findingtimetowrite

Thinking, writing, thinking about writing…

Bernhard Schlink: Liebesfluchten (Flights of Love)

My second review for German Literature Month, expertly organised and hosted by Caroline and Lizzy. Another prize winning author, best known for his novel ‘The Reader’, this former law professor and judge is constantly preoccupied with the ‘burden of being German’.

In this short story collection, the more obvious immediate subject is love – in all its forms and nuances. It’s about taking flight and finding refuge in love (or in our idealised view of it) or about love that has flown away after many years of marriage. It’s about suppressed yearning and regrets for things not done, about the comfort of habits and rituals, and about the consequences of attempting to make the grand gesture. The protagonists are all men, of different ages, but virtually all slightly confused loners, no matter what outward trappings of success they might have. The author seems to build up towards a surprise ending in each story – yet the surprise is often not quite as dramatic as we might expect. Perhaps the surprise is that life goes on even after we try to change it.

I found ‘Girl and Lizard’ a bit creepy, about a man’s obsession with a family painting, which inhibits his ability to have normal relationships with other women. ‘Sugar Peas’ and ‘The Other’ are about affairs and keeping secrets, with twists which show us that nothing is simply black-and-white when it comes to marriages or extramarital relationships. ‘The Son’ is about a German professor sent to a country in the grips of a civil war as an international observer – and how he rediscovers his human empathy and his love for his son. ‘The Woman at the Gas Station’ is the most successful story in terms of capturing that universal human longing for the unattainable, the wondering ‘what if…’, the anxiety about missed opportunities in life, the attempt to rekindle a love grown cold.

Kann man sich in den anderen ein zweites Mal verlieben? Kennt man den anderen beim zweiten Mal nicht viel zu gut? Setzt Verlieben nicht voraus, daß man den anderen noch nicht kennt, daß er noch weiße Flecken hat, auf die man eigene Wünsche projizieiren kann?… Oder gibt es Liebe ohne Projektion?

Can you fall in love with the same person twice? Don’t you know the other person far too well the second time round? Doesn’t falling in love assume that you don’t quite know the other, that there are blank spots in which you can project your own dreams?… Or is there such a thing as love without projection? (my translation)

LiebesfluchtenYet my favourite two stories are more overtly political: they are about the clash of two cultures, two ideologies, as well as two people in love (or friendship). In ‘A Little Fling’ (ironic title – ‘Der Seitensprung’ in the original is slightly more neutral), it’s about the friendship between a West German man and an East German family, the betrayals on both sides – personal, political – and the question whether we can maintain a relationship even after we become aware of the betrayals. Can we still live with someone when we know them all too well, know even the worst that they are capable of?

Alle Ost-West-Geschichten waren Liebesgeschichten, mit den entsprechenden Erwartungen und Enttäuschungen. Sie lebten von der Neugier darauf, was am anderen fremd war, von dem, was er hatte und man selbst nicht… Wieviel gab es davon! Genug, um aus dem Winter, als die Mauer fiel, einen Frühling ost-west-deutscher Liebesneugier zu machen. Aber dann war, was fremd und anders und weit weg war, auf einmal nah, gewöhnlich und lästig…

All East-West stories were love stories, with the same expectations and disappointments. They thrived on the curiosity about what made the other different, what they had that we did not have… So many such stories! Enough, to make a spring of east-west German love-hunger out of wintry landscape of the Fall of the Wall. But then everything that was foreign, different and distant became, all of a sudden, close, common and annoying… (my translation)

‘The Circumcision’ shows a young German man trying to come to grips with his cultural heritage when he falls in love with an American Jew. In several interesting dialogues between the couple and their friends and relative, we discover how deep-rooted prejudices can be. The man, Andi, riles against his girlfriend’s declaration that she loves him ‘in spite of him being German’. He reproaches her family for not being at all genuinely curious about him: ‘You meet me above all with prejudice. You know everything about the Germans, ergo, you know everything there is to know about me.’ And ultimately, self-censorship creeps into their relationship – so many subjects they dare not discuss openly, so many trigger points they have to be careful to avoid, so many opinions they dare not voice.

