Wednesday, 29 September 2010

seventy-four.

Jonas by Jens Bjørneboe (1955)

Jonas is looking forward to starting school. But he doesn't know how to read, the letters don't make sense to him so he cheats by learning everything by heart at home. When he is found out in second grade, the teacher wants to send him to the other school, where all the dumb kids go. So Jonas runs away.

"Every new teacher should read this book", according to the Chicago-Sun-Times praise on the book's cover. And I agree that it would have been true at that time, but I'm not really sure if it still holds today. The characters in the book are definitely interesting and I actually laughed out loud a couple of times, but it doesn't focus as much on Jonas as the title indicates. You don't really get to know Jonas.

The book has been published in English, probably some time in the fifties, so if you come across it, you should read it.

Friday, 24 September 2010

seventy-three.

Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller (2003)

A female teacher, Sheba, is having a sexual relationship with her fifteen year old student. After being arrested she is living together with a former colleague from the same school, Barbara. Barbara is secretly writing a true account of the affair, starting with the day Sheba arrived at the school.

What was she thinking? Barbara is doing a marvellous job putting together the story of the scandal. She didn't treat Sheba well when she started teaching at the school, and she is certainly jealous of everyone around Sheba. When the scandal of the relationship surfaces, the media is making fun of Sheba, her husband refuses her to see her children but Barbara moves in with Sheba and takes care of her.

The film version was really intense, if I remember it correctly. I didn't find the book as intense, but it was an interesting read.

sixty-nine, seventy, seventy-one, seventy-two: poirot

After the Funeral by Agatha Christie (1953)

After her brother's funeral, Cora turns to her family and says 'he was murdered, wasn't he?'. Two days later Cora is found dead, murdered in her bed. The family's solicitor believes that Cora was right and gets Poirot on the case.

I think I have had it with family feud themed Agatha Christie's novels. Didn't enjoy this one as much as I should although it had a very clever twist.

Hickory Dickory Dock (1955)

Miss Lemon's sister is working at a student house where a lot of things have disappeared. Poirot is fascinated by the list of missing things and he want to solve the puzzle. After having a chat with the students, a girl confesses to Poirot. The next day the girl is found dead with a suicide note next to her. But was it really suicide?

A great crime novel, I really enjoyed the setting with the student house and all the drama.

Cat among the Pigeons (1959)

A royal prince in a small state in the Middle East and his British friend are planning an escape because of rumours of a revolution. The plan fails as the plane they are flying crashes in the mountains, but some precious stones are missing. A princess from the same state is starting at a top-notch private school for girls in England and a few weeks later a teacher is found murdered. Is there any connection to the jewels?

Poirot is not part of this story until over half-way into it, but it such a thrilling tale. Another great Poirot story.

the Clocks (1963)

A young typist is sent to a house owned by a blind woman, but when she comes there she discovers a dead man. The woman who owns the house claims she didn't ask for a typist and has no idea who the man in her living room is. But the strangest thing is the clocks; four beautiful clocks set to the same time and none of them belong to the house.

Another story where Poirot doesn't appear from the start. And yet another great story.

All these stories can be found in the Poirot: the Post-War Years omnibus. And now I'm taking a break from Agatha Christie and Poirot, I think I still have 12 more stories to read.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

sixty-eight, sixty-seven, sixty-six: twenty thousand streets under the sky

Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky by Patrick Hamilton
- a London trilogy

the Midnight Bell (1930)

"The kiss of a wicked woman - the kiss of Sin... The sweet, brief, virginal kiss of Sin! A miraculous and exhilarating contradiction! It remained on his mouth like a touch of violets. There had never been such a kiss in the history of the world."
Bob is a waiter at the Midnight Bell, a small pub in London. One a very busy night he meets a prostitute, but she is the prettiest girl in London. She is in a poor state, owing a few shillings on her rent. Bob has never lent money to strangers before, but the pretty Jenny, although she protests, gets the money and promises to pay him back. Bob cannot stop thinking about Jenny and starts walking the streets of West End in hope to see her again. And then he does and fell in love. He spends an awful lot of money on Jenny who hardly ever shows up on time, if at all, and is always in a miserable state. Bob is proud of the 80 pounds he has in the bank, but the more he sees of Jenny, the more money gets withdrawn from his account. But he loves Jenny and she is going to pay him back.
"And how could he complain? Languishing husbands might love her to distraction; authors might give her books. She might go to Paris. But she was here now, forgiving him with little pressures - his 'girl'. She had said she loved him"

the Siege of Pleasure (1932)

