Sunday, 13 September 2009

Sunday Salon: Shameful how it has been

The Sunday

One of my new year resolutions was to try and update my blog each week to contribute to the Sunday Salon which a fellow blogger introduced me to. The idea is simple (like all good ideas). Each Sunday imagine you're bustling about a busy reading room and sharing ideas about what you have read that week.

My last post was in January (!) so instead I shall be content with updating about the two recent reads that have made an impact on me, The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larson.

The 19th Wife was a misleading book. From the blurb on the back, it looks like a book dealing with a murder in a contemporary Mormon sect that still follows the laws of polygamy. Actually it's a comprehensive book dealing with 'manuscripts' from the 19th century, centering on Ann Eliza Young who was the 19th wife (well, not exactly, there appears to be a lot of debate on that topic) of Brigham Young, who lead the Mormon movement after the death of its founder, Joseph Smith.

Esbershoff flits between manuscripts, letters and archived documents (no doubt with their basis in truth but something he's allowed his imagination to run riot with) as well as the modern day story involving Jordan. The book opens with Jordan, an outcast member of this sect, reading on the Internet his mother has been arrested for the murder of his father. Jordan was outcast from the sect a number of years before for holding hands with one of his many sisters, although it is later revealed in the book that Jordan is gay. Another no-no for this sect. At first, I thought this book would fail my 50 page rule. The sections with Jordan seemed clumsy, that anyone could have written then. Without the story to unravel, there was nothing to keep me here.

Then Esbershoff moved onto the manuscript belonging to Ann Eliza and from there I couldn't put the book down. He paints a very vivid picture of individuals involved with the initial stages of the Mormon faith, the fragmentation of the faith (and before everyone flames me, yes I do know that the section that believes in multiple marriages is in the minority. Alas, that story sells more newspapers) and very believable female characters. I tend to find female characters written by a male writer don't always ring true but Esbershoff hit the nail on the head. Also, the added introduction 'written' by
Harriet Beecher Stowe was a nice touch as well.

This book was a real page turner and I was almost disappointed when we returned to the present to Jordan's story. The manuscripts chapters provided an interesting contrast between the hopes of the founders of the faith to what people have warped it into. Certainly a book with food for thought and will certainly spark a lively discussion.

And now I have poured my coffee, turned the washing machine onto to spin and Him Indoors has been roused from his slumbers, I shall turn to my next book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson.

I picked this book up out of mere curiosity and the hype surrounding it. Larsson died not long after he completed his third manuscript in this series (called Millenium) so it has that edge of sadness over a living author (especially one that died so recently). According to his bio, he was a leading authority on right-wing politics and this shines through in this book.

The story opens with Mikael Blomkvist, a Swedish journalist who has been charged with libel against a Swedish industrialist suspected of foul play. He is offered a chance to get away from it all, by Henrik Vanger, another Swedish industrialist. Mikael's 'cover' job is to write a biographical history of the Vanger family, with all its skeletons, including many colourful right-wing family members who were part of the Nazi movement in Sweden. In reality, he has been asked to investigate the disappearance/possible murder of Harriet Vanger in the 1970s. What follows is a roller coaster ride as Mikael battles to solve the mystery as well as attempting to save his floundering magazine, Millenium, which is suffering badly after the libel case.

I really don't want to reveal too much more of the story apart from two elements. One, the twist had my jaw drop open in disbelief, I simply sped through the final pages and was not disappointed. Two, Lizbeth Salander is a fascinating and troubled female character. Some of the scenes portraying some of the sexual abuse she suffers is horrifying but a small part of the militant feminist inside me cheered when she got her revenge.

A small warning: some parts of this book are extremely graphic and did turn my normally strong stomach. But Larsson is not merely using them for 'shock value', these incidents gel well within this story.

That's my lot for the week. My current read is continuing the Frost In May series (which I only discovered earlier this year) and whatever my course throws at me (starting tomorrow - weeeee!).


Bernadette in Australia said...

It's funny, i liked the modern story in 19th Wife more than the historical one. But I agree with you about Lisbeth Salander in the girl with the dragon tattoo - she is excellent. The 2nd book in the series is even better I think and I'm looking forward to the final book which is due out here next month.

A Woman with an Opinion said...

Hi there, thanks for reading the post :)

I bought the second book the other day and have been resisting temptation to open it. Think the third one is due out here on 1st October which I'm looking forward too as well.