Dead Until Dark – Charlaine Harris

dead_until_darkSomeone had left the three first Sookie Stackhouse novels on the shelf at my doctor’s office, and since the other available reading material consisted of old parenting or womens’ magazines, I thought I’d check it out. I read far enough to decide to take it home, but then found I had rather more interesting things to read when I got there, so it was left on the “in progress” pile for a few months. But then I had this funk, and starting something I want to like when I’m in a funk is not a good idea, as even things that ought to please me tend not to, so I decided to try something I wasn’t expecting to like and see if that could snap me out of it. And do you know, I think it might have worked.

At least I read the book right through, I even found myself wondering what would happen next and actually wanting to pick up the book. A far-fetched yarn was obviously just what I needed. A well-written one, mind you. Dead Until Dark certainly is competent handiwork. Not great art, perhaps, but no annoying linguistical flaws and a storyline that works.

As for Sookie. Well, I sort of like her, though I found some of her reasoning annoyingly rather than charmingly naive, but Dead Until Dark did not really convince me I should go on to read more in the series. The whole vampire thing creeps me out in entirely the wrong way. Not the deliciously creepy “Oooooh, I’m scared” sort of way, but in the “Ugh, gross” and “this vampire is entirely too sparkly and the sex scenes seem gratuitous, I am too old for this shit” sort of way. And I find the whole concept of society as a whole accepting vampires because of the entirely fake “it’s a virus” story completely unbelievable. So, no. I probably won’t read any more Stackhouse novels (and I certainly won’t be watching True Blood any time soon).

But I am grateful to Harris for helping me out of the reading funk. At least I’m reading fiction again. My copy has now been registered at Bookcrossing, and I’ll drop it off somewhere to please or annoy another reader.

The Chronicles of Narmo – Caitlin Moran

moran_narmoAfter How to be a Woman I have a bit of a crush on Caitlin Moran, and so The Chronicles of Narmo was an obvious purchase when I managed a few minutes in a book shop in London. It’s a short novel, written when Moran was just fifteen and based on her own family’s (mis)adventures.

It’s not a brilliant book. As a narrative it only works haltingly and there isn’t much of a plot, really. Where it excels is where Moran still excels, in the clever turn of phrase. It is what makes the book worth reading.

In order to reach the Earth, the Sun has to travel eighty million million miles, across the universe, through the atmospheres and magnetic pulls of countless planets; it has to seep its way through clouds of stardust twelve thousand miles thick. It plays leapfrog with time and has a neat little party trick of standing where it was eight and a half minutes ago. And still – after all this exertion – it still had the energy to struggle through the yellowing nets and purple nylon curtains of Bill and Carol’s bedroom, and wake them up.

(P 48) Not entirely accurate astronomy-wise, perhaps, but still rather lovely.

Moon over Soho – Ben Aaronovitch

Moon_Over_SohoHaving read Rivers of London, not going straight on to Moon over Soho was an impossibility, so I did, disregarding all other plans for January reading (the two books appearing between this one and Rivers of London were actually read in 2013).

At the novel’s start, PC Peter Grant is back to his regular training programme at The Folly, and Lesley is at her parents’ house, recuperating. Peter goes to visit, driving from London:

At the end of the road lay Brightlingsea, lining the coast – so Lesley had always told me – like a collection of rubbish stranded at the high-water mark.

I keep loving the way Aaronovitch uses language and the impossibly charming hate-love relationship with London and Britain he displays. Not to mention the cultural references:

At this very moment astronomers are detecting planets around distant stars by measuring how much their orbits wibble, and the clever people at CERN are smashing particles together in the hope that Doctor Who will turn up and tell them to stop.

Aaronovitch is also conversant in corporate newspeak:

‘Are you SIO on this, ma’am?’ I asked. The Senior Investigating Officer on a serious crime was usually at the very least a detective inspector, not a sergeant. ‘Of course not,’ said Stephanopoulos. ‘We have a DCI on loan from Havering CID, but he’s adopted a loose collaborative management approach in which experienced officers undertake a lead role in areas where they have the greatest expertise.’ In other words, he’d locked himself in his office and let Stephanopoulos get on with it. ‘It’s always gratifying to see senior officers adopting a forward-looking posture in their vertical relationships,’ I said, and was rewarded by something that was almost a smile.

He is also not afraid to call out institutionalized and internalized racism:

Outside the big cities, my very appearance can sometimes be enough to render certain people speechless. So it was with Harold Postmartin, D.Phil, FRS, Curator of Special Collections at the Bodleian Library, who had clearly been expecting Nightingale to introduce someone ‘different’ as the new apprentice. I could see him trying to parse the phrase but he’s coloured in a way that wouldn’t cause offence, and failing. I put him out of his misery by shaking his hand; my rule of thumb is that if they don’t physically flinch from touching you, then eventually they’ll make the adjustment.

Ok. Enough of the quoting (I think). I’m just trying to show why the books are such a joy to read. The plot is good, too, but it’s hard to say too much without major spoilers, and so  I’ll refrain. If you’re not interested in reading the book, a synopsis would be no use to you, and if you are you don’t want the plot spoiled.

