The girl …

Posted on September 23, 2010. Filed under: Book Review, Essay | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

With the dragon tattoo

Who played with fire

And kicked the hornet’s nest!

Quite an enigmatic beginning to a simple old book review, don’t you think so? These are three crime novels by a Swedish author, Stieg Larsson and are part of a trilogy called Millennium. I, of course, read their English translation. Oh, before I forget, SPOILER ALERT.  I

promise not to give away the endings, but I will reveal a large amount of the plot.

What made me take it up in the first place? Simple, The movie! The buzz surrounding the movie made on the first book, piqued my curiosity. I read the book review in NYTimes, and the books promised to be one masochistic journey, but the plot continued to draw me.I started reading ‘The Dragon Tattoo’ and was hooked for good. I am still in the process of reading ‘The Hornet’s nest’ and am nearing the end. I am sad that the journey is over, and though a little painful, it was largely enjoyable.

.. Dragon tattoo‘ is almost reminiscent of Agatha Christie. Our hero, Michael Blomquist (a journalist and a minor celebrity), is asked to investigate the disappearance of the missing heiress of a Swedish old money family.  He uncovers much more than a  cupboard full of skeletons, to put it mildly. He is assisted in this quest by our girl, The girl, Lisbeth Salander. Words cannot express how much I loved her character. She is this semi goth, semi punk girl, with piercings, tattoos. Ominous clues about her past are given and we can guess that she has been a victim of abuse of several years. She is not socially adept, probably because of the abuse she has suffered and she is also suspected to have Asperger’s syndrome. In the book itself, she becomes the victim of a brutal rape. However, she does not report to the authorities (presumably because she has been badly treated by them before and also because she is universally detested and looked down upon.) She exacts revenge in an equally brutal manner on the perpetrator.  Thus she has no sense of right and wrong, as perceived by normal people. However, she is a brilliant hacker and also has a photographic memory.  Her character reminded me of Chanda from Dev D. A girl who is grossly misunderstood, a victim of societal norms and yet ever so spunky! Someone who makes lemonade out of the lemons life throws her way, in her own strange style.

Anyways so Michael and Lisbeth, get to the bottom of the mystery by doing Google searches. Michael comes close to getting himself killed and Lisbeth saves him. She also uses her hacking skills and helps Michael get even with his old enemy. Blomquist is shown to be the editor of a magazine called Millenium. The 3 books describe the intricacies of publishing a magazine and I enjoyed reading about them.  Michael is shown to believe that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. Lisbeth believes him to be a naive fool and fights her battles with a can of Mace, a Taser and a tattoo gun.

The second novel  ‘..Played with Fire‘ is more over the top than ‘..Dragon Tattoo‘. It has larger than life action. Lisbeth escapes miraculously from many of her trysts with danger. More light is thrown upon Lisbeth’s ghastly childhood.  The plot is that, there are 3 murders in Stockholm and somehow all of them point to Lisbeth. Somehow these murders are also related to a story Millennium and Blomquist were working on. So it is upto Micke (short for Michael in Swedish) to exonerate his buddy Salander.  At the end of this book, Lisbeth’s utterly dysfunctional family members (a euphemism for psychopathic) try to kill her. This time Michael saves her.

In the third book, ‘ .. kicked Hornet’s nest’, Lisbeth has not just kicked a hornet’s nest, she has become hopelessly entangled in it. Powerful people are her enemies. However a few faithful friends are still behind her. Blomquist is fighting for her in the only way he can, by writing a story in Millennium.  There also are many subplots some of which do not contribute to the pace of the story. However, it still remains entertaining. In the end, after a farcical trial (seriously Swedish courts are that bad?) Lisbeth gets a happy ending. Well, sort of! Thankfully, Michael and Lisbeth do not walk hand in hand into the Aurora Borealis (It’s Sweden guys, no romantic sunsets there!).

What I loved about these books:

1.       Lisbeth Salander- Amongst all the books I have read recently, she is definitely the freshest take on the contemporary woman. If we pity her, it is only fleetingly. We just wait for her to bounce back in her own quirky way.

2.       Description of the day to day workings of a magazine – What research goes on behind a story, when is the right time to publish, when should you kill a story. Loved reading about it!