Schlink is a very different writer from Alois Hotschnig, and not just in subject matter. His stories very much anchored in reality, there are only flights of fancy in his stories, not flights into surrealistic landscapes. He is also much less ‘slant’ in style: he tackles subjects head-on, he introduces quite explicit (sometimes unrealistically so) dialogue and does not shy away from underlining a point, to make sure the reader gets the message. He is a writer of ideas, one to provoke discussions at book clubs or to cause one to ruminate about one’s own life, rather than one to admire stylistically or to seek to emulate. I can’t say I was uniformly delighted by all of these stories, but I rather admire the fact that there is no neat ending to most of the stories. For such an emphatic writer, it must have been hard to abstain from tying up all the loose ends.

 

 

Friday Fun: Gates, Walls and Freedom

I’ve always been fascinated by doorways and gates, especially if someone is trying to close them in front of me. I cannot resist peering in and imagining what lies beyond.

In this period of celebration of 25 years since the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the dismantling of Communist regimes in most of the East Bloc countries, events which marked me profoundly and changed the course of my life, I do wonder if the landscape we espied beyond those walls quite lived up to our euphoric expectations. Or if it ever could.

But I do know that I am forever grateful that we could open those gates and discover for ourselves.

 

The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

From Blessedwildapplegirl.com

From Blessedwildapplegirl.com

Explanation separates us from astonishment, which is the only gateway to the incomprehensible.
(Eugene Ionesco)

David Freedman sculpture gate.

David Freedman sculpture gate.

The world is full of people who have never, since childhood, met an open doorway with an open mind. (E. B. White)

From English Spirit.

From English Spirit.

The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion. (Albert Camus)

Architecture Art Design.

Architecture Art Design.

Look on every exit as being the entrance to somewhere else. (Tom Stoppard)

Leith Hall Gardens, from their website.

Leith Hall Gardens, from their website.

We are afraid of the enormity of the possible. (Emil Cioran)

This is dedicated to East Berliner journalist Thomas Otto, whom I met in late October 1989, and who had the first open and honest political discussion with me. ‘All you need is more choice…’

Photo from 1989, used by Prof. Sonja Kuftinec.

Photo from 1989, used by Prof. Sonja Kuftinec, Institute of Advanced Study, Univ. of Minnesota

 

Maybe This Time by Alois Hotschnig

GermanLitThis is my first review for November’s German Literature Month, hosted by Caroline and Lizzy for the fourth year running. I’m delighted to be taking part, after enjoying the reviews posted by participants in previous years.

What a brave choice this was for Peirene Press in their second year of existence to choose this collection of short stories by relatively unknown Austrian writer Alois Hotschnig (impeccably translated into English by Tess Lewis)!

I say that because these stories are seriously strange, unsettling, disturbing. It’s like going to sleep in a familiar world and waking up in a dream-like, trance-like state, where everything seems just slightly off-kilter to start with. Odd, certainly, but still harmless, relatively benign. And then, slowly but surely, you sink into a treacle-like nightmare. The more you try to shake yourself free, the deeper you fall – and there’s no escape.

The author has been compared to Kafka and Thomas Bernhard, but there are few similarities (except for the fact that they are all Austrian and that there are certain passages in Kafka’s diaries, where he describes his dreams, which may sound familiar). I am reminded more of Freudian analysis, of the absurdity of Eugene Ionesco and the surrealist riffs of the short stories of Haruki Murakami. The narrator in virtually all of these stories is an unspecified male who seems to be struggling to understand the world and his own place in it, who seems to have some difficulty relating to others.

HotschnigThe shorter stories are perhaps more forgettable: they feel like warm-up exercises to the longer ones. Even so, they bring an interesting twist of perspective from this author who clearly sees things differently from the vast majority of us. The close observation of the struggle for survival amongst creepy-crawlies in ‘Encounter’, for instance, the sense of foreboding in ‘Morning, Noon and Night’ and stepping into the mind of a paranoid stalker (or is he?) in ‘Two Ways of Leaving’. The longer stories allow for gradual build-up of tension, while still leaving so much unsaid or merely hinted at.