"'All through a glass of port,' Jenny, the girl of the streets, had said. She had said it in jest, but who shall decline to surmise that she had stumbled upon the literal truth? If Jenny had not taken that first glass she would not have taken the second, and if she had not taken the second she would not have taken the third, and if she had not taken the third she would not then and there have resolved to abandon herself to the pleasures and perils of drink. And if she had not done that, she would not have become involved in the events which lost her her job, and set her going down the paths of destruction."
The second book in the trilogy is all about Jenny, Bob's love interest, and that fatal night that made her late for her new job as a maid in service at the age of 18 and thus made her a girl of the streets.

the Plains of Cement (1934)

"'Doesn't the lake look lovely?' said Mr. Eccles, for by now they had walked right round into view of the lake. 'I shall never forget this lake'.
'Won't you?'
'No. That was where we walked when we first Knew, said Mr. Eccles, giving her another nudge, while Ella concentrated on gropingly on a Letter. A postman alone could curb this prodigious man."
Ella is the barmaid at the Midnight Bell and one day an older man, Mr. Eccles, asks her on a date to the theatre. A few weeks later they are engaged, but Ella is never sure of her feelings for this much older man with such a temper. And who she really loves is Bob, but he is unaware of her feelings.

Such a strange trilogy, not in chronological order at all and the second book doesn't really correspond with the other two. I think that if the part about Jenny's past had been left out, it would have been a much better book. But such lovely language and style of writing.

I agree with Doris Lessing; 'Hamilton was a marvellous novelist who's grossly neglected'. I'm definitely going to read more Patrick Hamilton, and I urge you to do the same.

Monday, 6 September 2010

sixty-five, sixty-three, sixty-two: poirot

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie (1940)

Inspector Japp phones up Hercule Poirot to inform him that the dentist he just visited, is found dead. The inspector thinks it's a suicide, but Poirot doesn't agree. One of the dentist's patients is also found dead at his hotel room - a lethal dose of anaesthetics. And then one of the other patients on that day, a woman, is missing. Poirot suspects it all to be connected to yet another patient, an important bank man with plenty of enemies.

The background of this story is World War II, and it has a fair share of foreign spies and war time angst. This is also the first Poirot story where I couldn't focus while reading, maybe it had too many possible plots for my little brain. I didn't even get it when Poirot was laying it all out.

Five Little Pigs (1942)

A young woman comes to Poirot and asks him if he could investigate a murder that happened 16 years ago. Her mother had been found guilty for murdering her father, but the woman had received a letter left to her from her mother stating her innocence. Poirot goes back in time and interviews the five other people who were on the crime scene, but all evidence points towards the mother.

This is one of the best Poirot stories I have read so far. I thought I would get tired of reading the same account of the murder over and over again, but all the testimonies are written very differently and you definitely notice the minor details which help Poirot solving the mystery.

These two stories both use nursery rhymes as chapter titles and they are constantly on Poirot's mind while he's solving the crimes.

Taken at the Flood (1948)

During an air-raid in London, Hercule Poirot seeks shelter at the Coronation Club. Here he hears a rumour about a woman who lost her husband in Africa and then remarried a rich old man in England, but the first husband isn't dead. Two years later; a man is found dead at a hotel in a small village where the woman, now very rich and very disliked after her second husband's death during an air-raid, lives. The dead man has been blackmailing the widow by saying that he can prove that her first husband is in fact very much alive.

So many intrigues in this story. There is the pure hatred of the family of her second husband as she inherits everything from him. And her brother who cares more about the money than the well-being of his sister. And I was absolutely shocked to discover that Poirot lets someone getting away with murder!

All these three stories can be found in Poirot: the War Years. I still have four more Poirot omnibuses to read.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

sixty-four.

the Storyteller's Market by Gert Nygårdshaug (2008)
(Fortellernes marked)

Eight letters sent from an old priest to a retired veterinarian and a librarian takes them on a voyage through history. The old priest is on a hunt for the truth about Jesus and the creation of Christianity. He writes the letters as mystery hunts, where he gives clues about his next discoveries and the two friends in a small village in Norway manage to follow his discoveries by using literary sources. And what the priest discovers will be a blow to all religions springing from the deserts in the Middle East.

Holy Grail, Templars, Maria Magdalena. Same shit, but definitely new and interesting wrapping. What I really liked about this version is the characters and their surroundings. The retired veterinarian and the librarian love good food and drink, fishing and women. And it is set some time in the near future with global warming. This is not a thriller, no hero being chased by Templars or the Illuminati, and I was actually relieved to discover it. Another thing that I liked was that it isn't a complicated book and it is easy to follow as the important clues are repeated so I never lost track. And finally, it is in no way a copy of other works about the same theme.

The only thing that is wrong with this book is that it has not been translated to English.

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