Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Millenium Trilogy - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest

The Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, probably one of the most enthralling, obsessive, and entertaining novels I have read lately, is over. The last novel, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest doesn't spoil the amazing impression from the first two ones. On the contrary, I must say it is probably the best one. Maybe because it is the last one. Finally, after nearly 1500 pages we get to see how it all ends. Mikael Blomkvist, Lisbeth Salander, Dragan Armanski, Erica Berger, the policemen, the prosecutors, the criminals, they all gather for one last show. The audience (if there was such) must be on their feet, clapping. Larsson is incredible.

In The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest the author unravels the story he has been building for the past two novels. All secrets are now out and Mikael, Lisbeth, and company fight fiercely to make sure the guilty ones are punished. Throughout the last novel we see their struggle to prove Lisbeth's innocence, fighting corruption and secrets in the highest hierarchical level of the Swedish police. Finally, justice is recovered, thanks to Mikael's persistency and Lisbeth's impressive abilities. I won't spoil the ending but I will only say - it is worth the whole reading.

Interestingly, Mikael and Lisbeth meet only twice during the last two novels. Yet, I felt they were extremely connected. Not only their communication over the internet seems very real, but the reader feels they connect mentally as well. As if Mikael and Lisbeth are the two sides of a coin - one can never see the other, yet they cannot be separated. Far away from a typical love story, Mikael and Lisbeth's relationship is strong and robust. The last few pages indeed prove that.

In my last three novels I have shared so many superlatives about Stieg Larsson's writing style that now I feel I want to comment on some particular parts of the whole trilogy. Firstly, I kept thinking about his attitude towards sex relationships. None of his characters has a conventional love story. Erika and Mikael have been lovers for twenty years. Even though she is married (and her husband knows about her affair and approves of it) and he has a lot of other relationships, they never really lose passion for one another. Lisbeth, on the other hand, finds herself in relationship with both women and men, but Larsson never actually states her sexuality. Because it doesn't matter. I admire his openness about sex and love. He doesn't enclose his characters in the sugarcoated version of love we know from the American movies. On the contrary, his characters are mature individuals, ambitious and genial in their field of work; however, they do not undermine the importance of passion, and the imperfect human nature. They understand human beings are not born to be with only one person, they enjoy sexual freedom, and they are not ashamed to say that to the world. Bravo!

After this literary deviation, back to Larsson and the Millenium Trilogy. To summarize, the critics praises were not exaggerated at all. The Swedish journalist presents an incredible criminal trilogy, which doesn't bore the reader even for a second. You get the mafia, the sexual crimes, the drugs, the secrets, the corrupted police, but nothing of this is trivial or banal. As if Larsson manages to bring a whole new perspective of the typical criminal novel. He transforms what could have been a regular crime story into a literary masterpiece.

I am definitely going to miss Stieg Larsson. For the past month I have lived with these personages, I have thought about their behavior and issues and I have indeed learned from them. I keep repeating one of Lisbeth's phrases when I am about to do something I know will only hurt me at the end: ANALYZE THE EFFECTS.

PS: English translators are driving me crazy. They had a little blast with The Girl Who Played with Fire but in translating the last novel they have once again freed their imagination. The original Swedish title is The Blasted Air Tower. All of the three novels in their English translation start with the girl who. Lisbeth is indeed the main heroine but alternating the author's original choice of a title in such a way is simply unacceptable. Although, I kind of like the association with hornets.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Millenium Trilogy - The Girl who Played with Fire

Yes! I finished the second novel from Stieg Larsson's famous Millenium trilogy and I am a human possessed. This guy is just so good that I have no words to explain it. Well, I will try of course but I am still excited and amazed. The Girl who Played with Fire ended so unexpectedly that it prompts the reader to grab the next book immediately. Unfortunately, I was in the gym and I wasn't able to do so, which resulted in 10 more minutes (which seemed like ages) when I was contemplating the fact that I didn't take the third novel as well.