In ‘Maybe This Time, Maybe Now’, a family’s gatherings are suffused with the joyful expectation and then anguish of their wait for the mysterious Uncle Walter, who never shows up, who perhaps doesn’t even exist. So you begin to wonder at the possible metaphors there: a family searching for perfection, a nation waiting for a saviour, the origin of religious belief? In ‘Then a Door Opens and Swings Shut’ the narrator is accosted by an old woman on the street and invited into her house to admire her doll collection. One of the dolls resembles him but, instead of running away, he finds himself oddly attracted to the creepy experience the woman has to offer (older, more threadbare versions of himself).

Each time I left her house, a part of me remained behind, and I could feel its absence when I was not with her I didn’t know her at all in fact. She was a stranger to me in so many ways. Nothing bound me to her other than her knowledge about me and her ability to reveal me to myself to an extent no one else ever could.

In the first story, a man becomes obsessed with spying on his neighbours but ultimately only succeeds in delving deeper into himself.  In ‘You Don’t Know Them, They’re Strangers’, a man seems to be suffering from amnesia and finds – with surprise – a name on his front door that others have been calling him, but of which he himself has no recollection.  He is being taken for a person he believes he is not. This, I think, hints at the unifying aspect of all these stories: a search for identity. A feeling that, beneath all of the masks that the modern world forces upon us, there is something deep and enduring, if only we could find it. But is that indeed the case, or is the narrator forever doomed to be disappointed and betrayed – by himself and others?

Author photo in Wikipedia - and doesn't he look nice and smiley?

Author photo in Wikipedia – and doesn’t he look nice and smiley?

This is a book which left me nervy and anxious, but also inspired (for my own writing). Still, it was with some relief that I turned to the more conventional love stories of Bernhard Schlink for my next read.

 

Hausfrau, Anna Karenina, a Poem and the Search for Identity

I’m not sure whether I should be reviewing Jill Alexander Essbaum’s novel ‘Hausfrau’ (the German for ‘housewife’) yet, as it’s not due to come out until May 2015. It’s the only book I’ve been pleading with publishers and publicists to send me an advance copy, because I felt I was born to review it. After all, it’s about the emptiness of an expat woman’s life in neatly-boxed-in, high-quality-of-life-is-assured-if-you-stick-to-the-rules Switzerland… Ring any bells? I may live just across the border in France now, but it’s still something I know both from personal experience and through my work.

In fact, I’d started planning a novel based on my experience as a ‘trailing spouse’ and was convinced that Essbaum had written that book. That turns out not to be the case (my mind is more filled with murderous intent than hers, obviously), but what a moving read it has been! Add to this the fact that Essbaum is an acclaimed poet and this is her debut novel, and you have pretty much all of my reasons to admire her (and be just a wee bit envious). Here is the blurb:

Anna Benz, an American woman in her late thirties, married Bruno, a Swiss banker, and made a new life with him in Dietlikon, a picture-perfect suburb of Zurich, where they live in comfort and affluence with their three young children. But just as the neat and tidy exterior of Zurich and Dietlikon obscures the darker, more complicated aspects of living in Switzerland so is Anna, despite the tranquility and order of her domestic life, falling apart inside.

Described as ‘a literary page-turner with echoes of Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina’, it also deals with themes such as loneliness, a woman’s quest for personal identity (apart from that of wife and mother), culture shock, alienation and the need for beauty in one’s life (which leads us to search for it in all the wrong places). I will review it in more detail closer to the release date, which will almost certainly involve some re-reading. No bad thing, since I gulped this down in just two evenings!

While I was waiting for the ARC of ‘Hausfrau’, however, I wrote a poem about Anna Karenina, which fits in rather well with the atmosphere of this novel. Here it is in its unedited first draft:

DVDtalk

 

She walks into the station as if

nothing could reach out or jostle

her intent; as if

the icy sheen on her forehead

gives her an armour of aloofness, invisible

to mortals.

Her foresight is complete, her pockets emptied of clues.

No noise to pierce her eardrums, she glides through crowds

erect and poised.

Her spine gains inches as if

the stone-weight of family has left her shoulders.

She drifts up the staircase, and crowds part

at the gauntness of her stare.

First up, then down,

directions cease to matter

if the journey’s end is one.

