**spoiler alert** I picked this up on a whim at the library because I was in the mood for a quick crime read and all the jacket quotes about it having**spoiler alert** I picked this up on a whim at the library because I was in the mood for a quick crime read and all the jacket quotes about it having "one of the most stomach-churningly fatalistic noir endings of any crime novel published [in 2011]" etc. were rather compelling. In the end, I was a little less taken with the result, although I do have to admit that I read it through rather speedily—three or four sittings spread over a little over a week.
I suppose my main complaints are two-fold. Firstly, this book is the fifth in a series and feels distinctly transitional, as though it is kind of a road stop between other, more developed stories. It works fine as a standalone—all the back story that you need about the characters is woven through the narrative—and yet, it seems pretty clear that having prior context about Doctor Quirke's orphan past, his decision to pretend that his daughter had a different father, and his relationships with his assistant and Detective Hackett would probably make this particular story feel more significant. I've read crime novels where the plot of one is really contingent on the one before it (Louise Penny's Bury Your Dead, for instance), but those are rare. Typically with a series, you can expect to step into it pretty much anywhere and feel as though you're right in it, even if the secondary plot line about the detective has developed over the course of multiple books. But here, there are an awful lot of references to past cases, past circumstances, etc. and in many instances, those cases sound a more compelling. A Death in Summer hones in on the femme fatale element, but only seems to occasionally dip into the crime itself, most of which is resolved in one fell sweep at the end.
To that end, I might add that the conclusion (specifically the child abuse at the orphanage), though most certainly serious in its tone and subject matter, is one that has been telegraphed quite clearly from early on. Its final reveal is a little disappointing, however, because it feels pretty cursory. I would definitely not enjoy reading vivid descriptions of child abuse, but I do think the psychological fall-out, as you might call it, is pretty glossed over here. Sure, Francoise immediately shoots her husband in the face when she discovers that he has been abusing her daughter, but, for one example, the way that the child behaves throughout the book doesn't seem at all consistent with the idea that she's been repeatedly raped by her father. Neither does the idea that Richard Jewell could just up and "corrupt" a twenty year old man and convince him to repeatedly take part in the systematic sexual abuse of children really make any sense. I appreciate the delicacy that the author had in explaining the crimes themselves—the circumstances are horrific enough without having to go into visceral specifics—but the psychology of the victims could have been dealt with in a less vague manner. ...more
I started listening to this audio book months ago on my commute to work and was really taken with it. It was light, but not at all what I had been expI started listening to this audio book months ago on my commute to work and was really taken with it. It was light, but not at all what I had been expecting, given that so much of the first couple chapters is actually about Precious' young life, her relationship with her father, and how she got her business off the ground. So it starts out reading a bit like a novel, and then switches to a sort of short story presentation, with each distinct crime lending itself to a contained chapter. (The exception being the narrative about the missing boy, which carries through multiple chapters.) I found, however, that eventually, I felt less and less compelled to get all the way to the end of the book—rather it was a pleasant story to dip into, but not one that left me desperate for a conclusion.
Perhaps I'll finish the last disc of the audio book over the summer, but if not, I feel as though I've had a good introduction to the series nevertheless....more
I read Smith's Changing my Mind last year and really loved it, but this short story/novella (which was apparently first published in The New Yorker) wI read Smith's Changing my Mind last year and really loved it, but this short story/novella (which was apparently first published in The New Yorker) was my first encounter with her fiction. It's so tightly contained, and yet it really gives you a sense of a whole wide world. The split narration structure—one close third narrator following the main character, Fatou, and one unnamed first person narrator standing in for 'us,' the people of the Willesden neighborhood where the story takes place—was rather genius. You get to be right in the story and next to the character and also outside, observing her impassively.
After reading this over one long bus ride, I found myself thinking about scenes and lines from this story for the whole week, reading passages from it out loud to other people. Probably time for me to pick up one of her novels. ...more
A very good friend sent this book to me via another very good friend who was going to be traveling through Iceland last year. Both of them highly recoA very good friend sent this book to me via another very good friend who was going to be traveling through Iceland last year. Both of them highly recommended the book to me (the second friend read it over the course of her plane ride) and even still, it took me quite a long time to read it. But I'm very glad I did finally, and thankful to both of them for the recommendation and US-to-Iceland delivery service.
