Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Nässlorna blomma (Flowering Nettle) by Harry Martinson

This post is written also for the Read the Nobels hosted by Aloi (Guiltless Reading)

Harry Martinson is a Swedish Nobel Prize Laureate, receiving the prize in 1974 together with
another Swedish writer Eyvind Johnson ”for writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos”. He also wrote poetry, and is one of the best known ’proletarian’ writers in Sweden. I have finally got around to read one of his most famous and auto-biographical books, Nässlorna blomma (Flowering Nettle).

It is about the boy Martin (Martinson’s alter ego), 7-11 years old during the story, and whose mantra is ”my father is dead and my mother is in California”. Martinson lost his parents at a young age; his father died and his mother left him to move to Portland, USA. He spent his earlier years in foster care. It has certainly influenced his writing in general and is specifically present in this novel.

We follow Martin from when his father dies and his mother leaves the children behind to emigrate to California. Times were dire, especially for a widow, with several children. The children were placed in foster care through the municipality, according to the norm; the family who demanded least money could have the child. It is terrible to think of how these children must have suffered.

Although Martin in the novel does not physically suffer very badly, although there are some beatings occasionally, it is the mental part that is most difficult for him to handle. He is missing his mother, love, closeness to a family member. His beloved older sister died young and that was the last person he loved. He is taken from one foster home to the next and in the end (at least of the book but not his life) he arrives to a home for older people with mental deficiencies. He helps out with the inmates and feels that the lady in charge is a surrogat mother for him. Then something happens.

Harry Martinson’s novel lingers between reality and dreamlike story telling. It is written from a 10-year old boy’s view, but the wisdom of these views belong to a much older man. ”Martin is described as a selfish, stupid, childish, self pitying, obsequious, coward and false.” I don’t really agree to all of these characterisations. His situation is of a vulnerable kind. A child that, in principal, has lost his family at a young age. Living in five different homes during as many years, with people he does not know that well. When he gets attached to people, it is time for him to move to another family. In those harsh days, parents did not have time and energy to give love to their own children, less to an orphan child. Maybe the description above is only natural for a child in his situation.

The story is a good description of the situation for the poor in Sweden in the beginning of the 20th century. It is written in a wonderful, easily read prose with dreamlike sequences and beautiful descriptions of nature, woven into the sad story of Martin. Harry Martinson has managed to delicately balance his story, and make it trustworthy. And, being a Nobel Prize Laureate book, easily accessible. An enjoyable read.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

K is for Killer by Sue Grafton

Lornas sista flörtHas finished the "K" Sue Grafton alphabetical series about female detective Kinsey Millhone. This one is from 1994, and I remember having read one in the series many years ago. I like it although I can't remember which one.

I read this one in Swedish and maybe that is why I did not entirely like the writing, which could be due to the translation. It felt a little bit 'formal' at times and did not fit the overall tough, hard core writing and dialogue. Furthermore, there were some excessive 'milieu' descriptions which was a little bit repetitive and over the top. Having said that, I really like the murder mystery itself. It was rather slow, but you really get a feeling for the way a private detective have to work. Slowly, slowly finding small pieces of information leading forward, or not.

When the story starts our detective is hired by the mother of Lorna Kepler to try to find her murderer. Lorna died a year ago, and the police put it down to suicide. Her mother believes otherwise. Kinsey takes on the case and starts interviewing more or less the same people as the police did when investigating the case. It leads her in a slightly different way and she soon realises that Lorna is not the nice girl she pretended to be.

It took a long time until I could even start to suspect anyone of the murder. It is all very well hidden during the whole book. It is not until the very end, and more or less at the same time as Kinsey herself realises who the murder is, that the reader can guess. At least that was the case for me. Suspense until the end is never bad for a murder mystery.

The narration is from Kinsey's point of view and the style reminds me a little bit about Dashiell Hammett. Maybe that is why Kinsey slightly irritates me from time to time. She is not Sam Spade and the time is different. The style seems, to me, to belong more in the 1950s than the 1990s. But that might be only for me. All in all I like the story and would gladly read another of her 'letter' books. I like the idea of her using the alphabet to name her books.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Breaking routines

Summer is normally the time when routines are broken. You go on holiday, enjoy the sun, relax and have time to read more books. For me, this summer is something out of the extraordinary, and not exactly relaxed, even if it has been enjoyable in another way.

View from our flat, over the limestone quarry 
First of all my son is home from his studies. Always very nice, but it means that my office is gone! Yes, I have made his bedroom my office and now he has taken it back.  I have moved to the dining room table with my laptop, which means running around for things I normally have around my desk, taking all the more time to do simple things. But, I am not complaining, having him around is a bliss.

My new desk (with possibility to change the
height electronically), here as a
temporary eating table

Another thing that has broken my routines is that we have bought two flats in Sweden; one for us and one for our son. That generates a lot of administration and travels back and forth, not to talk about furnishing them. Great fun, but a lot of work and carrying furniture and boxes! My body is aching from head to toes! I have really enjoyed planning and decorating our flat and I think it will be very light, airy and comfortable once it is ready. Fantastic to move into something quite new, after living in an old house, although renovated, for many years. We are still to stay on here in Belgium for some years though.

Book shelves and new reading corner

As you can imagine there has been no time for either reading or blogging. I have managed to finish one book, The Rare and the Beautiful by Cressida Connolly, a biography about the Garman sisters. Fascinating book and a review will come. Now I have started K is for Killer by Sue Grafton. It is one of her Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series. I remember reading some when I was younger, and found this one in a second hand shop. Each book starts with a letter and title. Today she has reached as far as X.

Well, time for me to go back to packing some more boxes. Maybe I will also manage to continue reading about Kinsey's K murder mystery!