The one negative thing I have to say is that the novel could have used a continuity check, preferably one that aligned with Rivers of London. There are some odd incongruities, most so vague that it’s hard to put your finger on what feels wrong, and some cases of things being explained in the wrong order, so to say. A fact being presented in such a way that you feel you must have missed a connection piece of narrative, only for that connecting piece to show up a little later. It may even be deliberate, but it dosn’t work. Not for me, anyway.

However, on the whole the books are so good that it’s easy to forgive the few flaws. Now on to Whispers Underground!

Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch

Rivers_of_LondonRivers of London has been on my list for a while, not least because the husband has read and enjoyed all four of the PC Peter Grant books that have been published so far, and thus they have been available to me for a while. Towards the end of last week I found myself unenthused with the books I’d been planning to read during Bout of books, and someone, somewhere mentioned Aaronovitch, and it occurred to me that as we are going to London in just a few weeks, this might just be the perfect time to read them.

In one way it certainly was, Aaronvitch has his story firmly grounded in place and reading this without imminent plans of visiting the city would be frustrating, to say the least.

In Rivers of London PC Peter Grant is coming to the end of his probationary period and is hoping to be assigned to real detective work. His friend, and crush, Lesley May is at the same point in her career. The wikipedia entry sums up their superior officers’ view of the two neatly: Lesley is “expected to go far”, Peter is “expected to do paperwork”. That is, until they are on watch to guard a murder scene from the general public, and while Lesley pops off to buy coffee and Peter meets a ghost who claims to have witnessed the murder. When their assignments are handed out, Peter finds himself assigned to a generally studiously ignored branch of the Met, the section that deals with magic and the supernatural. His superior officer, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale has been the sole employee of this section, and Peter finds himself sworn in as the first apprentice wizard in fifty years, and lodged in The Folly, the section’s headquarters, which is clearly dimensioned for a rather larger contingent.

There follows a tale of riotous rebellion and magic, where Peter finds himself trying to solve two very different “cases”. One is the murder that starts the book off and those that follow in a grisly, yet inventive, serial killing spree, the other is a conflict between Mother and Father Thames, the river gods, and their children (the tributaries) and entourage.

Aaronvitch draws on history, mythology and folklore, picking both famous and obscure pieces and sewing them neatly together to form a coherent whole which spellbinds the reader (well, this reader, anyway). There are explicit, if ironic, echoes of Dr Who (which Aaronvitch has written for) and Harry Potter, but I was also reminded of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and of Jasper Fforde’s novels, the latter especially in the way Aaronvitch’s minor characters all beg for a google search. Take Isis, also known as Anna Maria de Burgh Coppinger, wife of Father Thames’ son Oxley: Google her, and you find that there is probably at least another novel there, just in her life story. I love this stuff. And then you have the famous dudes:

Beyond the booth, flanked by two neoclassical pillars, was a marble statue of a man dressed in an academic gown and breeches. He cradled a mighty tome in one arm and a sextant in the other. His square face held an expression of implacable curiosity, and I knew his name even before I saw the plinth, which read: Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night; God said ‘Let Newton be’ and all was light. Nightingale was waiting for me by the statue. ‘Welcome to the Folly,’ he said, ‘the official home of English magic since 1775.’ ‘And your patron saint is Sir Isaac Newton?’ I asked. Nightingale grinned. ‘He was our founder, and the first man to systemise the practice of magic.’ ‘I was taught that he invented modern science,’ I said. ‘He did both,’ said Nightingale. ‘That’s the nature of genius.’

The inclusion of Newton is another thing I like about Aaronvitch’s universe, though magic is magic Peter takes the scientific approach, and the answers he comes up with seem to confirm his instincts; even magic depends on physical laws.

I like Peter Grant. He’s a good guy, and may even have the makings of a good cop, even if he is too easily distracted. I like Lesley May, too, and I especially like how Peter and Lesley are portrayed as friends. Even if there is an element of “this might progress to more than friends at some point”, you still get the feeling that they are friends first and foremost and that they will remain so whether progression happens or not.

Then there’s the language, and the linguistic relation to time and place:

Neither of us could face the horrors of the kitchenette that morning, so we found shelter in the station canteen. Despite the fact that the catering staff were a mixture of compact Polish women and skinny Somali men, a strange kind of institutional inertia meant that the food was classic English greasy spoon, the coffee was bad and the tea was hot, sweet and came in mugs.

There’s plenty for a hopeless anglophile to “squee” about, there is wit and dry humour and there is, occasionally, something akin to slapstick. There are blink-and-you-miss-them cultural references by the score.

Would it kill us to have an official branch of government that handled the supernatural?’ ‘A Ministry of Magic?’ I asked. ‘Ha-bloody-ha,’ said Tyburn.

Where the novel falls short is in emotional engagement. Yes, I like Peter, and I certainly root for him, and I am gripped to the point of considering sneaking off to a quiet corner at work to polish off the last 50 or so pages when the bus ride yesterday morning proved too short for the task. However, the perfect book is the book that puts me in the emotional quandry of wanting to get to the end to see what happens but also wanting the book to last forever. Rivers of London fullfills the first, but not the second. I will allow that there is a chance that I will feel differently at the end of book four, when the prospect of having to wait for another installment starts looming large. I’ll get back to you on that. I’ve already started on book two.

Aaronovitch has a blog: Temporarily Significant, and there is also a website for the series: The Folly.

