Sunday, January 03, 2010

Cannonball Read, Book 6: The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Played with Fire is the second book in a trilogy. It continues on with the adventures of Lisbeth Salander, the socially-retarded genius computer hacker, and Mikael Blomkvist, investigative journalist.

First off, if you happen to buy the copy I had of the book, (Quercus paperback) avoid reading the back cover -- it gives away stuff that doesn't occur until at least a third of the way through the book. Seriously, what kind of moron puts spoilers on the cover of the book?

So. Overall, I liked this. Lisbeth and Mikael are still interesting and the character development seems appropriate to who they were in the last book. The story has some surprising twists and I read the entire thing in two days.

However, it has one big problem that irritated me. Get ready, I'm putting on my serious feminist thinker hat. Both this and the first book in the series deal heavily with abuse of women or as the author states "Men Who Hate Women" (side note -- this was the original title of the first book and IMHO much better than the title it had in English). I appreciate Larsson's desire to shine a light on violence against women. I believe that he wrote these books in good faith and wasn't some sort of secret pervert. But the problem is that the way he writes about sexual assault is kind of fetishizing. You can just say a woman was raped -- there's no need to go into four or five pages of detail about exactly how and in what position and with what instruments. There's probably thousands of books out there that are much worse in terms of this stuff -- I've certainly read a few -- it's just for me there's a bit of disconnect between a book that is supposedly working against something that simultaneously seems to somehow celebrate the same thing.

Other than that, it's good. It's got the typical "man-who-cannot-be-killed" trope popular in this type of book, but at least it's well-explained here. The secondary characters are fairly fleshed out, and there even a few red herrings thrown in that are pretty effective.

This isn't great literature, but in comparison to Dan Brown or Ken Follett, it's well-written and worth the $6 for the paperback.

Cannonball Read, Book 5: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Can I just breath a sigh of relief that this is last year that's on my list of favorites for the Aughts, and by far the best book I've read for the Cannonball up to now.

Cloud Atlas is a collection of six vaguely inter-related novellas which are split into two pieces following the order A-B-C-D-E-F -F -E-D-C-B-A. Each of the novellas is set in a different time and is written in a different genre style. Each of the individual stories is compelling on its own, but its also interesting to see how each of stories is linked to the ones around it.

If you want to find out something about each of the individual stories, you can check out basically any review on Amazon, but one of the things I liked best about the book was the sensation of being plunged into chaos for the first few pages of each novella.

Without giving away too much, these novellas range from the diary of a man living during the British Empire to a mystery/thriller set in the 70s to the tale of an apocalyptic future.

This is a book that is considered serious literature, but it doesn't read like it -- the pages fly by and while it provides plenty of fodder for serious thinking, it's also possible to just read it for fun without getting hung up on the philosophical implications. It's a fairly long book, my copy is 538 pages, but since each individual section is only about 40 pages, it's also easy to read in a short time.

The only complaint I could make is that in the mystery/thriller section, Mitchell writes not like an excellent mystery writer but a second-tier one. I'm not even sure that this wasn't intentional -- given his talents, it's entirely possible that Mitchell wanted to sound like a hack in this section.

In any case, this book is fantastic.