A Man Called Ove is heartfelt and sappy and yep, you see most, if not all, of the plot shifts coming about a mile away. But it's heartfelt and sappy in a really lovely, comforting sort of way—a rather life- and humanity-affirming sort of way—and that's actually kind of refreshing. It hits the right notes and it makes you feel good about the world and its curmudgeonly main character is just such a good curmudgeon. Definitely a chicken noodle soup and slippers sort of read. ...more
Thanks to the excellent year-end stock in the English language section at our local used bookstore, I lucked out this Christmas with four beautiful MuThanks to the excellent year-end stock in the English language section at our local used bookstore, I lucked out this Christmas with four beautiful Muriel Spark paperbacks. With eight hours of flight time from the US back to Iceland ahead of me, I decided to start with this "curiously disturbing" novella, and basically read it through in one sitting.
As with all of Spark's novels that I've read thus far, Not to Disturb drops you into the story once it's already started—there's no preamble, no back story, no real explanation of what is going on. the dialog is round-about and confusing at first; you don't know who any of the people talking are. And yet, rather than deterring you from continuing (or deterring me, as it happens), it just sucks you further in. You sink into the story and just figure out what is going on as you go. It's disconcerting, yes, but it's also clever and addictive and seriously hard to pull off.
The 'what's going on' of the story is (again, unsurprisingly) absurd and strange and really quite weird. As are many of the characters and relationships, for that matter. And while there are all these characters and obviously unspoken story lines (I wonder, actually, if this started as a different book, or if this is a paired down version of a much more extensive novel), there's a lot that is simply not gone into here. There's so much story that exists completely off the page. I find this rather amazing, particularly as someone who, as a writer, is always compelled to fill in all of the back story, to make sure that the reader has all the 'irrelevant' information before the real story gets underway.
And perhaps this isn't always the best way to go. Because Spark demonstrates here, sometimes the most compelling way to tell a story is to only hint at the whole of it. ...more
I read this book in about a week, in a couple rather long sittings. I enjoyed it—although I was, admittedly, a bit grossed out by the murder itself anI read this book in about a week, in a couple rather long sittings. I enjoyed it—although I was, admittedly, a bit grossed out by the murder itself and surprised at J.K.'s leaning to the grotesque in this instance—but I found myself a lot more aware of her writing in this book than I ever really have been. People are frequently giving Rowling grief for her awkward writing and her clunky phrasings. To me, this has never been so much of an issue: she's a great storyteller and an excellent plotter ('diligent' is the word that comes to mind first when thinking about her ability to plan ahead in a storyline) and I don't think that everyone needs to be able to write a Proustian sentence in order to be a worthwhile writer. But in The Silkworm it feels like Rowling is actively trying to overcome her critics and showcase a stylistic prowess that is ultimately more self-conscious than it is successful. And that kind of took away from the experience for me.
I can deal with the fact that she occasionally employs super awkward phrasings and the fact that she over-describes pretty much everyone's appearance, but other things caught me up short. For instance, throughout the book, she throws in these crazy vocab words—not the "25 cent" variety that my English teacher used to encourage us to use, but rather the $2 bill variety. That is to say, words that are special and unique, perhaps, but that no one anywhere really uses, let alone her characters. (That Strike is an Oxford man doesn't really change this, no.) I mean: "albescence" - 'The act of becoming white; whitishness.' Or "etiolated" - 'pale and drawn out due to a lack of light; Having lost vigour or substance; feeble.' There are times when a playful use of extensive vocabulary can work (I always used to enjoy the fact that I generally had to refer to a dictionary at least once when reading a Michael Chabon book), but here it feels forced and awkward and unnatural when compared with the rest of the text.
I also found there to be a strange insistence on what amounted to a rather boring interpretation of the relationships between men and women, and also a rather simplified, kind of dull perspective of gender. I've generally felt that Rowling's treatment of male and female characters, as well as their interactions with one another in her books, haven't been bound by particularly stodgy gender boundaries or dichotomies. But here, there's a rather lot of disparaging essentialism regarding women. For instance, "Women, in his experience, often expected you to understand that it was a measure of how much they loved you that they tried their damnedest to change you." Or, when explaining to Robin the possibility that a woman could have perpetrated such a grim murder (she doesn't think a woman would have), Strike remarks, "Look it up on the net. When women turn, they really turn." And it goes both ways, albeit to a lesser extent. Robin "knew something about male pride; quite apart from Matthew, she had three brothers," and also had "an unusual and accurate insight into the frequently contrary reaction of males to female concern." Perhaps Rowling is trying to get inside of her male protagonist's perspective and thinks that his digressions on femaleness and women are just authentic representations of his character. But it's a bit boring and simple and frankly, I think she can do better.
This isn't to say that I won't keep reading the series—I think there's still enough here to be interested in and I'm enjoying her foray into the crime genre. But again, I think she can do better. ...more