of every day, all that camp life must have been is contained in that torturous voice. So listening to this translation to the dissonant sound of Brown's voice turned out to be a rewarding experience. By the end I really liked it. But I am still going to have to cut off a star from this edition because I came so close to turning it off and not going back.
Zahi Hawass is an important guy when it comes to Egyptology. He knows it, and he wants us to know it too.
He spends a great deal of time in Mountains oZahi Hawass is an important guy when it comes to Egyptology. He knows it, and he wants us to know it too.
He spends a great deal of time in Mountains of the Pharaohs dropping names, asserting his authority when it comes to the possible readings of the artefact record, and sharing anecdotes about his own finds and discoveries. Yet amidst all this self-aggrandizement is some excellent information, and a reassuring vision of how healthy the debate surrounding Egyptian finds continues to be within the community of Egyptologists.
Mountains of the Pharaohs is at its worst when Hawass gives in to his imaginings of "what might have happened" to the Pharaohs and those close to them. These fictions -- containing emotion, action, and an off-puttingly omniscient narration -- might very well be rooted in facts about the 4th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, but they are mostly silly and annoying, offering up a fanciful vision of Hawass' utopian vision of Old Kingdom Egypt. And this utopian vision doesn't dissipate when he leaves the fiction behind. Hawass tends to read the archaeological record with a romantic view of a near perfect ancient world that was mirrored in their near perfect monuments.
The book is at its best, however, when Hawass spends some time with the common folk. The closing chapters about the regular Egyptians who were engaged in building the pyramids discusses some exceptional finds, and brings Hawass to a more balanced place in his vision of Ancient Egypt. The common Egyptian is a perspective I've always felt was poorly represented in popular Egyptology, so it was refreshing to see it here.
Finally, the reading by Simon Vance (of whom I am a fan, having only ever listened to his audio recordings of the Aubrey-Maturin books) is suitably noble and weighty, impeccably matching the voice to the source material....more
I despise Quentin Coldwater, but I am pretty sure that's not why I dislike this book. Unsavoury or downright unlikable protagonists are rarely a problI despise Quentin Coldwater, but I am pretty sure that's not why I dislike this book. Unsavoury or downright unlikable protagonists are rarely a problem for me, and sometimes I can love a book just because they are so unsympathetic.
Quentin is judgemental, weak, whiny, entitled, lazy, mean, superior, selfish, self-absorbed, indecisive, and a whole lot more that I can't call to mind at the moment. He is not a nice boy. He is, and perhaps intentionally so, a difficult character to feel anything positive for, yet he never does anything to deserve the abuse he takes at the hands of his lover/ex-girlfriend, Alice.
I've seen worse scenes of abuse in all sorts of places, and far more graphically disturbing scenes, but all those scenes I am thinking of had the distinction of being framed as abusive and/or disturbing. Quentin's beating at the hands of Alice, however, is particularly sickening because we are told that Quentin deserves what he gets.
What does he get? Well, he gets sucker punched by Alice who is holding a magical button, which works a bit like a roll of quarters in her fist, and Quentin's eye takes a serious lashing, so much so that his "orbital socket" is seriously traumatized, then Alice goes on to smack him about for a while despite his attempts to get her to stop attacking and talk; the only talking she is willing to do is to belittle him throughout his beating, focusing on his character flaws and destroying him emotionally rather than focusing on his betrayal until she finally threatens to murder him with her superior magic.
Throughout this assault, Quentin takes full responsibility for his beating (because he had a threesome outside his relationship with Alice), accepts that he is to blame for hurting her and is deserving of her abuse (because he inexcusably had a threesome with some close friends when his girlfriend, not his fiance nor his spouse, shut him out emotionally for weeks), and he never once questions what Alice has done to him.
As the story progresses, Quentin continues to grovel at the feet of his abuser, seeking to make amends for his "betrayal" while fully "understanding" why he deserves the abuse. But what is worse is the reaction of his friends to the abuse -- especially the other members of his threesome. He is consistently mocked and teased for his physical "weakness," no one bothers to care or worry about his emotional and physical wounds, and he is victim blamed in the worst possible ways.
As a longtime victim of abuse, albeit from a parent rather than a partner, this entire section of The Magicians marred everything that came before and everything that followed. It also made me insanely uncomfortable, depressing the hell out of me on multiple levels. I have never used this word before in connection with myself, but I can honestly say I was triggered by the abuse of Quentin.
So now I am back to my beginning: I hated Quentin from the first moments of the book. That never changed. And he wasn't a good guy in any way. Should he have cheated? Maybe not, but as with most acts of adultery it wasn't one sided (in this case there were four sides). What I do know, however, is that nothing Quentin was and nothing Quentin did can justify Alice's abuse, the shame that made him accept blame for his own abuse or the responses of the others in his life.
The Swedish-noir (Swedish-svart?) family tree runs just so: Martin Beck (grandfather) Kurt Wallander (father) Mikael Blomkvist (son).
Now I admit thaThe Swedish-noir (Swedish-svart?) family tree runs just so: Martin Beck (grandfather) → Kurt Wallander (father) → Mikael Blomkvist (son).
Now I admit that my exposure to this family is limited by my North Americanism, by the translations that filter their way across the Atlantic, by the culture(s) that make(s) these works popular, but even if there are branches and roots of the tree that I can't see, the relationship between these stories is undeniable.
So it feels to me like Martin Beck -- more specifically the first novel starring Martin Beck, RoseAnna -- is the progenitor of the big protagonists that came after.
Martin Beck, you see, is the sixties' Kurt Wallander. He is consumed by his job, he is deep in a failing marriage, he is constantly depressed, almost always in ill health, yet there is something admirable in his doggedness. And in the version of RoseAnna that I listened to, Henning Mankell admits his debt to Maj Sjowall and Per Wahlöö, acknowledging that the writing team's split from classic "English" mystery, their committment to the banality of police work, their need for investigatory truth, deeply influenced his own work.
Making that first connection is easy, the next much less so.
On the surface, Mikael Blomqvist seems a bit harder to link to his father and grandfather. He is flamboyant (for a Swede), where they are moderate and restrained. He is an active lefty, while they are decidely more conservative. He is a hopeful investigative reporter, while they are jaded old school cops. He shares the spotlight with Lisbeth Salander, while they are clearly the protagonists of their tales.
It's not the protagonists who hate women (at least not enough to destroy them), but the criminals they deal with. It is a preoccupation for all the authors, and it makes me wonder, when one reads these books, what the attitude towards women really is in Sweden. Can it be as bad as these books suggest?
Whatever the case, these books are compelling reads for anyone interested in the mystery genre. Don't be fooled, though, by those who would have you believe that Steig Larsson is some sort of genre creating genius who gave rise to Swedish crime fiction out a vaccuum. He's the most recent, and most popular, of a healthy and strong family tree. And this book, RoseAnna is one of the healthiest and most gripping of its roots....more