2014-04-10

To Like or Not To Like?

I have been arguing with myself for some time if, and what, I should write about Ann Cleeves´s Shetland Island crime novels: "Raven Black", "White Nights", "Red Bones", and "Blue Lightning". I have read all the four first novels in one go (there is a fifth, and I expect there will be more) and I am conflicted about them. Most of all, I really like her main man, Detective Jimmy Perez. I dislike what she lets him go through in the fourth book, and judging by the reviews on amazon, I´m not the only one. Nor am I the only one to think that sometimes she crosses the boundary of what is believable in how people behave. It gets just a little too Midsumer Murder-crazy at times, if you know what I mean.

Land´s End - the most treeless landscape in my files.
I suppose reading her has taught me something important about writing. I am still rather upset by what I thought was a violation of the writer-reader contract, particularly considering this is genre fiction, a pretty standard whodunit in all other regards. It is not wrong to test the hero and heroine, to bruise them a little, but there are limits to what I think you should do. And if you must let it all go absolutely pear-shaped, at least have a good reason for it. I could find no good reason for her to do what I can´t tell you she did without spoiling the reading for you, if you plan on taking her on. I am probably one leg over that line, anyway (talking about contracts, huh-hm).

The second thing I learned was how limited my imagination really is. She could write herself blue in the face about what it looks like on the Shetlands, but only after reading the last book did I google images of the islands, and realized that there really are no trees there. No trees at all. I could not imagine it. For me, there is always a tree in the background. Only when she described a character´s uneasiness about standing in what must have been a small, artifical grove, did I understand. I suppose it would be equally hard to imagine plodding through thigh-deep drifts of snow if you live in, say, Kenya. It really hammered into me how important it is to have good characters, and how I, the reader, focus on them, even skimming the descriptive parts (and barely noticing that I do).

Thing is, now that I find there is a fifth book out there, "Dead Water", I really want to read it. Damn. Totally against my will (for I want to punish the author for what she did to Perez, while at the same time I want to see him again). I suppose this is a kind of reluctant recommendation.

2014-04-06

The Last Policeman

I did, when we had the post-Christmas health crisis, as one does: reach for a stack of detective stories. Just like they are the perfect vacation reads, they are also the perfect getting-away-from-ugly-reality reads. And the best of the bunch were a pair, part one and two in what is to be a trilogy, "The Last Policeman"-series, by Ben H Winters. If I remember correctly, I got the tip from blogger Divers&Sundry, and I´m glad I took note, since this is a really enjoyable read. The first is "The Last Policeman: A Novel" and the second "Countdown City: The Last Policeman Book II".

Not a meteor, obviously, but the closest I have of a fitting illustration.
On one hand, it´s a traditional detective story, told in first-person by Detective Henry Palace of the Concord Police Department´s Criminal Investigations Division. He is young, having been quickly promoted since many colleagues have quit. This is happening a lot, not just in the Police Department, since a meteor is heading straight for Earth and the world as we know it is about to perish in just a few months. That is, I guess, what makes this novel stick out a bit from the rest of them.

So, it´s the end of the world, many people are going "Bucket List," which means that they suddenly, and often without telling anyone, leave their jobs and lives to do what they always dreamed of doing, whatever that is. Others stubbornly try to live their lives and do their jobs as best they can, and for Henry Palace, being a Detective is all he ever wanted. As we get to know him better, we realize that he has a lot more emotional baggage than just the pressure from the End of the world-thing. For him, doing the work is clearly a way of escaping his own worries, and whatever happens, he stays with the case. And things do happen. Society is breaking down all around him: hospitals, electricity, communications, food and water supplies, and finally he looses his job when the police- and justice system is replaced by a kind of military peace keeping force.

It´s been a few months since I read it, but I realize now how much this story affected me. I really like the main character, he is kind, good, obsessed with justice, and has little regard for his own safety - I suppose there is quite a bit of passive self-destructivness about him. He is, however, not the only good character in this story, and when he finally finds himself on the street, things do turn out all right for him. For now, that is. The meteor is still coming, after all.

It´s a well-written series, the whole breakdown of society scenario sounds plausible to me, and I really want to know what´s going to happen to my friend Palace. And to the Earth. The third book is on its way and will be along this summer, I think.

2014-04-02

And Some Kind of New Beginning

I´m back! The sabbatical has been good (I have really done as little as possible, been extremely lazy and introspective; resting efficiently, you might say), and I am truly envigoured and full of energy. Of course, I have been missing blogging and the first week I felt not just a bit lost without it. At the same time, the distance really made me see what wasn´t right about what I was doing, and what I have that is really valuable to me.

