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Nordic Noir

Branagh's Kurt Wallander

Branagh’s Kurt Wallander

Although it’s springtime, the wintry weather seemed to be blasting us from the North throughout March, and so my reading theme chimed with the Nordic-based weather front.

A librarian friend jokingly suggested that I should spend each month dressed according to my reading theme; she was particularly looking forward to last month’s Regency theme with empire-line dresses, fans and smelling salts. I disappointed her, but suggested this month I might appear in the library wearing the same, cable-knit jumper, unbrushed hair and a permanently surly expression. I resisted.

And so I started with Henning Mankell. I have had every intention of watching the TV series (both the original Swedish and BBC versions) but only seem to have found the time to have watched one episode of one BBC series. Similarly, I had accumulated a few of Mankell’s crime novels and looked forward to ‘meeting’ Wallander in his original form.
I started with Sidetracked, only because it’s the earliest (fifth) in the series I have on my shelf. Faceless Killers is somewhere on my Kindle and The Dogs of Riga is issued to me from my local library.

Wallander is as darkly dour as I had been led to expect, with a typically troubled personal life. but in this novel, he seems able to embark on a new relationship, cares for his dementia-troubled father and has genuinely good working relationships with his team, I underestimated the facets of the character at first. The writing is good, introducing a few strands of the story in the first few chapters, describing a visually dramatic suicide early on, killing a character we’d been ‘observing’ in minute detail only pages before, and, in particular, beginning the narrative inside the head of the murderer. Of course, none of this is new, but these techniques quickly and effectively create psycholocial suspense and intrigue which might take longer or not be possible in a more ‘plodding’ crime narrative. The action takes place in particular geographic locations; the Swedish geography is described in detail; the MidSummer setting of Sidetracked provides an interesting counterpoint to the self-immolating suicide and the psychological darkness of the perpetrator.image

I confess, I like Harry Hole. Jo Nesbo’s The Redbreast has introduced us and I’d like to spend more time in his company. This thriller is longer, denser and more complex than Sidetracked, the narrative jumping between Winter 1999-2000 (including a visit from the US President to Sweden) and events on the battlefield and camp hospitals in the late 1940s. issues of loyalty, justice, identity, love and retribution resonate through the years. Gripping and chilling.

Harry Hole is, as expected, a character in conflict; an unsatisfied personal life, unresolved issues, hidden depths waiting to be explored in further investigations. He has a network of relationships, both personal and profiessional; he antagonises and infuriates colleagues and superiors. And has a very particular dress sense. (He reminds me a little of a Swedish Rebus in Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh-set novels)

Do you ever hang onto books ‘in case you might get round to reading it one day’? I do. I was reminded of this when I picked up my copy of Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow when a charity shop receipt fluttered out. It was dated 2001. At least the book’s now off the shelf, being read. It’s a downbeat, dour, snow-laden mystery, although I’m only four chapters in; I doubt it’ll become an all-singing, all-dancing up-beat affair though. If, indeed, I finish it; it’s not gripped me yet, sadly.

 

imageThe wonderfully titled The 100-Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out of a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson was, by happenstance, March’s reading group choice. I was looking forward to this best selling, quirky story of a centenarian’s journey (both literal and metaphorical) through his life. However, I didn’t warm to Allan Karlsson’s on his Forrest-Gump-ian adventures but I did make it to the end (too late for the group’s meeting) and was amused by some of the more bizarre situations he found himself in.

(A further confession: the final few days of March found me gripped by Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: apparently, ‘the addictive no.1 US best seller that everyone is talking about’. It was gripping; a rollercoaster ride of a thriller, with many twists and turns, dips and peaks which kept my light on well past my bedtime.)image

I ran out of time for the further adventures of Lisbeth Salander, any of Anne Holt’s crime thrillers, John Ajvide Lindqvist or the novelisation of The Killing. A slightly disappointing reading tally this month, certainly compared to last month’s Regency romp, but my reading appetite is whetted to venture north again to hook up with Harry Hole, Lisbeth Salander, Kurt Wallander and Oskar & Eli. Hej da…

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On Anticipation

My ambitious pile of reading for March's Nordic Noir theme.

My ambitious pile of reading for March’s Nordic Noir theme.

Too many books?!
This pile represents my bookshelf gleanings for March’s ‘Nordic Noir’ theme. Yes, I know the month’s almost finished, but I wanted to record my ambitious hopes for the month’s reading before the moment had passed. My Kindle’s poised on the top as I have almost ten other appropriate books on it.