In The Girl who Played with Fire we meet again Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, our favorite investigating couple. The case from the first book is long gone, but its reflection on the two characters and on their destinies is still obvious. Larsson again focuses on a crime connected to sexual violence. Blomkvist and Salander are trapped in a life-or-death situation, where they investigate trade with sexual slaves and under-age prostitutes from the Soviet republics. The crime is connected to Lisbeth's secret past, about which Larsson only hinted in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I won't spoil the fun; I will just say that nothing in the book is what you expect it to be. I find most contemporary criminal novels highly predictable. Well, Larsson is nothing like that. He just takes you, swipes you of your feet, and then presents you with a solution that seems so logical. It is drawn on the events that have preceded it and it is never something that comes up out of the blue. The Swedish journalist simply possesses a great imagination, an enviable touch for details, and an enthralling style. Combined, these qualities make him a must-read novelist for each one of you that enjoy a really good piece of literature. Being even a criminal novel.

While I was reading the first two novels, I kept thinking - why is Larsson so obsessed and disgusted with sexual violence crimes? I researched it a bit and I found an interesting fact. When he was 15 he witnessed a gang raping a young girl, named Lisbeth. He never forgave himself for not being able to prevent the crime. Obviously, he named his heroine after that girl.

Another thing that grabbed my attention is a little bit more trivial. Whenever Michael or Lisbeth are in the process of investigating or thinking about the crimes (and this is most of the times) they make a coffee and sandwiches. I can't remember how many times I read the phrase "he (she) made coffee and sandwiches and..." but it was A LOT. I know it may sound stupid but it was one of those things that kept sticking up in my mind. The more I thought about it, the more I noticed it. I have my own interpretation of the fact. Larsson, like Michael, is an investigative journalist. Probably, the author here draws from his own experience. It is funny though, as if the only food these people are eating is sandwiches. They surely help with the brain action, or at least that is what Mr. Larsson believes.

This time, the title of The Girl who Played with Fire is the same in Swedish, English, and Bulgarian. No unauthorized liberties from the English translators here.

I already started the last novel, The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. I am both excited and disappointed. I just do not want it to be over. I have enjoyed the trilogy so much that I feel I can keep reading about Michael and Lisbeth for quite a long time.

On the brighter side, The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest is the longest novel. This means nearly 700 pages of blissful enjoyment.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

No More Excuses - Books in Bulgarian Available for Rental in the UK

A while ago I read a rather shocking article in a Bulgarian newspaper - the Bulgarian buys on average 1/2 a book a year. Simple mathematics means that two people share 1 book for a year. And they manage to read it! Well, congratulations to the well educated Bulgarian nation, which finds time to go out and drink, go to the gym, go to (or pretend to) work and all those daily routine activities that make up our lives. But for books, somehow, the average individual doesn't have money or time.

Well, this article is entirely for all those of you who study, work, or both in the UK. The excuses that 1)There are only English books here. I study/talk/work enough in English and I just want a Bulgarian book but I have nowhere to get one from; 2)Well, I have so much luggage and EasyJet just allows 20kg, so if we add up the rakia, the lukanka, the lutenica, etc...well I literally don't have space for books or 3)I don't have money to eat, yet alone spend for books are no longer valid. The first online library in the UK is a fact and now the only excuse you have for not reading is that you simply DON'T WANT TO.

A little bit about Knigoteka. I found out about it from our favorite website Facebook (God bless you, Mark). The terms and conditions are more than simple. You register on knigoteka-bg.com, providing your name, e-mail address, telephone and valid address for correspondance. Knigoteka, on the other hand, promises not to use your personal data for anything else, but to deliver your book. You can order up to two books a month. If you order one the price is 6 pounds, for two - 10 pounds. All postage expenses are handled by Knigoteka. When you register you give a deposit of 10 pounds, which is returned to you right after you mail back the first book/books, of course in good condition and on time.