I have decided to keep blogging here at the Bookshelf - I am still reading (of course!), and like to write about it. However, I am branching out. I have already moved the Photoalbum to a blog of its own, and now I have started Viktoria´s Notebook and Viktoria´s Kitchen. The Notebook is for all those posts that aren´t really related to literature (like travel, music, art, film, whatever), and the Kitchen for those thoughts about and food and cooking that I have tried to restrain, as it didn´t seem to belong on a reading blog. So, bottom line, I suppose the Bookshelf is becoming more what it was intended to be and perhaps was in the beginning.

2014-01-30

Some kind of End

I have decided to close the Bookshelf. It may seem sudden, but it has been brewing in me for a while. I suppose what happens is that life changes all the time, bit by bit, and all of a sudden the weight shifts and you have a whole new balance. It can feel like that one last piece that makes it slide is the very special catalyst, but I´m not so sure. I think it can be anything, as much as it is everything.

Alice Seely: "Bad Hairday", brooch.
Actually, Bookshelf-Viktoria has lately begun to feel a bit like a character in a novel. I know the subtitle of the blog is "Life is just another story", so that would be apt, but it´s uncomfortable and limiting more than anything else. And I´m not sure I believe it anymore. Perhaps I have reached a stage where I have developed what Keats called "negative capability". The blog started as an on-line version of my reading diary, which was an expression of my need to record, analyse, process, and order. I guess I don´t really feel the need for all that any more. Perhaps it´s to do with having to face illness and death in the family. Perhaps I am just ready to fokus whole-heartedly on creating, rather than watch others create. I never did see myself as a critic anyway. I feel a strong new energy bubbling up inside, almost anarchic in nature; I will run with that and see where it takes me.

I will continue to post on the Photoalbum while I ponder what to do; I will probably use more words than I have so far. Maybe I will develop that blog into something that fits me better, or create something completely different. I don´t know yet. Whatever I do, I will post information about it here and on the Photoalbum, so if you are a subscriber, you will be informed.

It has been 3½ great years with the Bookshelf, and I have had a lot of fun with it. I´m sure I will miss it, and I´m glad I´m quitting while it´s still something I feel good about. I am very greatful to everyone who has read, commented, emailed, and pushed me forward with their encouragement.

Thank you all.

2014-01-27

Lover´s Ritual

On some of our travels we came across this tradition: to attach a padlock with the lover´s names inscribed to a bridge, as a prayer for eternal love. I hope it works!

Lucerne, November 2013.

2014-01-23

Norwegian Wood, part VI - the movie

My Norwegian Wood project should be over - I had given it three weeks, after all. But it took a heck of a long time to get my hands on the film. First I turned to the local rental place. They had it, according to their database, but as they were remodeling the shop, it was going to take them a week to get it from the storage it was in while the carpenters were at work. Fine. I returned a week and a half later, and they couldn´t find the film, though they insisted they had it. "Call me when you find it," I said, leaving my number, and they said sure. No call. A week later I called on them again, and no, they hadn´t yet unpacked all the films. "Call me when you find it," I said to this other person, who promised dearly to, and left my number again. No call. I gather they don´t really care if I ever come back, and guess what? I will not.

So, lucky me, I found an old rental copy on Ebay. I think it was less than thirty crowns, postage and all. When I tried to watch it, the disc was empty. By now it seemed the universe was against me, but I decided to persist and ordered it from amazon. By the time I got it, Christmas was almost upon us and I put off watching it some more.

Today I found it in a pile of things to do, and watched it - finally. It is written and directed by Tran Anh Hung (who is Vietnamese, not Japanese), based on the novel by Haruki Murakami, which is one of the best novels I ever read, probably, in hindsight. I haven´t heard of any of the actors, but then I watch precious little film these days, and even less Japanese film, so I wouldn´t have expected to. They all did a very good job, though.

Of course, one can not expect a film based on a book to be anything like it, that would be silly. Still, one can not help comparing. The film has that same still mood, but it´s also very silent, where the characters in the book are all very talkative. Except perhaps Watanabe himself, but someone has to listen. The film focuses very much on the love story, and the characters I enjoyed the most are nearly completely written out, or so much changed that it´s hard to get a grip on them. I was particularly miffed to see salt-of-the-Earth, funny Reiko turned into a fragile, shy, and boring failed housewife.

The film also, naturally, felt very much more Japanese than the book, which I thought could have been set in Stockholm, if you had just changed the names of the characters. And one thing you can do so much better in film is communicate emotion. The book didn´t make me cry, as I recall, but I cried floods when I saw the film; it´s visually very powerful when Watanabe sits with his broken heart in front of the raging sea.

I´m not sure I would have read the book if I had seen the film first. Good thing I didn´t. And I´m not sure I can recommend the film whole-heartedly. I´m glad I saw it, though. Thing is, I don´t really know what I would have made of it if I hadn´t read the book first. The husband thinks he saw a film about hormonal, troubled teenagers, and says he enjoyed Tran´s understated way of telling the story, which he finds "un-American". (I suppose that the Hollywood way of making movies has provided us with the template by which we judge others.) I guess that´s what I would have thought, too.