Monday, 22 October 2012

The Bat by Jo Nesbo

I really wanted to like this first Harry Hole novel, but I'm afraid I found it rather far fetched and dull. 

For me the best thing about Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole novels is their dark and moody Norwegian setting, so perhaps I didn't like The Bat because it's set in Sydney. 

A Norwegian girl is found brutally murdered, and the Australian police send for a Norwegian policeman to pacify the country's Embassy. 

What follows is Australia through the eyes of a damaged, t-toal, young Norwegian policeman. There are several long passages explaining the multiculturalism, and the racial relations, in Australia. At times it felt as if the Australian tourist bureau had paid for the translation of this novel.

Harry, the foreigner, is teamed with another outsider, a senior aboriginal detective, and together they make inroads into the mystery killing. But it seems his fellow policeman knows rather more than he is willing to reveal. 

Harry, who himself is struggling to come to terms with already a checkered police career at home, tries to make sense of murder mystery down under. As usual he first fails, but his doggedness pays off and in the end, he finds the solution and the murderer.

But before we get to this, there's a love affair, several wrongly accused people, more bodies and so many characters that in the end I started skimming the text instead of reading each word. I just wanted the book to end. 

Friday, 19 October 2012

The Human Part by Kari Hotakainen

The Human Part is an abstract and quite one-sided view of modern Helsinki (and Finland), but as long as you remember this fact, Hotakainen's quirky novel is a joy to read.

The format of the novel is refreshingly different. The story starts with the narrative of the subject of the book, Salme Sinikka Malmikunnas, a a retired haberdashery shop owner. Salme meets an author with writer's block, and for a vast sum of money, agrees to sell her life story to him. (I wonder if authors are wealthier in Finland?) But soon they disagree on the truthfulness of the end product. Salme does not like 'made-up books', but the author cannot help himself, and turns Salme's colourful life into fiction.

Or does he?

A major tragedy 'a certain very sad thing' looms large over the telling of Salme's story. But because Salme is adamant it's not going to be included in her life story, we are left guessing what has happened. All we know is that Salme's husband, Paavo 'is temporarily mute' because of it. But there are further sad things in Salme's life which she herself seems oblivious to. Her three children who all live in and around Helsinki, are not how they appear either. Or has the author invented their other lives, the problems their mother doesn't know about?

As you can see this book is a complicated read, one which I would have enjoyed so much more, had the writer not constantly force-fed a his ideology (capitalism is bad) down my throat. Political theory is much more complicated than that, as is real life.

The Human Part is a good read, and it is especially interesting to fellow author. How would we like it, if while writing our novels, we came face to face with our main character, insisting we are doing a bad job of it? Scary thought...