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Så vidt jeg kan se har ingen norske forlag (eller svenske, for den saks skyld) grepet fatt i Ben Aaronvitchs bøker. Det er synd, for selv om en forkjærlighet for London og Britisk humor, historie og mytologi sannsynligvis er et pluss for lesere av disse bøkene er det jo ikke slik at sånne preferanser nødvendigvis følges av engelskkunnskaper gode nok til å lese firehundresiders romaner i orginal. Oppfordringen er klar: Oversett disse!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman, and a giveaway

gaiman_oceanA new novel by Neil Gaiman? Don’t mind if I do.

Jeg har en kopi av den norske oversettelsen å gi bort, se under anmeldelsen for detaljer.

I expected to love this book. I also expected to have a hard time putting it down once I started reading. The latter turned out to be true, the former? Unfortunately not so much. Which is not to say I hated it, either, I’m more on a ‘Meh’ sort of level.

A man returns to his childhood town for a funeral, but between the sevice and the social event afterwards he takes a drive to clear his head and finds himself at the site of his childhood home. He continues down the lane to the very end, where the Hempstocks still live, like they did when he was a child. He is plunged into memories, and the reader follows him through the recollection of something that happened when he was seven years old, when a suicide woke a creature that did not belong in this world.

Gaiman skillfully draws his characters, the three Hempstock women (Lettie is only 11 in appearance, but hardly a child) are indeed worth the aquaintance and who can resist a seven year old friendless boy who loves Gilbert & Sullivan and who lives mostly through books?

I went away in my head, into a book. That was where I went whenever real life was too hard or too inflexible. I pulled down a handful of my mother’s old books, from when she was a girl, and I read about schoolgirls having adventures in the 1930s and 1940s. Mostly they were up against smugglers or spies or fifth columnists, whatever they were, and the girls were always brave and they always knew exactly what to do. I was not brave, and I had no idea what to do.

(Page 58-59.) The book also deftly plays on the fine line between reality and fantasy in a child’s life, and raises questions about memory, how we remember and why no two people will agree on exactly what happened when a story is retold.

So why am I left unenthused? I suspect some explanation is to be found in my dislike of ‘horror’. The creature the children encounter is of the insiduous kind that easily triggers nightmares, and that, more than a real interest in the characters, was what kept me turning the pages. I needed the horror to be put to rest. It may also have contributed to my lack of engagement, I think I probably disengage emotionally from stories like these out of self-defence, if I don’t get involved it is less scary.

So perhaps I should say: “Mr. Gaiman, it’s not you, it’s me.”

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Jeg fikk en epost fra Vendetta forlag med spørsmål om jeg hadde lyst på en kopi av den norske oversettelsen. Denne gangen sa jeg fra på forhånd at jeg kom til å lese boka på engelsk og lodde ut det norske eksemplaret, og siden det var greit for dem fikk jeg boka i posten. Jeg stusser riktignok litt over “innsalget” fra forlaget i eposten:

den mest tilgjengelige og litterære boken han har kommet med så langt (…) Det er ikke fantasy denne gangen så denne treffer nok flere lesere.

Ikke fantasy? Har vi lest samme bok?

At den er tilgjengelig stemmer kanskje, men jeg synes jo de tidligere bøkene er særdeles tilgjengelige også, Neverwhere, f.eks., og “litterær”? Tja. Hva betyr det? Både Anansi Boys og American Gods krever mer av leseren i form av kunnskap om myter og religion (for å få fullt utbytte, i alle fall), er ikke metalitteratur “litterært”?

gaiman_havetDen norske utgaven heter Havet i enden av veien, og er oversatt av Stian Omland. Kompetent gjort, forsåvidt. For eksempel la jeg merke til at “little pitcher” er oversatt, helt korrekt, med “lille gryte”, til tross for at det ikke er noe mer som tilsier at vi har med et idiom å gjøre enn de to små ordene (på engelsk heter det “little pitchers have big ears”, på norsk sier vi “små gryter har også ører”). Men det er ikke alltid norsken flyter like elegant som Gaimans engelsk. Og når Lettie slår over i dialekt (eller sosiolekt om du vil), som hun gjør innimellom,  er det i  den norske versjonen ingen merkbar endring.

“Asked you to name yourself, I did. I en’t heard more’n empty boasts of age and time. Now, you tell me your name and I en’t asking you a third time.” She sounded more like a country girl than she ever had before.

(Side 41.) Sammenlignet med:

“Jeg ba deg si hva du heter, jeg. Og så hører jeg ikke annet enn tomt skryt om alder og tid. Så si hva du heter, og aldri om jeg spør deg for tredje gang.” Hun lød mer som en bondejente enn noen gang før.

(Side 47.) I orginalen plasserer dia-/sosiolekten Lettie i et landskap og på en rangstige i samfunnet, men samtidig er den med på å forsterke følelsen av at hun ikke er det hun ser ut til. Den dybden går tapt i oversettelsen. I tillegg har jeg problemer med flyten i Letties andre setning, “og aldri om jeg” måtte jeg lese flere ganger før setningen ga mening. Det virker som en unødvendig komplikasjon av syntaksen. Kan jeg få foreslå “Jeg spør ikke igjen”? (Eller til og med “Jeg spø’kke igjen”, så får vi avgentrifisert språket litt også.)

