2011-08-31

That war, every war

The cover image is a detail of this painting.
It´s a few days before Christmas, it´s snowing and the King is dead, shot in the head while on a campaign in Norway. Probably by one of his own, desperate soldiers. As a courier passes through the town (Uddevalla, but neither that name nor the year 1718 nor Karl/Charles XII is mentioned in the story - it could be any war, really) with the news, war veteran and apothecary Jakob Hård tells his wife the terrible news and in response she hurls a kitchen knife into his arm. Why? Only in the very last pages will we know. It´s not a who-done-it, but a why´d-she-do-it. And more. On the following dense couple of hundred pages, we get to know Jakob Hård and his neighbours, and we, as they, become aware of what kind of war their dead King has led them into, as surviving soldiers begin to pour into town. Not beaten by the enemy, but by the cold winter that they have not been prepared for, dressed only in summer uniforms. Is it possible that the King had so little regard for his men? Is it possible to grieve under any circumstances? How far can loyalty go?

Jakob Hård is a kind man, and he is naive. Not stupid, but he is not a thinker. Our perspective throughout is his, and through him we get to know the poorest homeless children, we get to drink with the Mayor, and we get to help the King´s personal physician embalm the royal body. Hård relates to others emotionally rather than intellectually and not until he understands the deep emotions that fuels his wife´s behavior can he reach out to her and forgive everything. He is almost Jesus-like in his acceptance and mercy. One can, and I like the idea, see him as a personification of Mother Sweden, who blindly loves her son/the King, but who wakes up to the bleak consequences of his hubris.

I had never heard of Ellen Mattson when she got the Selma Lagerlöf Award this spring. I put this book, "Snö" (=snow) from 2001, on my reading list mainly because it was set in the 18th Century and that seemed really interesting. I am impressed, this is a great, great novel. It´s intriguing, exciting, moving (I cried like I haven´t done since the little matchstick girl) and profound. There are so many levels to this story. I just googled her and I was surprised to find that she is only four years older than I. For some reason, I had thought she was older. Probably the maturity of her writing. I wouldn´t mind knowing a bit more about how she came up with the idea for this. I´m so impressed I´m staggering, really.

Only a couple of times did the illusion break for me. Just a couple of words that seemed out of place in a story from 1718, like "automatic". Not a word I would have chosen for a novel set 150 years before the Industrial Revolution got near us. But that´s nitpicking.

The one novel this reminded me of is Coetzee´s "Waiting for the Barbarians". But, dammit, this is better. 

I wonder how this novel would do in translation. Surely it´s worth a wider audience? A bit more aggressive marketing? Or am I the only reader who´s missed her? I wish I could recommend her to the whole world!


2011-08-30

Stories of growth

A few years ago, I took part in a study group devoted to archetypes and how the psyche narrates our own lives. You know, life is just another story. I remember we had some very rewarding discussions, and a couple of the books that we used stood out as sources of a profoundly new way of looking at our own development as human beings. They were "Goddesses in Everywoman: A New Psychology of Women" and "Gods in Everyman: A New Psychology of Men's Lives and Loves", by Jean Shinoda Bolen, a psychiatrist with a jungian perspective.

These books are a crash course in how archetypal psychology works, and when you know it, you begin to see archetypes everywhere in classic stories. Recently there was a discussion on the Guardian website about how many adaptions to film we need of Jane Austen and Brontë novels. The reason we never tire of these stories are, of course, that characters like Heathcliff, Cathy, Jane Eyre, Elisabeth Bennett and all her family, Mr Darcy, and all the rest of them, are modern archetypes. We may not naturally relate to the gods and godesses of the old Greek mythology, but there will always be inventions of more up-to-date versions of the same archetypes. That´s what we need literature for, among other things.

This book I have read now, is Bolen´s "Goddesses in Older Women: Archetypes in Women over Fifty". Ok, I didn´t read it very thoroughly. I leafed throught in one evening. Not that it´s not a good book, but it felt like I had read most of it before. And perhaps I´m not old enough to identify with crones, I don´t know... Yet.

I can warmly recommend Jean Shinoda Bolen to anyone who feels an urge to understand their own psyche a bit better. In times of confusion, transition, or both, she can be a great companion to someone who has inclinations towards psychology and storytelling and a wish for a more informed and controlled personal growth.


2011-08-27

2011-08-26

Mary Russell saves the world from Men in Black

Long time no blogging. Yeah, it´s been a bit busy for a while, with a close relative in and out of hospital and needing a bit of support in the day to day chores, like making dinner and such. I have been focused on needs other than my own and that´s probably a good thing once in a while. If nothing else, I´m glad I´m relatively healthy! However, it slows my reading.