A few of these titles are from our local library; some recommended by an enthusiastic librarian, others just leapt off the shelves at me. Those that I own are likely to be joining the ever-increasing pile of books awaiting their new home in Barter Books; just need to read them first.

I haven’t read much of this pile, and am aware that we’re in the last week of the month, but I am enjoying having about five of them currently on the go. Once I log off, I’m off to my reading group to discuss ‘The 100-Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out of the Window and Disappeared’; not quite Nordic Noir but set in the right geographical area with a crime driving the plot. Admittedly (and rather shamefully) I’m only about half way through it and haven’t warmed to the central centenarian ‘hero’. I shall persevere with this ‘Forrest Gump’ style novel. It’s quirky, unusual and has been getting rave reviews. Let’s see how tonight’s discussion progresses.

More musings on my foray into ‘Nordic Noir’ at the end of the month; as long as I can find some more time to get stuck into this pile…

 

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Beyond Pemberley: Powder, Patches and Proposals – A Month-long Regency Romance

I don’t think I’ve fallen in love this month, but I hope I’ve made a good friend to while away a few hours over a pot of tea. (My husband of 13 years can breathe a sigh of relief)
I used to be a little (OK, very) snobbish about light, frothy, genre novels, wondering ‘why would any intelligent reader choose to waste their time reading a novel where you already knew the ending?’ But having spent February reading (mostly) romances set in Regency England, I can now understand why.

They are not especially demanding (some days you’re too tired to concentrate on complicated plots or characterisation), they can be light-hearted (because sometimes life is serious enough), they’re set in a historical era with different manners, customs and a strict social structure (a bit of escapism can be fun; it’s not too difficult to generally visualise the costumes and context if you’ve watched even just one Regency costume drama), the romances have a happy ending (because life is usually more complicated and unresolved, doesn’t always end happily and you don’t always end up with the right partner).

One of my friends who almost solely reads Mills & Boon Regency romances described them to me as ‘easy-to-read Jane Austen’. Once I would have dismissed her condescendingly; surely I would read the ‘real’ Austen and not be distracted by such frippery? But this month’s discipline has opened my eyes. Reading a number of Regency novels in quick succession has shown me a range of writing styles, and various levels of steaminess on the conjugal front. The hero (or anti-hero; the reformation of ‘a rake’ is more fun!) and heroine marry, they behave themselves (mostly) within strict moral and societal codes and there’s lots of description of costumes, material, balls, and everyone spends at least some time in Bath.
Other random things I’ve learnt, in no particular order:

  • What it means to be bon ton;
  • The importance of the look of a man’s legs in tight breeches, once memorably described as ‘shaped like a balustrade'(!);
  • What a beaver hat looks like;
  • That pregnancy or legs are inappropriate subjects for polite conversation (but of course!);
  • Lead: not just for building but used as make up;
  • That not to ride sidesaddle was considered most inappropirate for a gentlewoman;
  • That the true love of a faithful woman can transform even the worst ‘rakehell’;
  • The difference between ‘traditional regency romance’, ‘recency historical’ and ‘sensual regency historical romance’ (thanks Wikipedia).

So, what did I read? Here’s the list:

  • M.C.Beaton/Marion Chesney’s The School For Manners series (6 titles but as each one is only about 170 pages long, they were a fun evening’s read each; I loved the willful-daughter-taming chaperones for hire, the Tribble Twins; although not a pastiche, the author has a defiinite twinkle in her eye, if not her tongue in her cheek; all her novels are good, clean fun);
  • Mary Balough – A Summer to Remember (the second Bedwin prequel; very entertaining but with a few more saucy scenes than I originally expected; up a tree?!);
  • Georgette Heyer – The Black Moth (her first novel, created as an entertaining story for her younger, convalescent brother, published when she was just 19, it centres around a gentleman highwayman settling the affairs of his gambling brother – ‘terribly” exciting, I kept finding myself imagining Adam Ant in his Prince Charming mode…);
  • Baroness Orczy – The Scarlet Pimpernel (a ‘hangover’ from last month’s French Revolution theme, but also a romance in the same era mostly set on the other side of the Channel);
  • Victoria Connelly – The Perfect Hero (contemporary reworking of various Austen plots set in Lyme Regis as a production of Persuasion is filmed).

But there are so many more books I could have read: still to finish Persuasion (to my shame), I didn’t try out Galen Foley, Julia Quinn or Eloisa James (but now own at least one copy of each of their novels to enjoy another time). And I have 46 more Georgette Heyers to read…

Did I miss anyone else out?