Vel. Om du fortsatt har lyst til å lese Havet i enden av veien, etter min kritikk av både boka og oversettelsen (førstnevnte har utallige andre rost opp i skyene, da, så det er muligens bare meg det er noe galt med) har jeg altså et eksemplar å gi bort. Noe annet smågodt havner det sikkert også oppi pakka. Alt du trenger å gjøre for å delta er å kommentere på dette innlegget, denne gangen vil jeg gjerne at du forteller meg hvilken bok du ønsker deg til jul i kommentaren. Jeg trekker på søndag kveld klokken 20:00, for da kan jeg få sendt pakka før postens frist den 16. så den når fram til julaften.

Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

adichieLast month’s reading circle book was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. I was late as usual, so I had to read the last 100 pages or so after the discussion, but had skimmed (very, very quickly) on my way there.

Adichie writes a story full of warmth and detail from a country and a conflict I know very little about. The story is varyingly narrated from the viewpoint of Ugwu, Olanna and Richard, which keeps the narrative interesting and helps highlight both the differences and the similarities in their experience.

Our first meeting with Ugwu, and with the story, is when he arrives with his aunt to take up the position as houseboy to Odenigbo, who is a professor at the University of Nsukka, politically vocal and Olannas boyfriend. Ugwu is awkward at first, but blossoms under the tutelage of Odenigbo and Olanna, who practice what they preach by making sure he goes to school despite being “just a houseboy”.

Ugwu came to realize other things. He was not a normal houseboy; Dr Okeke’s houseboy next door did not sleep on a bed in a room, he slept on the kitchen floor. The houseboy at the end of the street with whom Ugwu went to the market did not decide what would be cooked, he cooked whatever he was ordered to. And they did not have masters or madams who gave them books, saying, ‘This one is excellent, just excellent.’

(Page 17.) Ugwu is a grateful subject for their attention, picking up reading material from his master that is far beyond him, but stubbornly working his way through it, and on the whole being a quick and eager learner.

The next narrator is Olanna, and we start off with a glimpse of her background. She has a (non-identical) twin sister, born to parents who are of Nigeria’s upper class, her father is a businessman and involved in government. They have a plot to get Olanna, the pretty one, bartered away to strengthen their connections, while Kainene, is being groomed to take over the business, in place of the son they lack. The sisters have grown apart during their stay in Britain to study and though Olanna would like to bridge the gap, Kainene upholds her distance. Olanna is uncomfortable with her family’s wealth and seems more happy visiting her aunt and uncle, who are comfortably, but more humbly situated. She has no patience, moreover, with her parents plot to sell her off, and is moving to Nsukka to live with Odenigbo.

The third narrator is Richard, who is a Brit newly arrived in Nigeria. He is drawn by a recent find of ancient local art, and is an aspiring writer. He falls in love with Kainene almost at first sight at a party and in love with the country and the continent progressively through the book.

The characters alternate in this order throughout the novel. Though the narration is third person “omniscient”, but changes tone with the three characters as we share their thoughts and feelings. This works beautifully, by giving the reader three strong voices who all have their different perspectives on the events of the story.

Life is peaceful enough in the first part of the novel, set in the early sixties. But then the plot skips foreward to the late sixties and the disturbances that led to the secession of the southeastern part of Nigeria as The Republic of Biafra. The new republic is not recognised by the international community and civil war ensues. I am ashamed to say I knew very little about Nigerias history before reading this book, and though I had heard of Biafra, all I could recall was vague images of a hunger catastrophy. That is part of the story, certainly, but there is so much more to learn. Partly because I was so unaware of the progress of the conflict it threw me when Adichie suddenly takes the plot back to the peaceful early sixties half-way though the book, before returning to the late sixties and the culmination of the civil war in the last quarter. At first, I was puzzled by this strategy, and failed to see that it contributed anything useful, but once I got over my own impatience to see “what happened next”, I recognised that the cruel contrast between the progressively more desperate situations in the war zone and the peaceful, optimistic, forward-looking earlier years lends a deeper poignancy to the individual fates than a mere chronological retelling would.

While narrating the story of the war and it’s origins, Adichie touches on many subjects, not least of which is how the colonial English used the divide and conquer tactics to such effect in Nigeria that the after-effects are in operation long after the control has (nominally) passed to the Nigerians. This is true for much of Africa, and probably for much of the post-colonial world. Interestingly, the magnificent lack of concern shown by outsiders is most clearly shown through Richard’s, the outsider’s, eyes. Perhaps because he is white and so all the other white people expect him to be “on their side”. Richard, however, has given his heart to Biafra, even as he recognises that he will always be an outsider.

Richard exhaled. It was like somebody sprinkling pepper on his wound: Thousands of Biafrans were dead, and this man wanted to know if there was anything new about one dead white man.

(Page 369.) Following on from this Adichie raises the question of who should write Africas stories. Thoughout the book are fragments of a history of the war. At first the reader assumes they are supposed to have been written by Richard, he is the writer, after all. But is he the one to tell Biafra’s story?

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Adichie besøkte både Sverige og Norge forrige uke i anledning utgivelsen av hennes nye bok, Americanah, desverre kom hun ikke til Trondheim og jeg hadde ingen mulighet til å reise for å se henne. Men SvD publiserte en tekst hun har skrevet om at virkeligheten overgår diktningen og hos Och dagarna går kan du se en video der hun snakker om boka.

