Sunday, 31 March 2013

eighteen, nineteen: the inspector barlach mysteries

 Inspector Barlach is an old detective who has returned to his native Bern after living for years abroad in Constantinople. His heart is failing him, and he knows that he has about a year left of his life.

In the Judge and His Hangman, a police officer has been found dead and Barlach is on the case. The case leads him to his nemesis who once committed a murder in broad daylight with Barlach as a witness and still managed to get away with it. And Barlach solves this case in an extraordinary way.

In Suspicion Barlach has had his heart surgery and is hospitalised when one of the doctors recognises a nazi doctor, Nehle, who is performing surgeries in a concentration camp on a photo in Life magazine. The doctor says to Barlach that Nehle looks exactly like an acquaintance of him, Emmentaler,  who went to Chile before the war. Barlach doesn't think this is a coincidence and decides to check out the case.

These stories are about 100 pages each, and while the Judge and His Hangman is simply too short to explain everything properly, Suspicion is perfection. In the Judge and His Hangman I felt that too much were left out and that the solving of the case was difficult to follow. I'm surprised that it is this story that is on the 1001 list and not Suspicion. I definitely liked Suspicion better and there are some really great characters in that one. I want to read the final Inspector Barlach mystery; the Pledge. 

the Judge and His Hangman was March's read in Line's 1001 books challenge.  

Saturday, 23 March 2013


Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid (1985)

 Annie John grows up in St. John's, Antigua. She is a smart girl, but also naughty which makes her popular amongst the girls in her new class. Annie loves her mother, but she is very strict, so Annie has to hide and lie about things like playing with marbles and spending time with the very dirty Red Girl at the abandoned lighthouse. 

Although it is fun to read about Annie's adventures in Antigua, I was disappointed when I finished it. Was this all? I kept expecting a turning point somewhere and it all seemed too fragmented. And reading the Wikipedia page, I found the reason why; the chapters were published as stories in the New Yorker before they were put together in a book. And when you read them as individual stories they make more sense than a novel. They are witty and Annie's world is an interesting place. But I just wish this book would be more than it is. 

I blame my high expectations on the fact that it is on the list of 1001 books you should read before you die. It made it onto the list in 2008 after the list in 2006 was criticised for having too many dead old white men. I do see the point of a more diverse list, but I know a lot of other books I'd have put on the list instead of Annie John. I have the Autobiography of my Mother on my shelves, so I will give Jamaica Kincaid another chance later on. Her newest novel, See Now Then, also seems intriguing. 

Sunday, 17 March 2013


Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (1891)
A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented

 Tess Durbeyfield has grown up in a poor family, but her father is told that they are ancestors of the ancient and once wealthy d'Urberville family. The family therefore sends Tess away to some distant relatives where she can work and help the family out with money. Alec d'Urberville lives in the house with his blind mother, and Tess' job is to look after the poultry. But Alec, who is not a real d'Urberville at all, desires Tess and one night takes advantage of her.

Tess then decides to run away from Alec and she goes far away to a place no one knows her. There she finds work at a big dairy farm and falls in love with a worker with big plans, Angel Clare. But because of her past, she rejects Angel who keeps persuading her until one days she gives in and agrees to marry him. She wants to tell him her life story before the marriage, but is unable to. On the wedding night, Angel tells his wife about his past lovers, but when Tess finally tells him about Alec, he leaves her.

This was certainly a book that made me think, and grateful for that women's rights have improved during the last century. The biggest question I am left with is; was Tess raped? She was definitely asleep at the time Alec lay down on her and kissed her. And I was really hoping that Angel would be a decent guy, but he turned out to be a man of double standards and a man of principles.

It took a month to get through the 350 pages. The first parts went easily, but after Tess ran away from Alec and got to the farm, I lost interest in the prose about the landscape and changing of the seasons and the philosophical pondering about Tess and her situation. And it dragged on forever, and then towards the very end it suddenly got really interesting again. But the end was definitely disappointing.

I have read some reviews and it seems that this is either a hit or miss, and many consider this as not the best work of Hardy. I have all his works which made it into the 1001 books you must read lists, so I guess I have to read more of him, although it's not very tempting right now. But I do want to see how Roman Polanski turned the novel into a film.

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