If you are such a passionate reader, you may as well pay for a year subscription. In that case you pay 100  pounds and you can again borrow up to two books. Once you return them (no deadline here) you can borrow two more and so on. It gets better. With the books you get a free envelope and free stamps, together with an address where you must return the book/books within 1 month.

I have skimmed through the library and it looks pretty good. You can basically choose from almost all genres and authors. I expect that the authors of the site will keep updating the available books if business goes well. And this depends only on you, guys!

I find this initiative positive and inspiring. Personally, I won't be using it because as a passionate reader most of my luggage when I fly to Manchester is full of books. Whenever I feel like I may be out of something to read, my mum sends a package and the drama is over. Of course, I have an enormous library at the university, but I always connect it to studying and textbooks, so I rarely borrow books from there. Call me weird, but I just want to know that the book doesn't come from the same place I spend day and night during exam period.

So now, what is your excuse for not reading? 10 pounds for 2 books is too much? Come on, speaking in UK terms, it is 1/3 bottle JD, two packs of cigarettes, one good dinner at Nando's, 2-3 drinks in Tiger-Tiger or Birdcage, 2 waterpipes and two teas over at the Arabs, 10 Tesco pizza's, 3 menus from the Arab shop next door...Are you still advocating you can't really sacrifice any of these for 2 books a month?

Just for the sake of it, I hope this inspires some people to at least check it out. Maybe think about it and spare 10 pounds to order 2 books. If you are wondering on which ones, I am always there to help and give advice. Just tell me when to stop talking because when I start, I just do not feel the boundary, when I begin boring my company to death.

Read, people, just read!

PS: Even Paris Hilton reads. Or at least it seems so.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The Millenium Trilogy - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I have never quite believed the book reviews in the newspapers. Whenever I see that a novel is far too popular, I have the feeling it is a bit overrated. Of course, I always buy it to see what the fuss is all about, but I read with suspicion.

Something similar happened when I bought Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy. In fact, I was quite furious because in most bookstores the novels were actually all sold out. This in fact tuned me up against the trilogy even more, but as a rule in life, the more you can't have something, the more you want it. So I walked around all bookstores until I was one of the obviously chosen few that have the privilege to read Larsson's books. When I saw the back cover review (a journalist investigates a crime) I was even more convinced that I wouldn't like it. I just can't understand how my mother has the patience to read Lee Child, John Grisham, and all those Russian criminal authors, when the story is ALWAYS the same. Crime. Policeman (alternatively journalist, retired GI, etc). Beautiful and smart woman. They have a relationship. They solve the crime (drugs, prostitutes, money laundering, mafia, you name it). Finito.

Stieg Larsson's first book from the trilogy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo though is amazing. Yes, it is a criminal novel. Yes, there is an investigating journalist and a girl. However, they are far from the typical personages we meet. Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander are contradictory, quick tempered, impulsive, yet extremely smart. They cooperate to solve a dramatic crime that happened 40 years ago. Only to discover the dirty and disgusting secrets of a big and wealthy family. The novel kept me excited and questioning until the end. Absolutely not a regular criminal literary piece.

Stieg Larsson is a famous Swedish journalist and writer, whose investigations expose a world of immoral financial affairs, extremist conspiracies, sexual violence, and antidemocratic practices. The Millenium Trilogy deservingly brings him many awards, among which are Best Scandinavian Novel for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Best Swedish Criminal Novel for The Girl Who Played with Fire. Unfortunately, the author never lived to see his trilogy being published. Some people believe his death is connected to his work as an investigative journalist. Whether these are rumors or not, I doubt we will ever know. The point is, Larsson has an amazing talent, which is a great loss to contemporary literature. I must admit the first 150 pages of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are a bit like a journalist article - long descriptions, dry and mostly informative style. However, after that I simply dove into the novel and I just didn't want to let go. I expect the other two books to be as great, and maybe even better.

