Saturday, 27 October 2012

Fighting fire with fire

The second novel in Steig Larsson's Millenium trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire (2006) continues the story of unlikely heroine Lisbeth Salander. 

Lisbeth has finished her work with Mikael Blomkvist and thanks to the funds she has drained from the Wennerstrom bank accounts she is financially independent. She leaves Sweden and travels for more than a year before returning home and buying a new apartment.  Meanwhile Blomkvist is back at Millenium magazine and is preparing to publish a story about a sex trafficking ring run by underworld figure Zala, who played a prominent role in Lisbeth's past. Lisbeth's life then becomes more complicated when she is accused of murder. 
In the first book Lisbeth was enigmatic with little hints about her life scattered throughout the story so that readers understood there was something more that would explain the complexities of her character. This novel fleshes out much of her back story as we learn more about her past and the influence of events that have shaped her. 

Larsson again keeps the action moving, adding layer upon layer to the mystery. He is an excellent storyteller and this book is a definite page turner. Oftentimes in trilogies I find the middle book to be the weakest link, but not so here. This trilogy, as a whole, is compelling and contains no weak links. 

The film version is directed by Daniel Alfredson. Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace return to their roles, as do most of the supporting cast. While not as exciting as the first film, the performances are universally excellent. It is helpful to have read the book before seeing the movie to get the most out of it.
See also my review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.   

Friday, 26 October 2012

The road not taken

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence (1920) is set against the backdrop of 1870s Old New York. 

Well-bred Newland Archer is engaged to young socialite May Welland, a wedding that will unite two esteemed families. May's cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, arrives in New York, having left her cheating husband in Europe. Ellen's sudden arrival causes gossip and scorn among the upper class and she is pressured to return home to avoid further scandal. While Newland is initially dismissive of Ellen, he is appointed as her legal counsel and is soon attracted to her unconventional ways which challenge the unwritten rules of the society they inhabit. A love triangle begins and Newland must decide whether to follow his heart or bow to societal pressures.

Wharton infuses her novel with great wit as she critiques the ridiculous social mores of the times, pointing out the hypocrisy and superficiality of the upper class who see themselves as superior in every way. She is deeply descriptive, painting an opulent portrait, which contrasts the 'old-money' values with the new ideas emerging that challenge the customs and traditions of society.

Martin Scorsese directed a delicious film version of The Age of Innocence in 1993. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Archer, Winona Ryder as May and Michelle Pfeiffer as Ellen, there is a rich supporting cast of delightful character actors including Richard E Grant, Miriam Margolyes, Jonathan Pryce and Sian Phillips. The excellent performances are matched by the sumptuous visual style of the film with its grand sets and beautiful costumes. An excellent adaptation of a wonderful novel.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Witches of Shreveport

It has been almost a year since I last read a Sookie Stackhouse novel, but after recently watching the finale of the fifth season of the True Blood television series I decided to return to the books to fill the gap until next season. 

Dead to the World (2004) is Charlaine Harris' fourth novel in the Southern Vampire Mysteries series. It takes up a few weeks after the events in the previous book.

Vampire Bill Compton has gone to Peru. One night Sookie stumbles across vampire Sherriff Eric Northman walking along the side of the road, apparently suffering from amnesia. When she discovers that a coven of witches cursed Eric, erasing his memory, Sookie agrees to take him in and protect him. Suddenly her brother Jason goes missing and Sookie fears this may also have something to do with the witches. The local vampires and a pack of werewolves join forces to try and defeat the witches that have moved into Shreveport and are attempting to take over Eric's power in the area. And the longer Eric stays with Sookie, the closer they become...

Eric is a delicious character and losing his memory has brought out his softer side, causing Sookie a quandary. Bill is basically absent for the whole book (which is not a bad thing as the other characters are much more interesting), but werewolf Alcide and shifter Sam provide supernatural support when Sookie needs help.

Harris has hit her stride with this novel, setting up three different plot strands that combine to bring romance, action and suspense to Bon Temps. The humour of Harris' dialogue, and the absurdity of some of the situations make for an enjoyable read. Of the four that I have read in this series, this is my favourite. I look forward to reading the next novel in the series.

The main strands of the plot are followed in the fourth season of True Blood, with some notable differences. These changes made reading the book pleasurable as I kind of knew what was coming next, but I also knew it would likely change dramatically from the TV show. 

My review of the first three novels in this series are also available on this blog: Dead Until Dark (2001), Living Dead in Dallas (2002) and Club Dead (2003).