Two of the Usual Suspects and One Absolutely Not So

I’ve been busy reading this summer. That might not seem remarkable, as I am an English teacher and an avid reader and writer. What is unusual is that I’ve actually learned to read for pleasure again, not read because I’m boning up for a class, or reading for a book club, or reading because someone has really pushed me to read this or that.
I spoke about this a bit in this post, but today I wanted to chat about my three favorite books of the summer – two that are probably very familiar, and one that I’m pretty sure isn’t.
The first, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, has become a huge international sensation, so much so that the beautifully imagined Swedish films are in the works to become Hollywood knock-offs. (Which is likely to be a disaster, but that’s for another post). I hadn’t read this book earlier because my husband thought that it would be too “raw” and violent for my tastes. I appreciated his care and concern. I am a wimp when it comes to violence, but I think that pertains to visual violence rather than something that I read. I’ll admit that there are certain scenes that are indelibly printed in my brain – the bathtub scene from The Shining, along with several scenes in the early Kathy Reichs’ books, but I can handle most things as long as they are in print.

I’m a complete sucker, though, for fabulous characters, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has them in spades. I do think that the primary protagonist in this first book, Mikael Blomkvist is a bit self-congratulatory, and I very much doubt his extraordinary magnetism to women. My guess is that this was Larsson’s view of himself – and aggrandized. The other supporting characters were strong, the layers underneath them were strong, and needless to say, Lisbeth Salander has won hearts the world over.

I’d recommend this book for anyone with a tolerance for sadism and darkness, but who love unraveling characters along with a mystery. This is not a book lacking in surprises – always a good thing. I’ve heard that the second, and especially the third books are even stronger, but I’m saving them for future vacations/breaks.

The second book on my list is by another international success, Tana French. French’s  In the Woods probably won every award and accolade possible, and if it’s anything like Faithful Place, it certainly deserves the prodigious praise. I read Faithful Place again thanks to my husband, who read it over a weekend away and absolutely was enthralled with the dysfunctional Mackey family and the patterns of devastation that they had created over a span of twenty-five years.  The details of working-class Dublin were extraordinary; Dublin becomes a “character” in this book as London does in Oliver TwistFaithful Place is another story within a story, much like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I enjoyed it even more because there was a layer of hope at the end, which was not really the case with Girl.

I must have really been in the mood for dark, international tomes of dysfunction, because the third book fits this same category.  I’m not finished with this one yet, but I’m really drawn in so far.  This one, Popular Music from Vittula by Mikael Niemi, was wildly popular in Sweden when it was published in 2002 and has gained quite a bit of popularity in England, as well, but I haven’t seen it take flight here in this U.S.  It was given to me upon my 50th birthday, as the protagonist and I were born one month apart and the person who gave it to me (my Swedish “daughter”) thought I’d enjoy the Swedish perspective of coming of age during the same era.  For various reasons, I didn’t get to the book until over a year later, and I was very uncertain when I started it.  This review speaks of the book as being both puerile and survivalist, which I thought was extremely insightful and accurate, and it was the puerile aspects of the book that initially turned me off.  I’m glad I persevered, however, as I’ve become completely engrossed with Matti, his odd Ladstaedian friend Niila and there adventures in Pajala – think Lake Woebegone set off the arctic circle.  The book has little of the harsh reality of the first two books – this is generally light and whimsical and very much an “in the mind’s eye” type of fictional memoir – fantasy takes place as effortlessly as reality, and while there are some harsh and dark moments (this IS a northern Scandinavian tale, after all) the overall tone is childlike and filled with the wonder of growing up.

So, readers, what have you read this summer that’s been particularly intriguing?

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9 Responses to Two of the Usual Suspects and One Absolutely Not So

  1. Diane says:

    Read ALL three of the Sieg Larsson books and you will go mad for #2 and3…the more I read, the faster I read and simply could not put the third one down. I also started to read the #1 Ladies Detective Agency books and read the second one….I love some of the details abour Botswana (and I just had a student from Botswana) and this woman just has a wonderful and pragmatic way of looking at things and figuring things out…lovely book..anxious for the third. I read ‘Private’ by James Patterson…pretty fast and mindless …I read The Help and that book was so very well done…it took me a while to deal with a white woman writing in a black woman’s voice…I was kind of offended at first…but a marvelous story and finally I read Jodi Picoult The Pact. It was good but I felt pretty formulaic based on having just read Handle with Care and the characterizations seemed too similar.

    Like you, I could not WAIT to read just for pleasure and retirement has afforded me that pleasure…I shall be indulging that one, very often. (Oh, and I do have to admit I reread a couple of my Sookie Stackhouse books…I do love a good vampire sex triangle!

  2. I’ve read many of the No. 1 series and absolutely love the books. I, like you, love the details about Botswana. I haven’t read James Patterson. If you loved Stieg Larsson and the Sookie books (which I also love, although I really don’t like True Blood), try Harris’s Shakespeare series – it’s dark and fabulous and Lily Bard, the protagonist is one of the strongest but most quirky women you’ll meet in a series.

  3. Susan says:

    Am rereading…actually. Having hard time reading much & that is just nuts for me. I’m still reading the Larrson books & love them. How often can we say, “I’ve never seen this character before?” High praise. I love the Wallander series (which is done well on PBS, second series coming up soon) by…oh lord. Name escapes me, but he sort of started the migration of publishers over to Nordic noir.

    Have pile of books purchased from last August. So tempting. But mainly, as I said, rereading & a lot of poetry, too. I think you asked me about a book on my blog & I’m spacing. So I’ll go look:)

    Perhaps if I can get self down to library & pay my large fine (wah), I’ll stop buying so many books. And can take out the No. 1 series books, etc. Many friends don’t “get it” – tho’ they’re big readers. If it’s something I want, I have to own it. Sickness. Have made list so that I can stop in to secondhand shops & perhaps do less damage.

    Cheers, Jen. Off to watch the Jon Stewart clip you posted. Not sure if I’ve seen or not. Probably not as I don’t have cable. xo

  4. Susan, I’ve wanted to read the Wallender series as well. I think I’m really into Nordic darkness right now. It must be all this summer weather!

  5. Goofball says:

    I only now the Stieg Larsson you talk about but I’ve not read any of his books yet. They are very very much hyped here in Belgium (waaaaay more than the Eat Love Pray etc) and are in the top 5 selling for 2 years now. And that’s one of the reasons I’m hesitant to start reading them (and the fact that hyped books cannot be found available in the library).

    funny that the title is translated way different in Dutch. Here the first book is called “Men who hate women”. It seems like an odd title. Does it fit the content? It does seem to be an accurate translation from the original title.

  6. Charity says:

    I do think that the primary protagonist in this first book, Mikael Blomkvist is a bit self-congratulatory, and I very much doubt his extraordinary magnetism to women.

    LOL I’m about 3/4 of the way through and have this same impression. It’s a good thing he’s a fictional character, otherwise, we’d all be compelled to sleep with him. 😉

  7. jeanie says:

    Just finished “Dragon Tattoo” this weekend — our book club selection. I had a tough time putting it down (hence, arising late for work last Friday). I would add that there is ONE really sickly, twisted, sadistic section. Well, maybe two if you count Salander’s revenge on her advocate. But overall, it’s just a ripping good yarn with — as you mentioned — plenty of surprises! The characters are so well developed and evolve so completely, yet it doesn’t seem at all contrived. I’d like to see the movie (though it may be harder to take those two sections on screen than on the page.)

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