Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “translation”

Robert’s #CBR4 Review #12: Ring by Koji Suzuki

Ring by Koji SuzukiThe challenge of translating a novel from another language is balancing the style and tone with the literal text. Lean too far towards literary flourish and you’re radically altering the content of the book. Stay too true to the literal text and you lose the nuance of wordplay in the original language that probably can’t carry over directly.

The English translation of Ring by Koji Suzuki poses an even greater challenge. The novel centers on a newspaper reporter and a philosophy professor who use the scientific method and many hours of research to solve the riddle of a potentially deadly video tape. Is the blunt prose the intended effect of Suzuki to best represent the non-fiction world of the two main characters? Or is it an unintended side effect of translating a medical sci-fi novel so couched in Japanese culture?

Ring, the inspiration for the popular Japanese horror series and blockbuster US remake, is a quiet investigative thriller. Read more…

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #15: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

When I first read it almost two years ago, I remember thinking that of the three Millennium books, Hornet’s Nest was definitely the weakest, but either because I’ve really drunk the Kool-Aid by now, or because I’ve simply ceased to think of Larsson’s creation as a fictional world, I liked it much better this time (and I did like it quite a bit before).

As I noted in my first review way back in June 2010, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is much less of a mystery-thriller than books one and two. Instead, TGWKTHN is more of an espionage-thriller.  In the first book the big question was ‘Who killed Harriet Vanger?” In the second, “Who is Zalachenko?” There isn’t really a question in this book. We are treated to answers about The Section before the characters are, so the pleasure in this book, then, is in watching Blomkvist and Co. take down the men who ruined Lisbeth’s life piece by piece, and giving her vindication. It’s about airing dirty laundry and shaking things clean. And it is immensely satisfying (if a little unwieldy at times).

TGWKTHN is constructed around the trial of Lisbeth Salander. Blomkvist, Armansky, and several people within the police who believe her to be innocent, and even a faction within the Security Police, all work together to get Salander acquitted and take down the men of The Section, who have been committing crimes against the people of Sweden and infringing on their rights for decades. The build up to the trial is a little slow at times, but it’s worth it in the end.

Stuff that I loved:

  • All the random bits of Swedish culture and history.
  • Everything to do with Salander. I loved her forced recovery period and her reluctant friendship with Dr. Jonasson. (Actually I love it period that so many unlikely people are able to see past her hostile exterior and plant themselves firmly in her corner.)
  • Seeing all of the supporting characters we’ve met join together to kick some old balls.
  • Seeing all those self-important wrinkly old white men get what was coming to them.
  • Seeing everyone who ever mistreated Salander eat their words during her trial.
  • I love that Salander dressed in her Sunday worst for the trial, just to scare the shit out of everyone who was there.
  • The last line: “She opened the door wide and let him into her life again.”

Stuff that should have been fixed but couldn’t because Stieg Larsson is dead, you asshole:

  • Blomkvist sleeps with yet ANOTHER woman (that guy is just a manwhore, but at least he’s a likable one who is loyal to his friends and never pretends to be otherwise). I guess I like Monica Figuerola okay, but seriously, dude? At least he semi-commits to her at the end, but that might actually upset me more. Maybe I’m just a good old fashioned monogamist, but she isn’t Lisbeth, and Blomkvist is hopelessly dense. Probably all of this would have been resolved in all of the books he planned to write afterwards, but he’s dead, so that’s not happening, and instead I will complain about it on the internet.
  • I do not get the whole thing with Berger and the giant newspaper, or her thing with the stalker. it seemed out of place in a book that already needed to be cut for content. I suppose the impulse there was for Millennium to be in even more of a crisis than it already was, so thus we take away all-important Berger, but the book could have done without it.
  • I hate that there isn’t more.

All in all, this probably deserves four, or four and a half stars, but I don’t care about being objective, as I’ve already stated, so five stars.

[Link to original review here.]

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #14: The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

This book is when you realize that the Millennium trilogy is really all about Lisbeth Salander. It takes up all the threads woven into place in Dragon Tattoo and starts to make a tapestry of them: Lisbeth’s mysterious back-story, what’s she’s done with the fortune she stole from Hans Erik Wennerström, the continued consequences of her guardian Bjurman raping her (and the revenge that is currently represented by the tattoo on his stomach), and the reappearance of her former guardian, Holger Palmgren — not to mention her relationship with Mikael Blomkvist. The book is structured around solving the murders of two people who were working on an exposé on sex trafficking for Millennium, and due to unforeseen circumstances, it’s Lisbeth the police are hunting for the murder. The police, Blomkvist and Millennium, and Lisbeth’s old employer, Dragan Armansky, are all trying to solve the murders at the same time, and they all have different reasons for doing so. What they really end up investigating is Lisbeth’s life, and they find secrets there that even she didn’t know.

