30 September 2006

Cum laude...

I made it! My grade average is 9,06 out of 10, so I graduate cum laude. Now I think I will open that champage.

28 September 2006

Is it too much to ask for a spoiler warning?

I consider it a courtesy to the people who read my reviews to warn them if there is anything that could be called a spoiler in my review, and I expect the same from others, and although I do sometimes reveal spoilers, I would never, ever reveal the ending to a mystery. Others obviously feel differently. Today I came across a Robin Paige book on TitleTrader that had a review that suggested it was interesting. A visit to Stop! You're killing me showed that it was the second in a series, so off I went to Amazon.com to check out the star rating and, if I liked what I saw, to buy the first book in the series. And what did I find? An author's message by one half of the writing team that reveals the ending to a mystery I was about to start reading, and without a spoiler warning.

Thank you so very, very much, Ms. Albert. If this is typical of your tact in general, I don't think I want to read any of your books any time soon. How would you like it if someone forced the ending to your latest mystery on the world? Just because a book was written decades ago and the author is dead, it does not mean there are not people out there who haven't read it and don't want the ending revealed prematurely.

I am tempted to register on Amazon.com just so I can leave a comment to the message and give her a piece of my mind.

25 September 2006

It's done – TBR stack: here I come!

The thesis is done and is now at the print shop. I'm picking it up from the printers tomorrow to turn it in. I should feel euphoric, but I'm just tired – I put in a good sprint towards the finishing line and am now in a sort of post-victory daze. It's amazing how much work it is getting a thesis ready for printing: double-checking and proofreading and re-checking and making sure the printers can't mess up the layout and discovering last minute changes that need to be made and then nervously checking everything again.

Now all I have to do is turn the thing in and wait for my grades – I have hopes of graduating cum laude, but I'm not opening the champagne bottle until I know for sure. It will be wonderful to go back to reading just for fun – my TBR bookcase is double-stacked and overflowing, and I have sworn not to renew my library card until I have cleared at least a shelf.

I hope to have the blog running again at full speed soon.

17 September 2006

Mystery author #23: Sebastien Japrisot

Title: A Very Long Engagement
Original French title: Un long diamanche de fiançailles
Year of publication: 1991 (original), 1993
Type of mystery: Missing person
Type of investigator: Amateur
Setting & time: France, 1917-1924, with flashbacks and flash-forwards
Number of corpses: Many
Some themes: Love, hate, perseverance, truth, war crimes

I had originally intended to review One Deadly Summer (L'été meurtrier) because I had seen and enjoyed the film, but I didn't like the first person narrative style of the book and gave up on it. I also suppose it was not that exciting for me to read because I already knew what the surprise twist was. When I came across this book I remembered that there had been a critically acclaimed film of the same title and a random reading of a few lines told me it was not written in the same narrative style as the other book, so I bought it.

Story: In the winter of 1917 five French soldiers who have been sentenced to death for cowardice are pushed out into no-man's land between the French and German fronts. The next day, five bodies are recovered and buried in a common grave. After the war, Mathilde, the fiancée of one of the men, sets out to discover what really happened that night. She has never really believed her Manech was dead. Her investigations take her all over France and her patient questioning and doggedness lead her on a convoluted trail of clues and red herrings before finally the terrible truth about that night in no-man's land is revealed.

Review: This is a literary mystery and as such can't really be tied down to a specific mystery sub-genre. It is also a thriller and a love story, and all of it is well done.

As usual when I review translated books, I don't think I can comment much on the style, as at best the style of a translated book belongs to both author and translator. I do think the translation is well rendered in the sense that it reads like a text written in English. Since my French is not good enough to evaluate the correctness or faithfulness of the translation I am not going to comment on how good a translation it is of the original.

The story is gripping from page one, but not in the sense of being "unputdownable", at least not for me. I was perfectly content to read a chapter now and a chapter later, simply because I felt I had to digest the contents of each chapter before going on. Also, to tell the truth, I didn't want it to end.
The story is simple: Mathilde searches for her fiancé, but in terms of plotting it is complex, like a deceptively simple jigsaw puzzle you think you can solve in an hour but nevertheless takes several days to complete.

While the story is emotional, Japrisot has managed to avoid melodrama, for which I am thankful because there are plenty of things in the story to get emotional about. The narrative, which, by the way, is supposed to be written by Mathilde (but in the third person), never gets bogged down in tear-jerking over-sentimentality. This is not to say that it can't or won't make you cry, but it makes it a lot harder. There is humour, not just in some of the events, but in the wording, like the narrator (Mathilde) is gently mocking herself and everyone around her. The letters from Mathilde's various correspondents are written in distinct voices, so that you never confuse the elderly Italian woman with her messed-up goddaughter, or the soldier with the private detective.

