The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (dir. David Fincher) 2011

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This is the Hollywood film adaptation of a hugely successful 2005 Swedish book. It follows a highly regarded 2009 Swedish movie of the same story. It is a brave undertaking to attempt the third retelling of a story that has already been done twice, so well and so recently.  However “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” acquits itself admirably – it is different enough to be interesting and stylish enough to be enjoyable.

The film is a thriller and it stars Daniel Craig, so comparisons are inevitable. He says that he worked hard not to be seen as James Bond in this film and the thrills are more psychological than action, but it still comes across as a more thoughtful installment of the 007 genre. If the film company did not want comparisons with that franchise, they should have avoided using the, admittedly very good, opening credits. Once you imagine  “What James Bond does on his holidays” at the start, the thought stays with you throughout the film.

I loved Rooney Mara as Lisbeth. She was nominated for an Academy Award as best actress and it was well deserved. The original title of the book in Swedish was “Men Who Hate Women” and Lisbeth is almost the woman who exacts revenge. In this version she is quite different from the character written in the book but she manages to keep the same attitude and demeanour.  The violence is pretty full-on, but it is an angry and aggressive story, so although I am generally not a fan of shocking brutality in films, there is a good argument here, that it is relevant to the narrative.

The acting throughout is admirable, Stellan Skarsgard is excellent as Martin. The scenery is gorgeous. The cinematography is lovely, this received an Academy Award nomination too.

The film is polished and sleek, beautiful to watch and directed with a cold detachment which adds, both to the climate in which it is set and to the chilling story it relates. It was nominated for five Oscars, it won the one for best film editing.

This is a professional, well made, efficient Hollywood movie. Recommended.

 

 

This Charming Man, Marian Keyes, 2008

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It seems to me, from reviews that I have read, that Marian Keyes is not regarded as a serious author. I suspect that this comes from her novels being easy to read. “This Charming Man” is indeed easy to read, but that is because it is well written and not because it does not approach difficult subjects.

The main subjects of this book are abusive relationships, alcoholism and corruption in politics, with brief forays into living with a cancer diagnosis and isolation of cross dressers in rural communities. Marian Keyes has a deftness of touch and a sense of humour that manages to make this book engaging while still keeping the reader aware of the difficulties of the characters lives.

This is no less literature than Dickens or Austen, she has a great deal in common with Jane Austen in that the book is a good insight into society and the social norms of the time in which it is written. This story is told from the points of view of four different women and this is a structure also favoured by Austen. They also have wit in common and both poke gentle fun at their heroines as a way of pointing out the foibles of the culture in which they live. This novel is set in Dublin, London and County Clare.

Having said that, this particular novel is a little darker than some of her other books, although it is remarkable, maybe even a bit of a stretch, that she managed to tie up the loose ends quite as well as she did.

This Charming Man won the Popular Fiction Prize at the Irish Book Awards. I think it should have been considered for other more seriously regarded literary awards also, because there is no doubt that Marian Keyes’ books are going to be regarded as representative of late 20th, early 21st century literature in hundreds of years time.

 

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen, 1818

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Northanger Abbey was actually written in the final years of the 18th Century but was not published until after her death in 1817. Although it has similarities in style and content to “Sense & Sensibility” and “Pride & Prejudice” there are also some major differences.

It is a comedy of manners, but it is more a satire of the gothic novels that were fashionable at the time. So, it does make gentle fun of the contemporary styles of the day, but this book is more specific in its target than her first two novels. This is not to say that she is not just as funny when pointing out the differences between what is said and what is meant in genteel society at that point in history, but this is not the main thrust of the novel.

The story is laid out in the style of a gothic horror novel, with many things foreshadowing dark happenings in the imagination of Catherine, our heroine. These intrigues usually turn out to be much more mundane, such as her discovering that the scrolls found in the desk are only an old laundry list. The books mentioned in the Northanger Abbey are real novels that were popular at the time and, Austen’s knowledge of their content and style shows that, she must have enjoyed reading them herself.

Catherine Morland is much more the ingénue than the usual lead character in a Jane Austen novel, she takes longer to notice when people are behaving badly towards her. This gives the author the opportunity to write some particularly materialistic and vain characters, she is merciless and sharp with these.

This book feels much less a Regency romantic comedy and more the story of an imaginative 17 year old girl leaving home for the first time. Catherine comes of age by realising that the world she has read about in her books is not quite the same as the world she occupies in real life. This gives it a universal truth that is just as true today as it was when it was first written.

