Monday 26 November 2018

The Shadow District - Arnaldur Indridason (2013/2017 in translation)

Rating: Mediocre

The Shadow District is the second crime novel I've read in fairly quick succession, due to the crime genre theme we are exploring in the Subiaco Library book club. Once again, I am reasonably unfamiliar with crime fiction, however I know a great novel when I read one and unfortunately Indridason's novel is not one of them. Technically the novel is much better written than Belinda Bauer's Snap (2018), however unlike Bauer's novel The Shadow District is just plain dull. I'm not sure if it is a problem with the translation but the writing style has absolutely no dynamism, no shifts in tone and for a crime novel, almost no tension. The cold case mystery is intriguing enough, but due to the previously mentioned problems when all is revealed there is no excitement or satisfaction generated at all. It reads like how I'd imagine a police report would be presented, just the bare bones of what happened with no stylistic finesse at all. 

The narrative is set in Iceland both during WWII and in modern times, although really it could have been set anywhere. The characters too are uniformly dull; the two inspectors in the WWII sections, Flovent and Thorson are serviceable, and a little better is retired cop Konrad, who solves the mystery of the cold case during the modern era, however they are all mostly forgettable. It's a shame really, I did want to enjoy The Shadow District, but it merely served to pass the time, read out of duty until the next book on the reading list comes along, which is Yukio Mishima's Runaway Horses (1969). I'm hoping for better things from one of Japan's greatest writers and I'm certain I'll be rewarded.

Thursday 22 November 2018

Helliconia Spring - Brian Aldiss (1982)

Rating: Excellent

Finally after decades of vague intentions I've begun reading the Helliconia trilogy. I picked up all three volumes, featuring the superb cover artwork from the late 1980's, dirt cheap when WA's Mostly Books was closing down. Firstly the novel was not as I imagined it to be, the storytelling style is kind of old fashioned, blending realism and science with some fantasy elements. Aldiss had written some pretty wild novels in the sixties and seventies, but Helliconia Spring is fairly tame in comparison. Having said that the storytelling is enriched with mostly splendid world-building, including a 122 page prelude called Yuli, which was one of the most enjoyable sections of the novel. For the most part Helliconia Spring reads like an exploration of Neolithic life, but set on an alien planet in orbit around a star called Batalix, which is in orbit around a much larger star called Freyr. The lengthy elliptical orbit means that seasons last many centuries and life on Helliconia has to adapt in fascinating ways. Aldiss' depiction of Helliconia is extremely detailed, taking in the life cycles of non-humanoid life both large and small. But it is the struggle between the human-like aliens and the inhuman Phagors (large Yeti like creatures with horns) that drives the novel's narrative and provides the most interest. 

The novel is certainly flawed, with long periods spent establishing the culture and politics of the humanoids which borders on the tedious, yet overall the narrative is absorbing and rewards the dedication needed to get through its epic length. I'm not sure when I'll get to Helliconia Summer (1983), which is even longer, and Helliconia Winter (1985), but I will definitely be reading them due to Aldiss' skill in creating an epic narrative. Also of interest is the fact that humans are watching the planet from a space station and are broadcasting everything back to Earth, where it is watched by humanity as 'reality TV', a concept that, as unwelcome as it turned out to be, was ahead of its time.

Monday 5 November 2018

Snap - Belinda Bauer (2018)

Rating: Admirable

The fact that I am not an experienced reader of crime novels saw me through the first third of Snap, during which I gasped and groaned about the mediocre writing. During the multitude of cliches, frequently bad similes and irritating characters I kept on thinking that maybe I was judging too harshly because of my inexperience with the crime genre. However by about the half way mark I actually realised that I was beginning to enjoy the novel. The narrative threads began to converge nicely and I started to want to know what was going to happen. Snap has some typical crime tropes (even I know what they are...) such as a disappearance, a murder, abandoned children, burglaries, hapless provincial police and a grizzled hard-ass detective called, of all things - Marvel, looking to restart his career. The principal protagonist, fourteen year-old Jack, is a sympathetic character, who believes that he has found the knife that killed his mother and just needs to convince the police of that fact whilst avoiding being prosecuted for his multitude of petty crimes as a semi-mythical character known as 'Goldilocks'.  

Snap is reasonably paced and keeps you interested enough to see it through to the denouement, which manages to be both satisfying and disappointing at the same time (the very end of the novel is just terrible!). I had to think carefully about what rating I was going to give Snap, but decided that the fact that Bauer managed to win me over in the end and on the whole it was an enjoyable read it would be rewarded with my equivalence of three stars (admirable), although really it is a two and a half star novel, if I used that rating system. Read Snap if you want something quick and entertaining to get you through the week, otherwise best to read the late Australian crime novelist Peter Temple, who had some style at least...