Half of a Yellow Sun er oversatt til norsk av Mona Lange og gitt ut av Gyldendal med tittelen En halv gul sol.

The Bone Season – Samantha Shannon

bone_seasonJeg har lest The Bone Season på engelsk, men velger å bryte mine egne regler og skrive om den på norsk, siden jeg har tenkt å lenke til og sitere fra noen anmeldelser og et intervju på norsk og dessuten har en kopi av den norske utgaven, Drømmegjengeren, å gi bort til en heldig leser.

Samantha Shannons debutroman er blitt såpass hypet at jeg i normale tilfeller nok hadde droppet å lese den med det første, fallhøyden blir stor når en bok får så mye oppmerksomhet. Siden jeg som nevnt tidligere i et anfall av postbokfestivalentusiasme takket ja til å få den norske oversettelsen fra forlaget måtte jeg jo nesten lese boka også. Og å si at jeg ikke var litt nysgjerrig ville være løgn.

Så, ja.

Kort fortalt: Paige Mahoney er en klarsynt 19-åring i år 259 i et totalitært Storbritannia der Scion styrer og klarsynthet betraktes som en epidemisk sykdom som må utryddes, fortrinnsvis  ved å henrette alle klarsynte. Det er 200 år siden vår verden og Shannons fiktive verden skilte lag, og Paiges London er preget av mye av det vi kjenner fra viktoriatiden, siden teknikken har gått framover på andre punkter i hennes verden enn i vår. Siden hun aldri ville blitt godtatt i samfunnet uansett har Paige valgt en kriminell karriere, og er en del av et kartell av klarsynte i Londons underverden. Paiges sjef, Jaxon, har stor tro på at Paiges evner er sterkere enn hun så langt har vist, og det viser seg etter hvert at han har rett. Hun oppdager nye dimensjoner ved evnene når hun havner i fare på t-banen, men nettopp denne situasjonen fører også til at hun blir oppdaget av myndighetene og arrestert. Hun blir fraktet sammen med andre fanger til Oxford, som det viser seg har vært et skjult samfunn siden 1859 når underjordiske vesener, kalt Refaitter, med sterkere tilknytninger til eteren enn selv de klarsynte gjorde en avtale med myndighetene om å beskytte menneskene fra eterens angivelige farer. I Oxford lærer Paige mer om egne evner og knytter nye allianser, men det er like fullt en fangeleir og mye av fokuset hennes ligger på å rømme og komme seg tilbake til “familien”, hennes gjeng i kartellet.

Og det er jo ikke dårlig, dette. Paige er en ganske spennende hovedrollefigur, universet Shannon har skapt er gjennomarbeidet og komplekst, og som uhelbredelig anglofil er jeg fascinert av hennes London og Oxford. At det finnes ekko fra viktoriatiden gir boka et visst preg av steampunk, noe som ikke er negativt. Knytningen til irsk historie er også interessant, og jeg håper den tråden tas opp bredere i framtidige bøker.

No matter how much I sometimes wanted it, there was no normal. There never had been. ‘Normal’ and ‘natural’ were the biggest lies we’d ever created. We humans with our little minds. And maybe being normal wouldn’t suit me.

Men. Jeg vet ikke. Jeg blir ikke ordentlig grepet. Når jeg hadde kommet 25 % gjennom boka (sånn er det på Kindle, man tenker i prosent, ikke sider) vurderte jeg alvorlig å gi opp helt. Først når jeg var på over 80 % var det sånn at jeg leste videre fordi jeg virkelig ville vite hva som kom til å skje snarere enn fordi jeg følte jeg burde, men selv da ble det aldri sånn at jeg ikke kunne legge fra meg boka. Og det holder faktisk ikke. Når Shannon sier i intervjuer at hun har planlagt at det skal bli sju bøker kan jeg ikke si jeg blir hoppende glad, akkurat.

Både Bokelskerinnen og Knirk har pekt på ting som jeg også hang meg opp i, men jeg skal forsøke å sette egne ord på hva som gjør at The Bone Season ikke helt når opp til forventningene.

Universet Shannon har skapt er riktignok gjennomarbeidet, men jeg er ikke helt overbevist om at boka er det. Det er mye ‘tell’ i stedet for ‘show’ i boka og kanskje er universet unødvendig komplekst? Det blir i alle fall mye å holde rede på, og det hadde ikke vært noe problem om boka ellers grep meg, men det blir så mye Shannon må få forklart for at vi skal forstå hva som foregår at det går ut over handlingen. Av de 400+ sidene er det mye som bare er forklaring av hvordan ting henger sammenog enda mer som virker som det er med fordi det forklarer noe om universet snarere enn fordi det skal drive historien framover. Det er ikke uvanlig innenfor sjangeren fantasy/sci-fi, særlig ikke i første bok i en tenkt serie, men det er ikke dermed sagt at det er en god ting. Samtidig er dette det punktet som får meg til å tenke at jeg nok kommer til å gi Shannon en sjanse til og lese bok nummer to, for forhåpentligvis har hun fått unna det verste av forklaring i bok en og kan fokusere på historien i bok to.

Kanskje.

