Books Firewall

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by Henning Mankell


Original language: Swedish

Translated by: Ebba Segerberg

Firewall is the first Henning Mankell thriller I’ve read, although I discover it was his last book to star Kurt Wallander as the detective hero - in its last few pages the way is set for Wallander’s daughter Linda to take over the lead in subsequent stories of the series.

As it happens, I don’t mind starting at the end of a detective series like this and then, if sufficiently struck, tracking back through the earlier works, often in descending date order, like a blog.

And in the case of Mankell and Wallander, I have certainly been struck enough to want to read more their earlier exploits, in very near, possibly even immediate, future.

The things that have appealed to me most in this first taste have been the usual aspects of police-procedural thrillers that tend to hook me: the character of the main cop, the writing style, the book’s atmosphere, and what it tells me of a place, culture, and/or people which are either new to me, or offer insights on somewhere I already know.

Hardly surprising, therefore, that when it says on the cover of a crime writer I haven’t read (as it does here) something like “The most impressive…blah blah blah…since Ian Rankin”, then that’s often enough to get me to include it in my 3 for 2 or whatever.

Plots - with some notable exceptions - are not such an important factor in whether or not I get off on a ‘new’ author, unless so stunningly absurd as to swamp anything else of possible interest that may lie squashed beneath the risable twists and turns and twists and twists and other serpentine antics of the desperate plotter in the grips of terminal plotting psychosis. One thinks of plots like those of Jeffrey Deaver at his most manic, yet lacking his slick ability to make such exponential twisting reasonably readable, albeit ultimately tiresome, like a fairly good joke repeated ad infinitum in some barroom of hell (by a paraplegic drunk?).

As for the plot of Firewall, it certainly verges on the absurd, involving a computer virus conspiracy to destroy capitalist society via its well-known technological vulnerabilities, i.e. another ‘backdoor worm’ variation on Homer’s Trojan Horse story, that has provided the computer virus industry and its chroniclers with much of its language and metaphor. Yet it is such seemingly apocalyptic cyber-terrorist codswallop that lies behind much of the mayhem and murder inflicted on the inhabitants of Ystad, the Baltic port in the south of Sweden’s Skåne province linked to Poland by ferry, and which not surprisingly causes the very down-to-earth and hard-working police team lead by Wallander so much bafflement when lumbered to make sense of its grandiose objectives, that provides the novel with one of its most original and stimulating attributes.


Rated 4 stars Review date: November 06, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0) | Permalink


Books Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake
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Margaret Atwood

First published: 2003

Original language: Canadian English

Its easy to think of Margaret Atwood as something of a hypocrite as she greedily bites the hands that feed here and grows fatter and fatter financially and in fame as she does so. While suitably shocked, I found it somewhat refreshing to hear a Canadian Economics Professor express his contempt for her well-publicised and readership-smooching forays against the Globalisation monster while voraciously siphoning off the mega-spondulicks the globalised publishing market has poured into her coffers with a liberality certainly no Canadian writer, hardly any woman writer and very few writers in the entire history of the game have been blessed with, however reluctantly, before. Life for a giantess of Canadian culture, one supposes, must be an unending whirlwind of such paradox for the genuine major world player in the field of letters Ms Atwood undoubtedly is, with all the book tours, TV shows, five star hotels, celebrity appearances and hundreds and hundreds of famous and beautiful friends this kind of ranking brings with it today, that she can always shrug such inevitable contradictions off with a ‘But what can I do?’ and another even more brilliant book than her last that will ensure her single detractor quivering with helpless fury like a passed-over pundit.


Rated 4.5 stars Review date: October 30, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0) | Permalink


Books Under the Volcano

Under the Volcano
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by Malcolm Lowry


Original language: English

Since I first read Under the Volcano in between Paradise Lost Books IX and X during my last year at Oxford, I have been in no doubt that it is my personal choice for ‘Greatest Novel Ever Written’.

With little more left in my memory than a mescal-soaked English consul swerving through a nightmare Mexican landscape on the ‘Day of the Dead’, something between the bridge of hell in Apocalypse Now and a Graham Greene Englishman craving mercy in an alien jungle, I felt a clear compulsion to read the book again, as if it held a secret I needed to rediscover, or understand.

With its stunning new ‘laughing skull’ cover, it arrived as a gift on my sixtieth birthday like a ticking bomb.

I have read the first three chapters (plus the extraordinary introduction by an academic of tenuous Lowry connections who appears determined to downgrade the book on virtually every level for which it is acclaimed).

It is very different from what I was anticipating, what I thought I remembered, except in the most superficial way of a drunk consul on a Day of the Dead in Mexico, beneath the two great volcanoes. I had forgotten how funny it was. I had no idea of how obviously and pervasively it had influenced the way I write (the rambling sentences, interminable mountains of clauses, meandering circles of thoughts spreading out until eventually, usually, coming back together long after most people could remember where they had begun, the reliance on iambic rhythms to determine a sentence’s structure, as a substitute for punctuation) - I am already sounding like the weird professor of the introduction, who nevertheless did say - in a sudden lapse from bitter deconstruction - that Lowry was probably right when he said no-one could begin to understand the book’s multi-layered meaning until at least a fifth reading. So for the moment I shall leave this reunion with this pre-notification of my undertaking, possibly reporting in occasionally during times of stress or elation, and definitely expecting to make a few well-chosen remarks as I duly give Lowry his five stars once, and immediately, the end is reacvhed of this mere second encounter. Already I have learnt that there is no way I could just read it through like a thriller - I have had a desperate need for more regular ‘comfort’ books since the first paragraph of Chapter 3, so have no idea how things will go between us in the time to come.


Rated 5 stars Review date: October 23, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0) | Permalink