In conclusion, although Northanger Abbey, would probably not be my first recommendation as an introduction to the novels of Jane Austen, it is nevertheless, a fine book and worthy of its place as a classic of English literature.

 

 

 

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen, 1813

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“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife” is probably the most famous opening line to a novel in the whole of the English language.

Pride and Prejudice is one of the most loved books as well, it recently came second in a BBC poll of Britain’s best loved books and first in a major Australian poll of theirs. It was the second of Jane Austen’s novels to be completed and it is even wittier than Sense and Sensibility, her first.

Jane Austen gives a great idea of what it was like to be middle class in England in the late 18th century. She manages to portray the hopes and aspirations of the time, while gently poking fun at them. She has a fantastic talent for writing characters and, even though every one of them is slightly caricatured, we care about them despite their faults. She has a wonderful art of showing how people fool themselves into believing what they wish to believe, and this has a timeless quality, just as true today as it was over 300 years ago.

First and foremost, Pride and Prejudice is a romantic novel and there are 4 wonderfully different romances going on here, from the quite inappropriate, through the mildly shocking, to the wildly romantic and we have insight, as it also a comedy of formal manners, into how polite society looks upon them all.

The language is relatively concise, less of the longwinded descriptive prose that was fashionable at the time and more of the pithy epigram. It is easy to read, the story pulls you along, each chapter leaves you wanting to know what will happen next. The ending is wonderful and I’m sure this novel is at least partly responsible for the popularity of costume drama even today.

There are many good reasons why this is still one the most popular books written in English and, if you wish to become acquainted with classic English Literature, there is no better place to start.

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Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen, 1811

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Jane Austen was one the early successes of the self-publishing phenomenon. Sense and Sensibility was her first novel to be published and she underwrote the not inconsiderable costs of the first print run of 750 copies herself. Luckily they all sold and she made a reasonable profit.

Sense and Sensibility is a romantic novel about the coming of age of two sisters at the end of the eighteenth century. It gives a very good insight into the manners and the lives of the rich and of the upper middle class of that time.

This book is easy to read, it eschews the flowery, verbose writing of the time and is succinct and to the point. It is surprisingly funny; Jane Austen pokes gentle fun at the attitudes of her characters and she demonstrates very cleverly, how they convince themselves of their prejudices.

I enjoyed this book as well for its historical information on London. I loved that it is possible to tell which areas and streets were fashionable and which ones were more racy, in the 1790s, by the characters that lived there.

The language has changed slightly in the 200 years since it was written, but Jane Austen’s thoughts are simply put, so the differences are interesting to notice rather than difficult to understand. A case in point is the word sensibility in the title; this is a word that not much used any more, we would be more likely to use the word sensitivity, these days.

As an introduction to classic writing of the late 18th century, Jane Austen is as easy and enjoyable a venture as you are likely to find. I am looking forward to reading her next novel, Pride and Prejudice, and to watching a film adaptation to this one.

Fatherland – Robert Harris (1992)

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Fatherland  is a murder investigation/thriller. It is set in the run up to Adolf Hitler’s 75th birthday and imagines a world where the Nazis won the second world war.

It works very well as a police procedural that escalates. It is well written and the main characters are interesting. The plot twists keep the reader engaged nicely and the story is strong enough to work without the alternate reality theme.

Setting the book in a 1964 Nazi run Europe adds an extra dimension to the book. It is not overdone, it changes some peoples motivation and skews the world’s perspective. I found the change refreshing. The book contains some fictional characters and some fictionalised versions of real characters. He envisages many of those who died or disappeared towards the end of the war as still alive and powerful after Germany won.

Fatherland is well researched and some of the scenes in the book are harrowing but it is not gory or gratuitous in any way. It was a huge best seller when it was released almost 25 years ago. I think it has stood the test of time and is still a very enjoyable read.

 

 

Finders Keepers (Stephen King) 2015

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It is hard to believe that this is Stephen King’s 55th book.

If you know his novels, then you will have a pretty good idea of what to expect in this one. It is well written, has a quick moving, good storyline and the characters and their motivation are all very believable. He has a wonderful ability to keep the reader engaged and wanting to know what happens next.

This book is in his horror, creepy, thriller style. One of my favourite things about his writing is that he manages to write horror stories without being overly gory. There is death and violence here, but it slightly less graphic in its description than is common in many novels, currently.

He also does fantasy type novels, see his Dark Tower series if you are a fan of this genre, they are pretty good.

Finders, Keepers is story driven, it probably won’t have you thinking about the meaning of life, but it will definitely keep you entertained while you read it and it will be difficult to put down once you have got to know the characters inside.