Also fulfilled from Dragon Tattoo is Dragan Armansky’s premonition that Lisbeth would be the perfect victim, which sounds kind of offensive at first, but after having read this book, I see what he means. She is other in almost every way imaginable, and thus she is the perfect bogeyman, the perfect scapegoat. The media in the novel plays on Sweden’s (and our very human) cultural obsession with social deviance; it’s the kind of simplistic scapegoating that always assumes that different equals evil. She is presumed to be the murderer based on the preconceived notions of men who don’t even know her. Without directly stating it, Larsson is indicting the infrastructure of the criminal justice system and the men who run it — they let their prejudices about mental illness, sexuality, gender (the assumption that Lisbeth is a prostitute, just because she likes sex) influence the way they investigate these murders. And of course he sticks some men in there who just hate women, because they feel threatened by them.

The one criticism I have isn’t really a criticism, as it doesn’t hamper my enjoyment of the story. The book is structured so that the reader may be left in doubt as to whether Salander committed the murders, but it’s almost a waste of time. There is never a moment’s doubt about Salander’s innocence. We’ve come to know and trust her over the course of a book and a half, and we know that she would never murder two innocent people, especially people who have devoted a significant portion of their lives to exposing the men who make a living — or gain sexual pleasure — from exploiting and harming women.

Structurally, The Girl Who Played With Fire is also notable for the distinct lack of interaction — save for in its last two pages — of its two leads. Blomkvist and Salander spend the whole book apart, as Salander isn’t sure how to deal with her feelings for him, or with the hurt pride that comes with them. One of the things I like most about their relationship is how stupid Lisbeth feels for loving Blomkvist. She has no capacity for understanding her own feelings, or the feelings of others, and can’t fathom that Blomkvist might really care for her, even if it’s not in the way she wishes. She expects the worst of people, and for just a second there she let herself believe Blomkvist was different, so it was all the more painful for her when she realized she’d let him in where he could hurt her the most. It makes me sad. (Incidentally, I think that Rooney Mara did an impeccable job conveying that tender and guarded emotionality in Fincher’s film, something that I felt was lacking in Noomi Rapace’s version of Lisbeth, and that’s probably why I prefer the Fincher film over the Swedish original.)

Lastly, I just want to take a minute to talk about the unbelievable badassery of Lisbeth digging herself out of her own grave. I just love her so much.

[Link to original review here.]

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #13: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

This is my second time through the Millennium trilogy, so I’m going to try and keep this review short and to the point.

Everybody and their mother knows the story by now, or at least they should. Mikael Blomkvist, disgraced journalist, is hired by one of the richest men in Sweden to find out what happened to his sixteen year old niece, Harriet Vanger, who was murdered over forty years before. Lisbeth Salander is a socially introverted, genius hacker, whose life collides unexpectedly with Blomkvist’s, and the two form an unlikely partnership. I first read the books back in February 2010, and since then I’ve seen both film adaptations (Swedish and American) multiple times. I am so familiar with the story by now that I’ve internalized it. I am completely unable to be objective — as if I ever was able in the first place — Salander and Blomkvist are real people as far as I’m concerned, and I think it’s a damn shame we won’t ever get to hear any more from them past book three.

For those of you who haven’t heard plot details — where have you been? — I’m not going to say any more about the plot because part of the joy the first time is the discovery of all the twists and turns. What I am going to say is that even though Larsson’s writing may not be stellar*, his imagination more than makes up for it. Lisbeth Salander is one of my favorite characters in literature, ever, and the ways in which he makes use of her to say his peace about the rights of the dispossessed — specifically the rights of women in male-dominated cultures, and the marginalization of the mentally ill and those that are perceived to be sexually or socially deviant — ultimately elevates the trilogy beyond mere thriller/mystery status. It’s the reason I can sit here and read it (or watch it) multiple times and still the story will have lost none of its power, despite the fact that I already know all the answers to whatever mysteries it contains.

*For instance, lots of people become annoyed when he starts describing in detail meals characters eat, or actions they take that are seemingly irrelevant. I happen to find this quirk of his endearing, and all of those “irrelevant” details are part of what I love about his books.

Part of what fascinates me about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo as a first novel in a series is that Larsson kind of sneaks up on you with the point of it. You could very easily read the book and then assume that sequels will follow the pattern set up by the first one, and would focus on Salander and Blomkvist as a team who will solve mysteries like it in the future. Instead, Larsson mainly uses the story of the Vangers as an extended “meet-cute” for Salander and Blomkist, and to set up Salander as the protagonist. Her story is the real center of the trilogy. This book is as much about setting up the next two books as it’s about itself. Larsson wasn’t interested in creating a series of grocery-store mysteries. He was interested in delving into the nitty gritty of Salander’s life, and all the meaty stuff comes directly from it. She is the mystery and the challenge, not some murderer du jour.