Another thing that has slowed my pace (of blogging, at least) is my decision to re-read "The Language of Bees" by Laurie R King, a book that I have already read and written about. (And, I can see now, I misspelled my heroin´s name all through the post. Oh well, bygones.) Of course, I had a different experience reading it now, when I know Mary Russell, her Holmes, where they came from and how they got to where they are now. And a year on, really one does not remember all the sides to a detective story plot. Not even one by Laurie R King.

I then proceeded with "The God of the Hive". Which continues directly where "The Language of Bees" ended. Russell and Holmes have split up after successfully stopping a mad Reverend carrying out his plan for world domination. They are still wanted by the police and have a few other concerns that I really can´t give away. Holmes ends up abroad due to circumstances beyond his control, and Russell finds herself deeply embedded in a forrest in the Lake District with a motley crew of companions. They both find themselves hunted down and almost caught by "men in black". Is the mad Reverend still alive and kicking? And how powerful is he? Or is someone much more powerful behind him, someone with much greater, and much more realistic ambitions for world domination? And what is happening to Mycroft Holmes?

At the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London.

There were bits about this novel that I loved. Russell has the opportunity to get more acquainted with the ways of airtravel and I find these parts quite interesting. I also love some of the new characters and I hope very much to see more of them in books yet unwritten. One of them should really have a series of her own, I think she is made for adventure (look away if you don´t want to know - it´s Holmes´ granddaughter Estelle, a half-chinese infant prodigy with perfect pitch). There are also bits I´m a bit disappointed with. You don´t really get who the villain in this drama is. There is at least one thread in the storyline that leads nowhere, perhaps it´s there to give us a scare, I don´t know. And a conflict between two of the main characters seems a bit contrived. Perhaps it´s just me.

All in all, it starts like a Russell&Holmes case, and ends like a James Bond adventure. And why not. King has been looking for inspiration in all kinds of literary places, with great results.

I now have one book left in the series to read, and that is "The Pirate King". I shall save it for Christmas, I think. I need a break from Mary Russell just now, I feel. Moderation in all things is best.


2011-08-01

Up In the Air

I´d like to share one of our adventures from our trip to Cornwall. We wanted to see the Isles of Scilly very much, but with only one day to spare and a journey by boat being 2 hours and 40 minutes long, we opted for a morning flight and an afternoon cruise. The flight only took 15 minutes and none of us had ever sat in such a small aircraft before.

The very small aircraft that took us to Scilly.

Checking in.
If I look somewhat bereaved it´s because my handbag has just been taken from me, and I have no pockets for anything, not even a handkerchief or my pocketbook. After taking our bags, they weighed us, to make sure the plane would be properly balanced.

Entering the plane.

We were eight passengers and one pilot. A few of the ladies were a bit nervous, and perhaps some of the men too. There were lots of giggles and holding hands...

The landing strip was grass.

It felt a bit crowded.

Crossing paths with a barge.

Almost there.

Some other craft at the Scilly airfield, and Hughtown in the background.

(All the photos above were taken by my husband.)

A Little Vacation Reading

I started with a Swedish, fresh novel come out this year, and after about page ten I was sooo bored. So I gave it up. I shall mention no names. Instead, I reached for my debit card and logged onto ebooks.com and downloaded the next two Mary Russell-mysteries. Actually, I have already read one, "The Language of Bees", it was the first one in the series I read, almost exactly one year ago. However, I want to read it again since it´s part one in a two-part mystery continuing with "The God of the Hive".

Not that I have come anywhere near either of them yet, it´s vacation after all and the weather is fine and we have other things to do (things that make pretty pictures, like the one below).

Pite River by Grundvattnet


What I have had time to read, though, is Laurie R King´s little e-novella, "Beekeeping for Beginners". It´s a quick, satisfying read, Holmes´s take on his and Russell´s first meeting and what followed. After "Looked Rooms", I had gotten used to Holmes´s point of view and it didn´t feel at all weird. And that´s all I can say, I think, without spoiling it for you.

Of course, without an e-book-reader, or a computer (but reading books on a hot and noisy computer sucks, in my opinion), this book will not be available to you. I suppose short stories must be much more economical to publish electronically. I wish all authors would publish electronically, but sadly, many still chose not to. And I have met some readers who are opposed (???) to e-books. Not that they have ever actually read one... I´m often asked if "the feeling" is the same. I really don´t get the question. Novels aren´t words on paper or screen, they are Worlds that come to nest inside my head.