She’ll catch a moment when

they’re wrapped up in their small partings, their music and their emails,

their lives overwhelmed with tasks.

One breath

and she takes flight.

The screech of that train

branding scarlet letters on herds

trapped in search for romance.

 

 

What Got You Hooked on Crime, Mel McKissock?

Melbooks2

Mel McKissock is another fellow crime fiction aficionado that I met via the excellent virtual Crime Book Club organised by Rebecca Bradley. Based in Melbourne, Mel makes almost superhuman efforts to join us at the monthly book clubs, in the early hours of the morning (her time). You can find Mel on Twitter at more sociable hours and she always adds a touch of Australian knowledge to her reading passions.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

Like so many other avid crime fiction fans, it was Agatha Christie who gave me my first taste of crime fiction. My parents had a complete set of her novels, and I steadily worked my way through them in my early teens, starting, I think, with ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.’ I moved on to more of the Golden Age crime writers, such as Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh.

Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?

These days I enjoy contemporary crime novels. I love learning about new places and cultures, so anything with a strong sense of place is particularly interesting.  I love Scottish noir and Scandi noir, one of my favourite Scandi authors being Karin Fossum, who can bring out the pathos of a crime like no one else. I’ve recently discovered the Jungle Beat series, by John Enright, set in Samoa, and the Edie Kiglatuk series, set in the Arctic Circle, by M.J McGrath. Both of these series have taught me a great deal about their respective settings and I enjoy anything that really immerses me in a whole other world!

If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

Only one! Well, it would have to be a prolific author, to keep me occupied. I think it would be a toss up between James L. Burke and his Robicheaux series, set in and around New Orleans, and Louise Penny and the Inspector Gamache series, set in the intriguing Canadian village of Three Pines. Both are a series of long, extremely well-written books with many layers, all of which can stand re-reading.

MelbooksWhat are you forward to reading in the near future?

That’s an easy one to answer, as we have a long weekend coming up here in Melbourne, and I have been keeping a book to savour over the weekend. It’s ‘The Dying Beach’ by Angela Savage, set in Thailand in the 90’s and featuring PI Jayne Keeney. This is the third book so far in this witty and clever series, and I’m really looking forward to reading it over our Cup weekend.

Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

One book which made a huge impression on me is ‘Elemental’ by Amanda Curtin, an Australian author. A beautiful, lyrical book, it tells the story of ‘Fish Meggie’, her upbringing at the beginning of the twentieth century in Scotland, and her subsequent move to Australia. As a work of historical fiction, it’s very different to my usual fare of crime novels and I’d encourage anyone reading this blog to take a look at it!

Thank you for your excellent recommendations, Mel! I’m also a fan of exotic settings both north and south. Angela Savage and James Lee Burke are two authors that I am ashamed to say I haven’t read yet, but will certainly follow up with them (you are not the first to highly recommend them). As always, my TBR list is the biggest victim of this interview series. What do you think of Mel’s choices – have you read any or all of them?

For previous participants in this series, please look here. And please, please, please do not hesitate to let me know if you are passionate about crime fiction of any description and would like to take part. 

 

October Reads – a Quieter Month

P1020878October has been a quiet month in terms of reading – both in terms of quantity and quality.  Two weeks of holiday (including a trip to Paris and a week of house-guests) have left their mark. Incidentally, I’ve noticed that a day without reading feels really empty and unsatisfactory, no matter how busy I was with other things.

It has also been a month with fewer reviews – or perhaps I am just settling into my new reading principles. I have completed my reading challenge of 150 books this year and am now reading more for pleasure and allowing myself the freedom of NOT reviewing books unless I feel strongly about them.

3 books in French:

Grégoire Delacourt: On ne voyait que le bonheur

Joseph Incardona: 220 Volts – a post on this author and some other French male authors will follow shortly

Daniel Pennac: La Feé Carabine

I exceeded my self-imposed target of one book in French per month, and I enjoyed all three of them. In fact, they were probably my joint best reads of the month

1 translation from Finnish:

Kati Hiekkapelto: The Hummingbird

All of the remaining books were good reads, enjoyable to pass a few hours, but nothing really stood out for me.

