Wednesday, 22 July 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Author: Stieg Larsson

Number of pages: 542

Started: 14 July 2009

Finished: 22 July 2009

Opening words:

It happened every year, was almost a ritual. And this was his eighty second birthday. When, as usual, the flower was delivered, he took off thewrapping paper and then picked up the telephone to call Detective Superintendent Morell who, when he retired, had moved to Lake Siljan in Dalarna. They were not only the same age, they had been born on the same day— which was something of an irony under the circumstances.
The old policeman was sitting with his coffee, waiting, expecting the call.
“It arrived.”
“What is it this year?”
“I don’t know what kind it is. I’ll have to get someone to tell me what
it is. It’s white.”
“No letter, I suppose.”
“Just the flower. The frame is the same kind as last year. One of those do- it- yourself ones.”
“Same as always, all in capitals. Upright, neat lettering.”

Read the first chapter here.

Plot summary:

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared off the secluded island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger family. There was no corpse, no witnesses, no evidence. But her uncle, Henrik, is convinced that she was murdered by someone in her own family - the deeply dysfunctional Vanger clan. Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomqvist is hired to investigate, but when he links Harriet's disappearance to a string of gruesome murders from forty years ago, he needs a competent assistant - and he gets one: computer hacker Lisbeth Salander - a tattoed, truculent, angry girl who rides a motorbike like a Hell's Angel and handles makeshift weapons with the skill born of remorseless rage. This unlikely pair form a fragile bond as they delve into the sinister past of this island-bound, tightly-knit family. But the Vangers are a secretive lot, and Mikael and Lisbeth are about to find out just how far they're prepared to go to protect themselves - and each other.

What I thought:

Technically I didn’t read this book, but actually listened to it as a talking book. I think I actually found that preferable and am wondering if I would have liked it so much if I have read it. That said, I enjoyed the book and found it to be a good yarn. It contained a lot of good elements of a story (mystery, suspense, a bit of romance, some double-crossing etc) with a main plot and a major sub-plot. It was a fairly satisfying story and was worth listening to on a long road journey. I will read the next book and see how I enjoy that.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Man in the Dark

Title: Man in the Dark

Author: Paul Auster

Number of pages: 180

Started: 8 July 2009

Finished: 10 July 2009

Opening words:

I am alone in the dark, turning the world around in my head as I struggle through another bout of insomnia, another white night in the great American wilderness. Upstairs, my daughter and granddaughter are asleep in their bedrooms, each one alone as well, the forty-seven-year-old Miriam, my only child, who has slept alone for the past five years, and twenty-three-year-old Katya, Miriam’s only child, who used to sleep with a young man named Titus Small, but Titus is dead now, and Katya sleeps alone with her broken heart.

Plot summary:

August Brill, an elderly book critic, lies awake in the dark, unable to sleep. Elsewhere in the house are his daughter, Miriam, and granddaughter, Katya, each with her own reasons for lying awake and watchful in the long Vermont night.

Read a brief interview with Paul Auster here.

What I thought:

As expected, I enjoyed this latest read by Paul Auster. It was in many ways similar to his other books, covering the same sort of themes and has a darkness and strangeness to it that I can’t quite identify. It was a peculiar read (in a good way) and I have perhaps read better books by him, but it is one of those books where the author plays tricks, of sorts, with the readers minds and tells stories within stories – and there are links between this story and some of his others, which some readers may appreciate and others perhaps think a bit on an ‘in-joke’. A good read, perhaps not one of Auster’s best, but a good read nonetheless.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The Plague

Title: The Plague

Author: Albert Camus

Number of pages: 297

Started: 3 July 2009

Finished: 8 July 2009

Opening words:

The unusual events described in this chronicle occurred in 194- at Oran. Everyone agreed that considering their somewhat extraordinary character, they were out of place there. Fir its ordinariness is what strikes one first about the town of Oran, which is merely a large French Port on the Algerian coast, headquarters of the Prefect of a French ‘Department’

Plot summary:

The townspeople of Oran are in the grip of a virulent plague
Cut off from the rest of the world, living in fear, they each respond in their own way to the grim challenge of the deadly bacillus. Among them is Dr Rieux, a humanitarian and healer, and it is through his eyes that we witness the devastating course of the epidemic.
Written in 1947, just after the Nazi occupation of France, Camus's magnificent novel is also a story of courage and determination against the arbitrariness and seeming absurdity of human existence.

What I thought:

I enjoyed this book, if it is possible to enjoy a book about a plague. It is quite a sombre book and I suppose a bit philosophical, although I didn’t find that particularly or find that it made it hard to read. I have also read Camus’ The Stranger and I preferred this book. It was sad in places but also quite stark and distant at times. It reported on mass deaths by acknowledging that the high numbers were no longer shocking after a while – and that some people managed to adapt to the new life imposed on them and some did not. The book is not an in-depth study if individuals but more of a look at the impact on a community and how they learn to cope and adapt. A touching read.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Casino Royale

Title: Casino Royale

Author: Ian Fleming

Number of pages: 135

Started: 30 June 2009

Finished: 2 July 2009

Opening words:

The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling—a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension—becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.

James Bond suddenly knew that he was tired. He always knew when his body or his mind had had enough and he always acted on the knowledge. This helped him to avoid staleness and the sensual bluntness that breeds mistakes.

Read the first chapter here

Plot summary:

Introducing James Bond: charming, sophisticated, handsome; chillingly ruthless and very deadly. This, the first of Fleming's tales of agent 007, finds Bond on a mission to neutralize a lethal, high-rolling Russian operative called simply 'Le Chiffre' - by ruining him at the baccarat table and forcing his Soviet spymasters to 'retire' him. It seems that lady luck is taken with James - Le Chiffre has hit a losing streak. But some people just refuse to play by the rules, and Bond's attraction to a beautiful female agent leads him to disaster and an unexpected saviour.

What I thought:

I am surprised to say that I really enjoyed this book. I am not a fan of James Bond and don’t really like the films, but I really liked him in written form. I thought the story was very readable, whilst not entirely believable, and I found parts of the story totally engrossing.

This was the first Bond story that Ian Fleming wrote and it was an interesting take on the spy thriller, including getting a small insight into some of the sexual peccadilloes for which the author is known! It was a good story and even though a fair bit of it was based around gambling, something which I don’t know much about, Fleming managed to weave an explanation of how the game was played, so that it wasn’t just a tedious bit of page-turning to get the story to move on.

I really enjoyed the story and it had a bit of everything in it. If you haven’t read any Ian Fleming then I would recommend starting with Casino Royale.