What I did not like as much:

1.       The character of Michael – A cad to the hilt! Tells all the women he sleeps with, I cannot be faithful to you, and all the women still melt! He never feels threatened by the women he dates (they are all shown to be strong, successful and independent) and never questions himself.  He is Mr. Righteousness and a great stickler for rules! In short, I did not believe him, he is not flawed enough. He is shown to be so irresistible that even Salander ends up in love with him. Rolling eyes emoticon here.

2.       The subplots within subplots do meander and drag down the pace of the narrative.

3.       Other characters – They have no personal lives. They drink coffee endlessly. Their lives are devoted to their work. Some of them are so oversexed, despite their advanced ages. Michal himself is nearing 50 and regularly sleeps around with his colleague and friend Erika. What more, this relationship is blessed by Erika’s husband!  Rolling eyes again!

All in all, a big thumbs up from me! Loved this dalliance with Nordic noir.

PS: Would love some book recommendations in comments!

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My ‘Classical’ Love Affair

Posted on August 3, 2010. Filed under: Essay | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Summer vacations were going on. I must have been 9 or 10 years old. That one glorious year, we were living on the 5th floor in a building just beside a comparatively secluded part of Juhu beach. Everybody at home was asleep. Somehow I was awake. I still remember the day quite vividly. I was listlessly moving around from one room to another looking for something to do. For some unbeknownst reason, I opened one of the rusting Godrej cupboards and began rummaging through it. And there it was – a veritable treasure trove. No it was not a gateway to Narnia, but to another world that I discovered.  Abridged versions of English classics! They had been textbooks of my dad and aunt and had been stowed away for so many years.  At that instant, I was unaware that my love affair with classics had begun.

I took the Count of Monte Cristo and began reading. I read with horror as Dantes was wrongly accused of treason and carted off to Chateau D’If.  The book took me to France and Italy, amidst rocky seas and grim prison islands, to beautiful women and treacherous men. I devoured it all up in one sitting. Probably since it was a kiddie book it ended as a happy ending. Edmond escapes from the prison, gets his treasure and is reunited with Mercedez. I lived in this ignorance caused bliss. I did not read the revenge saga until I became an adult.

Of course, this post would be incomplete without the mention of Pride and Prejudice. There is something about Mr. Darcy.  All my friends who have read this book are still in love with him. Something about his haughty demeanor yet kind heart. Maybe psychologists and psychoanalysts may have something to say about women’s fixation for Mr. Darcy. A must read for all girls of all ages.

Many years have now passed after that summer. My fervor in books has lessened because of the pressures of making a living. I am less adventurous now, when I choose authors. But with most classics I have never gone wrong.

I dove into To Kill a Mocking bird with a clean frame of mind. I did not know its story, but I knew that it was a Pulitzer winning book. I was not disappointed. Every page I turned, I found myself being enthralled more and more.  The escapades of Scout and Jem, reminded me of my own misadventures with my sisters. The unfortunate events by which they ‘come of age’ filled me with sorrow, but at the end I felt optimistic about the inherent goodness of human beings.  I would definitely recommend it to someone who wants to begin reading, because it is a great story written in a lucid way. (I tried it on #win, but he has not yet read it to my dismay.)

Another delightful classic is Catch 22. I remember clutching my sides and laughing while I was reading it. But the next instant I would realize the grief that the comedy tries to veil, albeit thinly. An example is this guy who strives to make his life boring because being bored gives you an illusion of time having slowed down, and time slowing down makes your impending death seem farther (it is a story of disillusioned aircraft pilots, fighting a futile war). A long-ish book, but each and every page is a delight.

Another classic with a ‘catch’ is A Catcher in the Rye. I had a hard time reading it because of its strange prose style. Probably because of this staccato style, the effect on the reader is so great. I remember being disturbed for days on end after reading it.  This story of an angst ridden teenager struck a chord really close to my heart.  I would not want to read it again, but I am sure everyone will find a piece of themselves in that book.

So, what is on my reading list now? Ulysses, Lolita, The Grapes of Wrath, 1984, A Brave New World, Howard’s End… If you have read any or all of these, do let me know your opinions. Happy reading!

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