3 crime novels set in the UK:

Rachel Abbott: Sleep Tight

James Runcie: Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night – upon which the Grantchester series on British TV is based

Kate Rhodes: Crossbones Yard – discussed at our Crime Book Club

1 book set in Peru: 

Natalia Sylvester: Chasing the Sun

 

 

 

 

Planning Ahead for German Literature Month

Still too busy with our house-guests to be able to do my customary end-of-month reading round-up, but on this last sun-dappled day of October, I’m looking ahead to November reading, but not forward to November weather.

November is German Literature Month – now in its fourth edition, jointly hosted by lovely bloggers Lizzy Siddal and Caroline from Beauty Is a Sleeping Cat. This time, instead of merely admiring from the sidelines, I will take part, although perhaps in a somewhat more relaxed and unconventional form.

I have a number of books in German or in translation on my shelves which I really must get around to reading, so that’s my top priority. However, I will also try to fit in with some of the challenges.

1) A work that is not a novel:

Edda Ziegler : Verboten Verfemt Vertrieben – a book about women writers who resisted the rise of National-Socialism in Germany. Some of them I’ve heard of (Anna Seghers, Veza Canetti, Else Lasker-Schüler), others are completely new to me.

2) Work by an award winner:

Bernhard Schlink: Liebesfluchten (translated as Flights of Love)

Winner of multiple awards and of course famous for his novel ‘The Reader’. What makes him even more interesting in my eyes is that he started out as a crime fiction writer.

Alois Hotschnig: Maybe This Time (translated by Tess Lewis)

Short story collection by this Austrian writer, winner of the Erich Fried Prize (small but prestigious Austrian literary prize).

3)  A work relating to GDR or the Fall of the Wall:

Hester Vaizey: Born in the GDR: Living in the Shadow of the Wall

This one doesn’t quite fulfill the criteria (i.e. it was not written in German, although the interviews were conducted in German), but it is so compelling.  The real life stories of eight East German citizens of the Unification Generation, caught up in the transition between Communism and Capitalism. How do they remember the GDR 25 years later?

4)  A work written by or about Joseph Roth:

Another bit of judicious cheating here, as it’s just two very short stories by Joseph Roth in the beautiful collection of ‘Vienna Tales’, translated by Deborah Holmes, edited by Helen Constantine. 

5) Read a recommendation from German Literature Month Editions 1-3

Friedrich Dürenmatt: Der Verdacht

Having reread The Judge and His Hangman recently, I want to reacquaint myself with this second post-modernist or existentialist crime novel featuring Inspector Bärlach.

I hope I’m not stretching myself too far, especially since I also have some other commitments. I have a few French books which I borrowed from the library and which I need to finish (around the theme of ‘male midlife crisis’). I’ll be reviewing and interviewing new authors for Crime Fiction Lover’s New Talent in November feature. Oh, and I may also have to do some ‘real’ work occasionally. (Or should that be ‘paid’ work, as this book malarkey feels much more real to me?)

 

 

Homecoming? You’re Not From Around Here…

From Wikipedia, shepherd in Fagaras mountains, Romania, attribution unsure.

From Wikipedia, shepherd in Fagaras mountains, Romania, attribution unsure.

I hope I’ll be welcoming when you sweep in after your long journey

But

you’d trail mud across the cream tiles

you’d waft in earthy sweat

loam encrusted in your gnarled fingers

you’d print my white door frame

your voice would boom and scare my children

with toothless joviality as you snatch

their kisses fierce and wet.

 

I don’t pretend I chose my setting.

The colour scheme’s not mine

I added touches, too timid perhaps,

family pictures and drawings.

You’d break the symmetry of photos

you’d want to point at your descendants

and trace each trait to some Carpathian shepherd

with wrinkle-lined eyes from gazing too long at the sun.

 

You would not miss my recoil

even as you laugh it off.

I would not miss your sharp intake

of breath as bleach fills up your nostrils

You laugh at how antiseptic, how shrivelled I’ve become,

how I pay someone else to muddle up

my colour-coordinated mops and sponges

while I read books on sofas.

 

I hoped I’d be welcoming.

But I fear it turns out

deracination is not just for plants.

 

Overwhelmed with house guests this week, so just a quick poem here (not about the current guests, but about my great-grandfather, the Carpathian shepherd).