It’s been a fun, February fling, but now onto more serious fare: ‘Nordic Noir’ for the month of March. Dark tales of murder and detection in northern wastelands. Any suggestions to add to my pile?

P.S. I couldn’t resist reading a few novels outside the monthly theme: The Dinner by Herman Koch for our reading group (odd, oppressive view of Danish middle-class life), Mutton by India Knight (an amusing story of a forty-something mother reflecting on ageing, and English middle-class life), My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher (for a Read Regional event, enjoyed in one evening, met author the next day; see post ‘The Joy of a Quick Read’.)

 Oh, to be a Recency woman...
Oh, to be a Recency woman…
 

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2013: New Year, New Reading Challenge

Amongst the usual new year resolutions to lose that last bit of weight, exercise a little bit more and go to bed earlier, I’m setting myself another year-long reading challenge. Again, I’ll aim to theme my reading throughout the year, allowing books to ‘hangover’ from previous months, make allowances for reading group choices and allow the occasional ‘just because’ choice to slip in.

I found last year’s experiment quite challenging, but I enjoyed the (flexible and self-imposed) restraints of themes; I didn’t just browse the bookshelves, seeing what I fancied. I had a schedule to follow! By the end of the year preparing for three family birthdays and Christmas within a few months left me little time for large chunks of reading so my Dickens theme flopped as I only read a few short stories by the great man.

So, may I present my provisional reading plan for 2013:

January: The French Revolution (!)

This is a period of history I know very little about so I hope to be better informed by the end of the month; I’m focussing on A Place of Greater Safety (Hilary Mantel) and Les Miserables (Victor Hugo). Both are enormous tomes (over 800 pages each) but if I have time, I might squeeze in The Scarlet Pimpernel and A Tale of Two Cities. Bonne Chance, moi!

February: Regency Romance

A really light month! Lots of Georgette Heyer, with a sprinkling of Mary Balough and M C Beaton, more Jane Austen: just right as Valentine’s Day approaches, following on from the Revolution.

March: Nordic Noir

Having just enjoyed The Killing (season 1), my appetite’s whetted for darkly gritty murder mysteries (with great jumpers optional): expect lots of Henning Mankell, Anne Holt, Steig Larsson, et al.

April: it’s the ‘cruellest month’, so I’ll try non-fiction

I focus too much on fiction, so I could try anything. At the moment, I’m considering: Watching the English (Kate Fox), The Victorian House (Judith Flanders), Family (Susan Hill), Home (Julie Myerson), A History of Modern Britain (Andrew Marr), This Sceptered  Isle (Christopher Lee).

May: Thomas Hardy

In honour of the fertility of the soil, I’ll journey to Wessex to enjoy some of the stories I’ve not yet been told: Desperate Remedies, A Pair of Blue Eyes, Return of the Native, amongst others. I’ll probably also read Claire Tomalin’s biography, The Time-Torn Man and some of Hardy’s poetry.

June: Fantasy and Sci-Fi

I dabbled a little last year, enjoying HG Wells, the first two parts of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower sequence and Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness. I think this might be time to try George R R Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire sequence; have the first part on Kindle already.

July: Trollopes (both)

I’ll mix more Victorianna from Anthony Trollope with contemporary stories from his distant descendant Joanna Trollope (and possibly her alter ego Caroline Harvey). Might even dip into more biographies; I have a copy of Joanna Trollope’s Britannia’s Daughters too.

August: a little bit of what I fancy…

It’ll be Summer Holiday time so I’ll catch up with myself, then read whatever I fancy. It’s probably going to be a nice mix of contemporary ‘literary’ fiction. Just wish we were going somewhere exotic  to enjoy it; with two young children, I’m unlikely to be able to spend the full fortnight luxuriating in a pile of novels, but I can dream…

September: Iris Murdoch

As the new term beckons, something more intellectual. I’ve collected all her novels of the years, enjoyed a few and read John Bayley’s affecting memoirs of life with Iris when she descended into Alzheimer’s.

October: Edwardian Fiction and Ghost Stories

I’m looking forward to starting Ford Maddox Ford’s Parade’s End quartet, Vita Sackville-West’s The Edwardians, John Galsworthy’s Forsyth Saga, Arnold Bennett, GK Chesterton, EM Forster, etc. I might stray into more Modernism with Joyce’s Ulysses. And of course, as the nights become dark, a few classic scares will be fun!

December: Dickens

A second chance for me to get stuck into (at least) one of Dickens’ greats. Bleak House perhaps?

So, what about you? What would you suggest for themes? Are there any I’ve missed out? And what books should I really, really read in these themes?

Happy reading!

 

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