I’m about to enter a spell where my main reading will be student research papers–the end of term marking often leaves me with little energy for fun reading. But I squeezed in another book first, so I thought I’d squeeze in another blog post.
My favorite book podcasts are those where a couple of people chat about what they just read/are reading/may read next (current favorites: The Readers, Book Cougars, and Reading Envy). I don’t even care if I get ideas for books to try–I’m just nosy about what books people choose and why and how they feel about them. So that inspired today’s post.
The Human Flies by Hans Olav Lahlum, translated from Norwegian by Kari Dickson
I heard about this mystery spying on a Twitter conversation. It’s billed as Christie-esque, and I can see that. It’s a locked room mystery with a contained cast of suspects, the residents of an Oslo apartment building where a former WWII Resistance leader is murdered, and it’s strength is more in the twisty plotting than the characterization. This is a doubly historical mystery: the main plot takes place in April, 1968, but it’s set in motion by events dating back to the war. The title refers to “people who at some point in their lives have experienced something so painful and traumatic that they never get over it. They become human flies and spend the rest of their life circling round what happened.”
That formulation comes from Patricia, a brilliant 18-year-old who acts as a kind of Holmes to Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen (K2 to his colleagues). Or maybe she’s Nero Wolfe to his Archie Goodwin. Patricia uses a wheelchair following an accident and almost never leaves the house. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this; I enjoyed seeing her puncture the ambitious K2’s self-satisfaction, but on the other hand . . . her disability has made her a recluse (this is true for another of the book’s characters as well). That might be a comment on the differences between 1968 and today, or it might be shallow characterizations. These characters did feel kind of cardboard, but then so does Poirot, more a collection of traits than a fully formed personality.
I found this slow to start, but I was completely sucked in by the end. In a way, every mystery is an excavation of the past–how did we get to the scene of the crime? as the plot moves forward in solving the crime, it also moves backward to discover what led up to it. This plotting has always fascinated me, and I enjoyed the way it was foregrounded here by the dual time frame. I will definitely read more of the series, and I’ll be curious to see if and how the detective characters develop. (I think this series is not available in the US but you can order it from Book Depository. My library had it).
Odes, by Sharon Olds
Trying to get back to reading more poetry. I misread the title of the first poem, “Ode to the Hymen.” Not seeing “the,” I expected a poem about marriage. Boy was I surprised! I might not have been if I’d read the jacket copy, which says Olds “addresses . . . many aspects of love and gender and sexual politics in a collection that is centered on the body and its structures and pleasures.” I’m loving this. Who knew a tampon could be made beautiful?
Lolly Willowes, by Sylvia Townsend Warner
I’ve checked this out of the library twice before, but third time seems to be the charm that leads to actual reading. This 1926 novel is a good follow-up to Enchanted Islands because it’s also about a middle-aged woman breaking free of conventions. One third in, I’ve just reached Lolly/Laura’s breakaway from her proper family, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she does. I’m closing in on 50 at the end of this year, so perhaps it’s no surprise this kind of character is so appealing to me now.
Wicked Autumn, by G. M. Malliet, read by Michael Page
A British village mystery with an MI-5 agent-turned-Anglican-vicar as detective seems just up my alley. In fact the setting seems entirely implausible for a more or less current day story–I doubt villages these days are full of women hot to marry the vicar, even if he is a former spy. And would he really have a daily? But my mindless Netflix show lately has been Midsomer Murders, which is nearly as implausible, so I figured I could swallow it. Taken as a fantasy setting, it’s pretty fun so far.
Up Next: (maybe…)
Populism: A Very Short Introduction, by Cas Mudde and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser
I didn’t mean to read two short books on populism so close together, but such are the vagaries of library holds.
Mystery in White, by J. Jefferson Farjeon
A Christmas mystery isn’t exactly seasonal, but this caught my eye at the library and classic/classic-style crime has been hitting the spot lately, so what the heck.
I’ve been feeling the pull to read a romance, and I’ve bought a few lately that friends recommended on Twitter (though lord knows I didn’t need to); I just haven’t decided which one to choose. My giant romance TBR may, in fact, be part of why I’ve been reading so little of it. It’s overwhelming.