What Got You Hooked on Crime, Mrs Peabody?

It’s been a while since I last had the pleasure of interviewing some of my favourite book bloggers about their criminally good reading habits. So it’s doubly delightful to welcome the very well-read and thoughtful Mrs. Peabody to my blog today. Mrs. Peabody is the pseudonym of British academic Katharina Hall, Associate Professor of German at Swansea University and fellow international crime fiction lover. Her blog is a constant source of information and delight. She has also been featured on the Radio 4 series on European fictional detectives ‘Foreign Bodies’ (a series I keep referring to all the time).

Marina Sofia interview photo (1)How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

Like many fans of the genre, I discovered crime fiction as a teenager through family copies of Agatha Christie novels. I remember loving the clever solutions to The Murder of Dr. AckroydMurder on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express, and still have a soft spot for her work. Those were followed by an encounter with John D. MacDonald’s macho ‘Travis McGee’ novels, whose more worldly content was an eye-opener, although their gender stereotyping annoyed me even then.

After that, there was a bit of a gap. I studied English and German at university, and spent the first decade of my academic career focusing on ‘high’ literature – although I can see with hindsight that I was often drawn to authors who played with crime conventions, such as Thomas Pynchon and Günter Grass. My friend and former colleague Barbara takes the credit for my full conversion to crime. A few years ago she found a German crime novel at the back of a store cupboard at work, and passed it on to me. It was Self’s Punishment by Bernhard Schlink, author of the international best-seller The Reader, and featured a detective who was a former Nazi. That’s when I started thinking about representations of National Socialism and its post-war legacies in crime fiction, and became properly hooked. I’ve been reading and researching international crime fiction ever since, and set up the ‘Mrs. Peabody Investigates’ blog in 2011.

Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?

I love all kinds of crime, from cosies through to historical crime fiction and noir, but will always favour quality, intelligent crime fiction that’s free from gratuitous/misogynist violence. I have a particular weakness for the following:
 
a) Scandinavian police procedurals by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (Sweden), Jan Costin Wagner (Germany/Finland), Henning Mankell (Sweden), Håkan Nesser (Norway), Leif G.W. Persson (Sweden) and ArnaldurIndriðason (Iceland). And of course TV police dramas such as The Killing. These intelligent, socially-engaged crime narratives have finely drawn protagonists and absorbing plots. I adore them!
 
b) Off-the-wall hybrid novels that fuse crime genre conventions with those of sci-fi or apocalypse literature, or with literary forms such as satire. Examples include Ioanna Bourazopoulou’s What Lot’s Wife Saw (Greece), Hugh Howey’s Wool (USA)Ingrid Noll’s The Pharmacist (Germany), Ben Winters’ The Last Policeman (USA) and Simon Urban’s Plan D (Germany)I love these kinds of crime narratives because they’re hugely original, thought-provoking and enjoyable. They push the boundaries of crime fiction in highly creative ways and show just how flexible the genre can be.  
 
c) Crime narratives featuring strong, interesting female protagonists, such as Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places (USA), Elly Griffiths’ ‘Ruth Galloway’ series, Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow (Denmark), Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (Sweden), M.J. McGrath’s ‘Edie Kiglatuk’ series (UK/Arctic) and Daniel Woodrill’s Winter’s Bone (USA), as well as the TV dramas Cagney and Lacey (USA), The Killing (Norway), Top of the Lake (New Zealand) and Happy Valley (UK). They show women fighting the good fight in an unequal world and celebrate their abilities, courage and determination. What’s not to like?
 
d) Crime trilogies or quartets, by which I mean a set of three or four novels that create a mind-bogglingly intricate literary universe through their characters, settings and themes (as distinct from longer, more diverse series). I’m thinking here of David Peace’s ‘Yorkshire Noir’ quartet (UK), Leif G.W. Persson’s Decline of the Welfare State’ trilogy (Sweden) and Andrew Taylor’s ‘Roth Trilogy’ (UK). I admire these authors for taking crime fiction to a new level and for providing us with an utterly engrossing reading experience.
What is the most memorable book you have read recently?

Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, the impressive debut novel of a young Australian author who spent time in Iceland as an exchange student: she describes it as her ‘dark love letter’ to the country. Set in northern Iceland in 1829, it explores the case of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman to be executed there for murder. The figure of ‘the murderess’ tells us a lot about the gender, class and power relations of the time, and the picture the author paints of every-day, rural Icelandic life is fascinating. The story, setting and their links to the Icelandic sagas have stayed with me since I finished it a few days ago.

If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

Such a difficult choice! At the moment, I think it would be Leif G.W. Persson’s ‘Decline of the Welfare State’ trilogy: Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End (2002), Another Time, Another Life (2003) and Free Falling, as in a Dream (2007; about to be published in the UK). Collectively, these explore Sweden’s big, unsolved crime – the 1986 assassination of prime minister Olof Palme – against the backdrop of twentieth-century Swedish, European and Cold War history, with a cast of beautifully complex characters and highly compelling narratives. They have a wonderful streak of black humour too, which I suspect I’ll need on a deserted island… When I start talking to myself, I can adopt Johansson’s ironic catch-phrase ‘I’m listening…’. Crucially, they’re extremely long and are the kind of novel you could read repeatedly without tiring of them.

What are you looking forward to reading in the near future?

Here’s a small selection of the books I’m keen to read: D.A. Mishani’s Possibility of Violence (the second in the Israeli Avraham series), Natsuo Kirino’s Out (and more Japanese crime fiction by women in general), Jaume Cabré’s Confessions (a Catalan bestseller with elements of crime), Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries (New Zealand Booker winner drawing on crime conventions), and Patrick Modiano’s Missing Person (a 1970s crime novel by the French 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature winner). I’ve made peace with the fact that there are too many crime novels out there for me to possibly get through. I’ll simply plod on as best I can and enjoy the one I have in front of me in the here and now.

The-Spirit-LevelOutside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?
At the moment, it’s Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s meticulously researched and highly readable The Spirit Level, which uses data from studies all around the world to show how social equality creates a better society for everyone, using indicators such as health, life expectancy, educational performance, teenage pregnancies and crime. The sections on crime are particularly fascinating: the authors describe social inequality as a form of ‘structural violence’ which in turn breeds actual violence – data shows that homicide rates are consistently higher in unequal countries. The book is hugely pertinent for us all, and should be a compulsory read for every politician!
 
What an intriguing list of authors, some well-loved by me and some completely new to me (that’s what I love about doing this series – it opens up worlds)! What do you think of Mrs Peabody’s recommendations – which of them have you read and what did you think of them?

For previous participants in the series, just follow this link. If you would like to take part, please let me know via the comments or on Twitter – we always love to hear about other people’s criminal passions!

Friday Fun: Paris As an Inspiration

Back from our Paris trip and wading through 650+ emails… so I may be a little behind with reading and commenting on your blogs… Here are some highlights from our trip – some iconic sights, and some lesser-known ones.

Notre Dame in autumn.

Notre Dame in autumn.

Sainte Chapelle  stained windows.

Sainte Chapelle stained windows.

Flower market.

Flower market.

Jardin des Plantes (botanical garden).

Jardin des Plantes (botanical garden).

Natural History Museum - Evolution Hall.

Natural History Museum – Evolution Hall.

Parc des Buttes Chaumont.

Parc des Buttes Chaumont.

City of Science - The Geode.

City of Science – The Geode.

Zoo of Vincennes.

Zoo of Vincennes.

Nikki de Saint Phalle sculpture along the quay bearing her name.

Nikki de Saint Phalle Nana sculpture along the quay bearing her name.

Jardin des Tuileries. The goat in front of the Louvre.

Jardin des Tuileries. The goat in front of the Louvre.

More Nanas... bathing...

More Nanas… bathing…

The obligatory pilgrimage to Shakespeare & Co. bookshop. Although, as my older son said: 'What's the point of bringing us here if we don't buy any books?'

The obligatory pilgrimage to Shakespeare & Co. bookshop. Although, as my older son said: ‘What’s the point of bringing us here if we don’t buy any books?’

I do wish I'd bought this pop-up book of Paris...

I do wish I’d bought this pop-up book of Paris…

 

 

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