The last thing I want to say is that it puzzles me when people express their disdain for this series by saying it’s misogynist. I have to wonder just exactly what kind of reading comprehension those people were taught in school, because these books are the very opposite of misogynist. Just because a story features misogyny as a theme, and characters who act in misogynistic or sexist ways, does not mean that story is espousing those misogynistic viewpoints. I can definitely understand people who simply object to the level of violence and dark sexuality that the book contains, but as far as I’m concerned, all that violence does have a very salient point at the end of it.

And now I’ve gone and lied to you about this being a short review. Whatever, I’m going to go make an omelet.

[Link to original review here.]

Karo’s #CBR4 Review #3: Embers by Sándor Márai

Sándor Márai is a relatively recent rediscovery on the stage of 20th-century European literature. A Hungarian of mixed heritage, he travelled and settled all over Europe, working as a writer and critic in the years between the two World Wars. His decisions to write in his native language and keep a very private life meant he never gained fame outside of Hungary, and so his works have only recently been translated.
This kind of story makes for good sales, and for a while, everybody was reading Márai (although I can only speak for the German market here, where translated literature generally has a much bigger share). Embers is my first encounter with the author and his style, and I can see how the descriptions of the Austro-Hungarian heyday and its many characters can capture an audience. The past is always appealing, and Márai’s own experience of it makes the novel reassuringly authentic.
The setting is simple: It is 1940, and Henrik, an aged Hungarian general, finally gets a visitor he has been waiting to see for 41 years. The novel narrates one single night, in which the general’s best friend Konrád, who disappeared mysteriously in 1899, faces the questions that have been haunting Henrik all his life.
The first part of the book briefly introduces the main characters and their history. Mirroring the general’s dream-like existence and constant occupation with the past, the facts are presented in a very compacted style, the products of a mind that has been ordering them for decades and is now describing them without emotion. Although very interesting in literary terms, this makes it hard for the reader to connect, and I had a hard time wanting to continue with the novel. Fairly quickly though, we reach the main part of the novel, the confrontation of the two friends, which is a monologue by Henrik, detailing the facts he has come to terms with over the years, and merely asking Konrád two questions which he hope will help both of them find closure.
As a novel, Embers is more interesting and clever than it is moving. The whole thing feels incredibly well planned, almost like a one-man play. Stylistically, everything fits, but even though the story culminates in an existential question, I found myself not caring much. I could tell Marái was a journalist, which in itself is nothing terrible, of course, but sacrifices the emotion that lies at the heart of such a story. I will read more of his novels, because they deal with a place and time I would like to know more about, but it will feel like a bit of work.

Karo’s #CBR4 Review #1: The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas

Of course, reading a quick crime novel feels like cheating when you’re trying to get a (half) heap of books done in 12 months. But there are crime novels that are so good, you wouldn’t mind if there wasn’t a solution, a murderer, or even a crime. In the case of Fred Vargas, you’d be perfectly happy just to watch the hero’s thoughts meander away.
The Chalk Circle Man is Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg’s first appearance in Vargas’ work. These days, an unconventional policeman is pretty much the standard in any novel of the genre, but Vargas doesn’t only make her hero a shabby-looking, mind-numbingly slow policeman who needs to walk around in circles in order to arrive at a conclusion, she mirrors these qualities in her writing. Having read any of her novels I could get my hands on, rather than going through them in a civilized, chronological manner, I knew what to expect. For a new reader, Vargas’ style, as much as her inspector’s, might be an adventure. A naturally fast reader, I always find myself hurrying through the text, often without grasping every detail, just because I’m waiting for something to happen. There isn’t much action in an Adamsberg case. It’s gripping, and pleasantly bizarre in a French way, but the really interesting part is seeing Adamsberg’s mind at work.
In this case, the good people of Paris are somewhere between amused and bemused when blue chalk circles start to appear on the sidewalks overnight, each of them drawn around a random object. No case for the police, but Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg is worried and decides to keep an eye on things. Soon, the object in the circle is a dead body, and Adamsberg… well, doesn’t really do anything. For most of the time he thinks, and colleagues, acquaintances and suspects alike are starting to get annoyed. But Adamsberg’s brain is working away, and, almost without leaving his chair, he presents his confused surroundings with a solution.
The unconventional style of the inspector is mirrored by a style that seems to wander about just as aimlessly. It’s hard to pin down what it is, it might even be just bad, incoherent writing, but it works well and makes Vargas’ books that little bit different from other crime novels. Also, the protagonists’ frequent introspection that works so well in Scandinavian crime is not limited to the inspector. There are only a handful of others, but each of them is portrayed by their thoughts and musings. This adds a light philosophical layer to the novel, so much that the solving of the case seems less and less important. Adamsberg’s change of pace and ultimate move then turn into as much work for the reader as for the inspector. Finally getting somewhere feels like struggling out of an armchair that has become more comfortable by the hour.

So. If you feel like slowing down a bit and contemplating the world and the little things with Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, almost like people dropping dead left, right and centre are nothing to worry about, Fred Vargas is your new obsession. You’re welcome.

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