Wednesday, December 09, 2009

In between resisting the urge to purchase any item of clothing in my favourite colour and cleaning the flat, I've been reading English translations of Swedish novels, namely Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and John Ajvide Lindqvist's Let the Right One In. Both of them are incredibly entertaining yet disturbing reads, but in very different ones.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first of Stieg's Millennium Trilogy, initially starts off as a historical crime novel of sorts, with the main character journalist Mikael Blomkvist sentenced to three months in prison for libelling a wealthy industrialist. The industrialist's business rival Henrik Vanger hires Mikael to put together a biography of the Vanger clan, but in reality, to investigate the murder of his niece Harriet which occurred over 30 years ago. Along the way, Mikael's path crosses with Lisbeth Salander's, the eponymous girl in the title. Lisbeth is an altogether different kettle of fish from Mikael, the journalist determined to get to the root of any story while still upholding professional standards. She is who she is because of what society has done to her, with author Stieg having woven in really interesting strands on how Sweden used to have an act under which people - youths - could be declared mentally incompetent, and a guardian would be appointed to oversee such people and their finances. I won't spoil too much more of the story now, but suffice it to say that Stieg develops Lisbeth extraordinarily well. She's not your conventional heroine - she definitely operates on a very different moral code than I do - but at the same time, it's not hard to sympathise with her, and understand what motivates her actions. I can't wait to read the other two books in the Millennium trilogy: The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest.

Let the Right One In is, to put it mildly, a very different novel. The story is set in a small bleak town in Sweden (is there any other kind?) and centres around Oskar, a 12-year-old boy living with his divorced mother in a block of flats, and who is tormented every day at school by three bullies. One day, while playing in the neighbourhood playground, he befriends Eli, a graceful, nimble girl his age living next door with her father. They strike up a friendship which gradually turns into a sweet romance. Of course, all is not as it seems: Eli is, in reality, a 200-year-old vampire who needs to feed on fresh blood in order to live. Again, you wouldn't think you'd feel for such a creature, but the story is so compelling, and the friendship between the two lonely, abandoned prepubescents so beautiful that it works. Yes, Eli's a vampire, yes, she kills in order to live, but... she's a somewhat good person. This isn't a wholesome sweet story though. It's incredibly disturbing in many parts, so be warned if you have a squeamish disposition. The movie, I've been told, is also really good, and that if I liked Pan's Labyrinth - and I did - I'll probably enjoy the film. I may catch it at the Roxy Bar and Screen when it's showing later this month, assuming I have no other obligations that day, and whether I think I can take watching a horror movie - for that's what it is in spite of the sweet elements - by myself!

On a somewhat related note, I just wanted to say how much I love my local library. I hadn't been reading in months because I just don't have the space in my flat for that many things, and the library offers up a great alternative to buying books. Plus, it usually has the most recent bestsellers, which is so totally awesome. There're not many public services that the UK does well, but the library is definitely one of them.

And just to round off this post, check out this print by Paul Willoughby at the Soma Gallery. I'd gone there looking for another print, so it's quite a coincidence that there's a print of a book that I'd just finished reading and decided to review!

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