Tuesday, March 22, 2011

more seedlings

I'm still compiling and completing the previous brief-hist/literary/cultural post, but I thought I'd better begin another one because it was getting pretty long.

R.F. Langley died recently. I don't really know what it was that prompted me, but in a £20 splurge of extravagance I've bought all his books; they turned up today and I just had time to read "Mariana" (which fascinatingly wipes over Tennyson) before I left for work.

Meanwhile I'm reading Giles Goodland's What The Things Sang. It's been well reviewed by Alastair Noon in Jacket, and Steve Spence in Stride; some of what they say I will inevitably repeat when I inevitably write about this for IS. It's an overwhelming book; one of those poetry volumes you definitely can't read through at one sitting. I'm about a quarter of the way through and nowhere near collecting my thoughts.

I haven't listened to it yet, but I'm very excited to hear there's a Bob Cobbing Radio 4 programe online:


Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy. Abridged audiobooks, read by Martin Wenner. Wenner is evidently bilingual, and my greatest pleasure when listening to this was probably his pronunciation of the Swedish names and placenames. He has quite a lot of fun. When Blomkvist and Salander are in London speaking English to English characters, they suddenly develop strong Swedish accents. In the Australian scene Wenner switches between Swedish-English (Blomkvist), Australian-English (Jeff) and Swedish-Australian-English (Harriet). Clever stuff.

Having got to the end, I am now re-listening to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The title in Swedish was Män som hatar kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women), which says a lot more about what the book is. The abridgement contains about a fifth of the text; satisfying listening (compared e.g. to the disembowelled 2-CD Villette I heard recently) but naturally not much good for detailed textual queries. (For example, I've only just discovered that there's an enigmatic prelude to The Girl Who Played With Fire, it's not in the audiobook.)

With that caveat, I think this first vol is the best of the three books Larsson managed to complete, from most points of view. Because here he drew most enquiringly on his knowledge of far-right groups and his witnessing of violence against women; here his wonderful Salander's mixture of feelings is more intuitively portrayed than later; the violence is more scary; and the Vangers are more credible than the buffoonish Niedermans and doddery Section professionals that take up space in the later books. Credible in a way. Martin Vanger's diseased woman-hating psychopathy has just horribly shown up in Swindon (formerly claimed to be the most crime-free town in the UK) - but it seems unlikely the Swindon killer is the CEO of a large company.

Astrid Lindgren, Elizabeth George, Dorothy Sayers, Sara Paretsky, Val McDermid. Why does Blomkvist read only female authors? (I reckon it's fully as ingeniously planned as the "Leviticus" murders.)

In which future volume did Larsson intend to bring Camilla forward? (Lisbeth's sister, who remains resolutely unspoken about in the three completed volumes.) Larsson uses a technique of selective consciousness-reporting. Thus in "The Girl Who Played With Fire" the whole slowly developing mystery about Zalachenko is only sustained because until Larsson is ready he tells us not a word about Salander's father. Even though, in other respects, we spend a load of time inside Salander's consciousness. Is this "cheating"? While consciousness-reporting is always selective (though novelists tend to create the illusion that this is not so), are certain conventions of disclosure to be obeyed, are authorial silences about germane matters something we should think about? Not, I mean, because of rules of whodunnits, that's neither here nor there, but perhaps because the reader has been manipulated into spending a lot of time thinking about something that isn't worth thinking about, a mere manufactured puzzle (I'm remembering C.S. Lewis complaining about Chapman's Shadow of Night). Maybe that's not the question to ask. Is it also about plausibility - people would be bound to demand answers about Camilla at various points in the books. (From the mythological point of view it seems relevant that Anita and Cecilia Vanger are also twins.)

I am also reading: Moliere's The Misanthrope; Home Run (book about escapes from Nazi Europe); John Steinbeck's East of Eden; Chris Goode's blog (recently talking about poetry as a window or a wall, analogies that deserve further examination).

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