The story is as full of surprises as you would expect from a mystery, and at times you really don't know where the plot is taking you, something I always like about mysteries. All in all, it is one of the best mysteries I have read this year. I really must rent the DVD soon.

Rating: A very enjoyable romantic mystery-thriller. 5 stars.

10 September 2006

Bookmark: Graffiti

This piece of graffiti is part of a huge mural that can be seen when driving along the Sæbraut road in Reykjavík, Iceland.

The larger bookmark (first image) is 19 by 6 cm and the smaller one is 10 by 5 cm. Click on the images to bring up the full-sized image. Print on cardstock or thick paper. I recommend laminating.


Bibliophile reviews Fasting, Feasting by Anita Desai

Year published: 1999
Genre: Literary fiction (if that can be called a genre)
Setting & time: India and the USA; 20th century (semi-timeless)
Some themes: Tradition, family, unhappiness, gender roles

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1999.

Warning: contains what some may consider to be SPOILERS

The Story: The story, such as it is (I will explain later) revolves around an Indian family that is so steeped in tradition that it has tragic consequences for the children, none of whom are happy with their lot. The first half of the book deals with Uma, the eldest girl who is plain and has not been able to get a husband. She lives at home with her parents and is more like an upper servant than one of the family and yearns for a life outside the family home, but she can never realise those dreams because it would be unseemly and disgraceful for the family if she did. In between we see glimpses of family history, the siblings growing up and the younger sister's arranged marriage in which she imagines herself to be happy, a cousin's tragic arranged marriage, and two not so respectable relatives who nevertheless have to be allowed to stay in the house when they so whish because they are family. Both have an effect on Uma and give her a glimpse of life outside the family home.

The second half is about the youngest child, the long wished-for son of the house, who is a disappointment to his parents even if they never say so. He is perhaps the most bound up of them all, because although he has been sent to university in the USA where he should be able to do as he likes without his parents looking over his shoulder, he still feels obliged to follow his father's orders and work like a slave at getting the education his father chose for him. But all Aroun wants is to be left alone. He is staying for the summer with an American family and watches in numb disbelief and concern as the family seem to be disintegrating around him.

Technique and plot: If you are looking for a clear cut story with a beginning, middle and end, this is not a book for you. If you are after good storytelling, beautiful writing and characters that come alive before your eyes and situations that seem so real that you feel you are there, watching them unfold, this is definitely a book for you.

The book is really two novellas. The first, Uma's half, reads like the beginning and middle of a story, but has no end, which to me is an indication that there never will be any relief for Uma. The second, Arun's story, is much more story-like, in that is has plot, a beginning, a middle, a resolution and ending of sorts.

The writing is beautiful and flowing and Desai brings to life her characters and their situations so well that a reader with an active imagination and some knowledge of India and Indians can easily visualise the unfolding narrative. In Uma's part of the story you feel her desperation and longing, and in Arun's part you sense the emptiness in him, the pointlessness of his life as he tries his best to live up to the expectations of his father. My biggest disappointment was that there was no resolution, good or bad, for Uma. She seemed doomed to continue leading a life of thankless servitude and devotion to her unloving parents for the rest of her life. The two disreputable relatives do offer some hope for the reader that she may follow their example and break out of her appointed role, but there is no indication that she will.

Rating: A beautiful and tragic true-to-life narrative about people so bound up in tradition that it is slowly smothering them. 4 stars.

05 September 2006

Request a bookmark

I am thinking about starting a bookmark of the week project. I have a huge collection of photographs I have taken over the years, some of which I have been moving over to Flickr. I want to do something with them, and here's my idea: visit my Flickr page and if you notice a photo you would like to see on a printable bookmark, drop me a comment on this blog with the title of the photo and I will feature it as bookmark of the week. To see my photographs, click on the link in the heading, choose a photo, copy the title, then come back here and make your request.

P.S. I only ask that you do not request bookmarks made from mosaics I have made from images by other Flickr users. There are copyright issues at stake.
As regards the graffiti images, they are on the walls for the world to see and while I would never try to make money from selling photos of them, I see no harm in distributing them to a bigger audience for free.

01 September 2006

Printable Bookmarks

Here are a couple of bookmarks to print out. The first one is single-sided, the other is double sided. You can print them on cardstock or if you want to lamintae them, on heavy paper. The double one should be folded down the middle and the blank sides glued together. These are not shown full size.