Ellers må jeg vel si at jeg er så lei historier om såkalt klarsynte, spøkelser og andre “eteriske” fenomener i vår verden at irritasjonen min smitter over på The Bone Season. Det er litt urettferdig, kanskje, for i Shannons fiktive univers er klarsynthet og eter legitime handlingsdrivere og jeg har ikke inntrykk av at Shannon på noen som helst måte mener at det finnes klarsynte i vår verden av den grunn. Men irritert blir jeg i alle fall.

Jeg fikk også en litt uggen følelse rundt “the love interest”, altså kjærlighetshistorien oppi det hele. Jeg klarte først ikke helt å definere hvorfor, annet enn at det på en eller annen måte virket umodent (til sammenligning virker J. K. Rowlings beskrivelse av tenåringsforelskelse i Harry Potter moden, siden sammenligningen til Rowling – til Shannons fortvilelse, det skal sies – er dratt). Nå er jo Shannon bare 21, så det er kanskje ikke så rart, men siden boka er utgitt som voksenbok må man få lov til å vente seg noe mer. Knirk setter fingeren på noen av de tingene som både tyder på manglende modenhet og på en langt mer tvilsom klisje i litteraturens kjærlighetshistorier, men vær klar over at detaljene her er spoilers, så ikke klikk deg inn om du ikke vil ha avsløringer, jeg lar være å utdype.

Refaittene er i seg selv et problem for meg, du kan si jeg har litt det samme problemet med dem som med vampyrer. Shannon sier til Bokelskerinnen: “Jeg hadde en ide om å skape en rase som så ut som det menneskene gjorde før syndefallet. Mer perfekte, høyere og sterkere. ” Og, ja, er det bare jeg som får litt glitrende, tusen år gammel vampyr-vibe av dette? Som fiender er de en ting, som allierte eller venner? Altså, jeg vet ikke.

Jeg savnet også humor. Det er det nemlig fint lite av. Shannon sier selv, også til Bokelskerinnen: “jeg har heller ikke J.K. Rowlings vidunderlige sans for humor”, og nei, det har hun ikke. Men hun har også rett i at det ikke finnes noen god grunn til at vi skal sammenligne henne med Rowling (kvinner som skriver fantasy og utgis av Bloomsbury. Joda, jeg ser hvordan pressen vil hoppe på sammenligningen), og at hennes bok er mørkere (mørkere enn Deathly Hallows? Vel, jeg er ikke så sikker). Men det betyr ikke at man ikke kan savne lysglimtene. Lær av Shakespeare, sier jeg, selv tragediene har humor innimellom, det er kjent som “comic relief”.

Jeg skal utdype en annen sammenligning med Harry Potter, siden vi først er inne på det. Ikke fordi det er noen grunn til at Shannons bok skal ligne Rowlings, men fordi Harry Potter er et godt eksempel på noe annet jeg savnet i The Bone Season, nemlig vennskap, fellesskap og (selvvalgt) familie. Gjennom mesteparten av boka er det Paige mot verden som rår, og at boka er fortalt i jeg-form er med på å understreke dette. Mot slutten ser jeg riktignok konturene av noe som kan bli til noe i neste bok, men gjennom bok en er Paige for det første stort sett adskilt fra det hun har av “familie” og det som kommer fram rundt denne “familien” er ikke av en slik art at jeg nødvendigvis føler at de var noe tap. Så får vi se hvordan det utvikler seg.

Den norske oversettelsen av Kjersti Velsand later til å være helt ok. Jeg har bladd litt her og der og sammenlignet noen av sitatene jeg har markert på engelsk med den norske versjonen. Noen steder taper språket noe av fargen sin som i denne beskrivelsen av en av Claires “kolleger”:

Danica. Our resident genius, second only to Jax in intellect. She was three years older than me and had all the charm and sensitivity of a sucker punch. Nick classified her as a sociopath when she was first employed. Jax said it was just her personality.

På norsk har det blitt til:

Danica. Vårt eget lokale geni, intellektuelt bare forbigått av Jax. Hun var tre år eldre enn meg, fullstendig blottet for sjarm og empati. Nick betegnet henne som sosiopat da hun ble ansatt. Jax sa det bare var personligheten hennes.

Det er bare ikke samme schwungen over “fullstendig blottet for sjarm og empati” som “had all the charm and sensitivity of a sucker punch”. Samtidig ser jeg jo at det ikke er så lett å finne en norsk variant som funker. Og hadde jeg ikke sittet og sammenlignet setning for setning hadde jeg neppe savnet noe heller. Noe annet er at jeg også synes språkflyten virker litt hakkete innimellom, men så er heller ikke språket i orginalen blottet for feil.

drømmegjengerenDet er mulig jeg har vært så negativ at du har bestemt deg for å la være å lese boka, men om du har lyst til å gjøre opp din egen mening og vil lese boka i norsk oversettelse har jeg altså en nesten-ikke-bladd-i-kopi å gi bort (stemplet med “God fornøyelse! Kagge forlag”, slik at den ikke skal kunne byttes/selges som ny). Legg igjen en kommentar, så trekker jeg en vinner på Halloween (altså 31. oktober), det forekommer meg som en passende dato. Kanskje slenger jeg med en og annen overraskelse i pakka også. Om du vil dele “giveawayen” er det hyggelig, men du får ikke fler lodd av den grunn: En person, ett lodd.