An interesting trivia is that the Bulgarian translation is The Men Who Hated Women. This in fact is the original translation from Swedish. I have no idea why the English translation is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but I don't like it even a bit. I just hate when translators simply decide to alter an author's original choice as they fit. They just ruin a huge part of the explanatory power of the book.

Of course, we shouldn't doubt the Hollywood industry, which takes ANY bestseller and tries to win millions from it. Understandably, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has also been turned into a movie, which this year has been presented in Cannes. I suppose the other two novels from the trilogy will be soon to follow.

Next on my list - The Girl Who Played with Fire. I can't believe I am so excited about a criminal trilogy but I am. Imagine, it must be really good!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

My SRB - Secret Reading Behavior

If you are a fan of Carrie Bradshow and Sex and the City you might remember that episode, when Carrie is talking about her SSB - secret single behavior. Today, I decided to share with you some of my SRB - secret reading behavior. Maybe some of you also have those habits. I will be more than happy if I find other reading freaks like me. 

So here it goes. My top 5 of secret reading behavior. I have ordered them bottom up so bear with me till the end of the blog post - the most weird SRB indeed comes at the end. 

  1. In a previous post I have mentioned I enjoy good food. Not only deliciously, but prepared and served with desire. Do not get me wrong, though, I hate cooking. I like going to restaurants where I can order exactly what I want in the amount I want it. What makes a dinner perfect, though, is the presence of a book. I just love the sense of sitting alone in a restaurant, telling to the surprised waiter No, it is just me, opening my book and having a delicious meal. Yes, just by myself. I am not ashamed to sit alone somewhere; in fact whenever I am stressed I simply book a room for just me in a fancy restaurant, I bring my book, I order a glass of wine and I simply forget about all of my problems. 
  2. As mentioned in my profile description, I am a highly organized person. I always arrive early or promptly on all of my meetings (and dates unfortunately; although I would like for the guy to wait for me instead). Unfortunately, most people are just religiously late. And as I hate waiting (and I have to wait most of the times) I bring my book with me. Trust me, even half an hour of waiting for your best friend in the Sofia city centre seems like a second with a good reading in hand. 
  3. Travelling. This is pretty obvious and most people indeed read on long bus, train, or airplane rides. However, I go further than that. I read in the city bus, in the tram; once I was in terrible trafic and I even read in the taxi. I received the weirdest look from the taxi driver. Yes, darling, this is a book and I READ. 
  4. Cues. Who doesn't hate them. This summer I had the unfortunate luck to be stuck in several terrible cues, waiting for an ID, a passport, or whatever. And that's when my current book comes in hand. Again, I received the strangest looks from the people on the cue. OK, what am I supposed to do for 4 hours? Waste my time. Of course, you know me, a passionate reader I sometimes read even on the cue in the supermarket. I know, it is just a few minutes, but come on, this book is just SO DAMN GOOD. 
  5. Well, this you wouldn't believe. Actually, I have never met someone who does that. I walk and I read. Seriously. As much as I love walking and thinking about staff, sometimes I get bored. Plus, I find it a waste of time, which can be pleasantly filled with some reading. Well, the result is not always desirable. I bump into people, I almost get hit by moving objects (cars, buses, bikes, you name it), I hit trees, columns, basically anything that stands in my way. I get these weird comments from people passing me by and one time a guy even took a picture of me. Like an extinct animal. What can I say, I just love reading. 
Well, this is my top 5 secret reading behavior. It is mostly secret because it is usually in front of people I do not know. However, now I have shared it with you. I hope I inspired you to open up a book in a different situation, not only before you go to bed or when you have nothing else to do at home. After all, as I love to say This life is not enough for me to read all the books I want to. Thus, I take every opportunity to make sure this doesn't happen. Call me insane, if you wish, but I have a target, a dream, a purpose. Pleasure is not in achieving your dream, it is in the way of getting there. And my way is marked by a lot of reading. In weird place, weird times, weird situations.