Et par lenker på tampen:

Saturday – Ian McEwan

saturdayDet begynte så bra. Henry Perowne våkner midt på natten og står ved soveromsvinduet og ser et fly i flammer komme inn over London. Post-ellevte september er det naturlig å mistenke terrorisme, og Perowne våkner dagen etter med en uro i kroppen, er hans trygge, idylliske liv truet?

Perownes lørdag fortsetter først i vante mønstre. Han kjøper fisk til kveldens fiskegryte, han besøker sin mor, og så drar han for å spille squash. På vei til squashen blir han involvert i en liten bilulykke og møter Baxter, som med hjelp av kompisene truer Perowne mer direkte. Perowne snakker seg ut av situasjonen ved å utnytte diagnosen han instinktivt stiller og slipper altså unna bank der og da, men ved å ydmyke Baxter stiller han seg åpen for framtidige angrep.

Etter squash drar Perowne hjem og starter med matlagingen, gjestene (sønn, datter og svigerfar) ankommer og når de alle er samlet ankommer også Baxter med makker som tar familien som gisler i et innbruddsdrama.

Gjennom hele boka får vi Perownes filosoferinger over livet generelt og over politikk og neurologisk sykdom spesielt. En gryende irak-krig problematiseres, spørsmålet om mennesker kan lastes for ting de gjør som er forårsaket av sykdom likeså.

Som sagt, det begynner bra. Jeg liker Perowne på sett og vis og jeg liker det McEwan skriver. Men etter hvert begynner ting å skurre. Og innbruddsscenen med Baxter er rett og slett så… idiotisk at det er vanskelig å ta boka 100 % alvorlig.

Det mest interessante aspektet ved boka er diskusjonen rundt nevrologisk sykdom og hva det kan ha å si for atferden til mennesker, og altså hvorvidt de kan lastes for sine handlinger hvis det er sykdommen som forårsaker dem. I den sammenhengen er Baxter et særdeles interessant kasus, men McEwan sløser det hele bort i den tynneste, Hollywood-aktige resolusjonen av en konflikt jeg noensinne har lest i såkalt seriøs litteratur.

Og det er så synd, for han kunne gjort så mye mer med det persongalleriet han har skapt. Perowne selv kunne vært dissekert og blottlagt (på John Updike-vis som gjestebloggeren hos och dagarna går ønsker seg). Ekteskapet mellom Henry og hans kone Rosalind er også verdt enda flere linjer enn det allerede får, det samme er forholdet til barna og til svigerfaren Grammaticus, her er materiell nok til tre-fire bøker minst. Og diskusjonen om virkelighet, særlig hjernens virkelighet sett med nevrokirurgens øyne, og litteraturen representert ved svigerfar og datter er også verdt mer fokus enn det får.

A man who attempts to ease the miseries of failing minds by repairing brains is bound to respect the material world, its limits, and what it can sustain – consciousness, no less. It isn’t an article of faith with him, he knows it for a quotidian fact, the mind is what the brain, mere matter, performs. If that’s worthy of awe, it also deserves curiosity; the actual, not the magical, should be the challenge. This reading list persuaded Perowne that the supernatural was the recourse of an insufficient imagination, a dereliction of duty, a childish evasion of the difficulties and wonders of the real, of the demanding re-enactment of the plausible.

(Side 67-68.) I det hele tatt. McEwan skriver for det meste bra, men undergraver sitt eget prosjekt i mine øyne. Har jeg blitt skremt fra å lese flere bøker av McEwan? Nei. Han kan da ikke ødelegge alle bøkene sine på denne måten, kan han vel? Og i utgangspunktet likte jeg virkelig boka.

Jeg hadde moro av denne anmeldelsen på Goodreads, forresten, jeg er ganske enig, for å si det slik.

Ps: Plutselig skrev jeg visst på norsk. Det var i grunn en forglemmelse, men jeg gidder altså ikke oversette når jeg først har skrevet… Boka er utgitt på norsk av Gyldendal, oversatt av Halvar Kristiansen, med tittelen Lørdag.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce

harold_fryThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry jumped the tbr-queue a bit unexpectedly. I borrowed it from my parents, who both read it this summer, and it therefore happened to be on top of a pile in the bedroom when I needed something to read while keeping the baby company until she fell asleep. Once I started, I was intrigued enough to promote it to main read when I had finished Mutton, and since I spent Friday flying to Oslo for a meeting, I had a lot of time to read (one good thing about meetings in Oslo).

I say I was intrigued, and I was. Harold Fry lives with his wife Maureen in Kingsbridge, their marriage has been pretty much dead for twenty years. One morning he receives a letter from Queenie Hennessy, and old friend, who is dying of cancer in Berwick-on-Tweed. Harold is shaken by the news, especially as he feels he has things unsaid to Queenie. He writes a letter, and walks to the postbox to post it, but somehow he can’t quite manage to get it into the first one, nor the second one and at the edge of town he encounters a girl in a petrol station who talks about faith curing cancer and Harold has somehow started walking to Berwick-on-Tweed in order to save Queenie. This is the pilgrimage, an old man in unsuitable shoes, without his mobile, walking from Knightsbridge to Berwick-on-Tweed. A mad project, if ever there was one.

Well, there’s naught the matter with mad projects, fictional or otherwise (Round Ireland with a Fridge, anyone?), and one of the more enjoyable features of Harold’s project is the conversations he has along the way. He also has a lot of time to think, and we get flashbacks of his life, his friendship with Queenie, his relationship with his wife, his less-than-perfect parents and his son. Maureen, with her husband out walking to save another woman also has time to think, and so we get her side of the story, too. And it’s interesting enough, as things go. And there are nice turns of phrase, too:

The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had done so for a long time.

(p. 180) However, I’m not quite sold on the whole thing. I can’t put my finger on it, but Joyce doesn’t really make me care. I am nowhere near tearing up at any point, and really, there are several places where I should be breaking out the Kleenex (I mean, nowadays I cry at ANYthing, NOT making me cry is almost impressive in itself). So, well, a quick and somewhat interesting read, but not really something I’d recommend whole-heartedly, I’m afraid.

Another quote, though, this is Harold and Maureen’s neighbour Rex talking about his dead wife:

I miss her all the time. I know in my head that she has gone, but I still keep looking. The only difference is that I am getting used to the pain. It’s like discovering a great hole in the ground. To begin with you forget it’s there and you keep falling in. After a while, it’s still there, but you learn to walk round it.

(p. 240)

Ps. Boka er utgitt på norsk av Aschehoug i 2012 med tittelen Harold Frys utrolige pilegrimsferd.

Mutton – India Knight

muttonMutton is a free-standing sequel to Comfort and Joy (which I loved) though I only realised this once I started reading, as the publishers have completely neglected to include this information on the cover. This is a shame, because, although you could quite definitely read Mutton all on its own, it does contain Comfort and Joy spoilers, so if you want to read both you should definitely read them in the correct order.

Clara is still my BFF, or something like that. I like her a lot. The two of us have differing views on things like shoes (I’m more interested in comfort than looks) and makeup (I can hardly ever be bothered), but so do a lot of my real life friends. What Clara does have in common with me (I think) is what the cover calls “a healthy sense of what matters in life”. But then Clara’s old friend Gaby moves in. Gaby is older than Clara but looks substantially younger. Because, of course, she has had “things done”. And Clara, who has just discovered a frown taking root on her forehead, starts wondering whether, perhaps, she should get a few things done herself.

I’ve never been the sort of person who worried too much about how I look (hence the lack of interest in shoes and makeup), but I do see how a nip here, a tuck there and a little shot of Botox may seem quite tempting to people (we’re talking the subtle(ish), small alterations here, not full-on duck lips and scary expressionless faces). And it’s all very well to tell people to “grow old gracefully” as long as most actresses don’t look a day over thirty (even the ones that are supposed to be old) and women get laughed at for not dressing their age (as if, magically, at say, forty, we should stop liking to dress up and start preferring shapeless beige and navy dresses). And if you’re single, as both Clara and Gaby are, and would rather like to have sex with someone vaguely attractive (to you, definitions differ, obviously) occasionally, then living up to what society tells you is an attractive woman will of course seem massively more important.

So Clara worries a bit, but on the whole her outlook is that it is what it is and if you have to forego pasta forever in order to live up to the ideal, then perhaps it’s the ideal that’s wrong, rather than the pasta. But having Gaby in the house is unsettling, however, not all is hunky-dory with Gaby either:

For the first time since she re-entered my life, I feel properly sorry for Gaby, beautiful, gorgeous Gaby, pretendy Gaby, who has made herself a captive of her looks, who can never stop, who is never going to say, ‘Sod it, I’m nearly fifty, I think I’ll skip the daily punishment and the starvation regime and just do what I like. And if my arms sag a bit, then so what? I’ve had a good innings and it isn’t the end of the world.’ Instead here she is, snaffling down the Class As and trying to keep up with people she could realistically have given birth to. Kate would say it’s undignified, and at this very moment I’m inclined to agree.

(p. 82) They rattle along, and learn bits and pieces on the way, helped along by some of Clara’s other friends. At the same time, things are going on with Clara’s son Jack and his girlfriend Sky. Sky’s father is a successful fantasy writer, in the middle of writer’s block over his seventh novel, and is sent by his publishers in isolation to the outer Hebrides in the hope that this might help, so Sky is also a temporary lodger i Clara’s house. It turns out that Gaby is a complete fangirl when it comes to Sky’s dad’s books, and that provides both entertainment (being a bit of a fangirl myself, I chuckle over Gaby and Sky and their conversations filled with in-jokes and unintelligble gibberish – to an outsider like Clara) and plot twists.

The main focus of Mutton, though, is looks, whether to “fix” them and how to live with them. As such, I found Mutton less engaging than Comfort and Joy, simply because looks interest me far less than divorce (or Christmas). And some of the dilemmas seem quite foreign as well. Though one of the novel’s tenets is that far more peope have had “things done” than will readily admit it, I can’t help but feel that this might be true of middle-class-and-up London, but I somehow doubt it is true of Trondheim. I’d be rather surprised, in fact, if any of my friends had had “things done” (at least more drastic than a bit of teeth bleaching or such). Perhaps I’m naive, but it does make the novel’s main existential discussion seem even less relevant.

So, yes, I liked it. I read it cover to cover much more quickly than I generally read things nowadays (what with life happening and all), and I will probably get hold of India Knight’s next book the moment it hits the shelves (as usual). And I half-way wish the next one will be about Clara and her familiy, too, because I’d like to know what happens next. But, no, I didn’t love it.

I may have to reread Comfort and Joy come Christmas, though.