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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Archive for the day “May 14, 2011”

Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman: A Review

The inexplicable success of Stieg Larsson’s mysteries is the best thing that has happened to Scandinavian writers since Selma Lagerlöf. Larsson’s untimely death left a void that publishers are trying to fill desperately. Scandinavian names, long descriptions of cold weather and depictions of carnage in Sweden, Norway and Denmark are suddenly in vogue. Since many Americans are a bit confused on where Sweden is actually located, all European mystery authors are experiencing a surge of interest in their books.  

As you can see from the cover of Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman, this author’s publishers are doing all they can to milk Stieg Larsson’s fame for all it is worth. This, however, is something that, in my opinion, this author doesn’t need. This book is very good. Its only defect is that it is too drawn out. In his zeal to create as many twists to the plot as humanly possible, Jo Nesbø goes a bit too far and creates a 100 or so pages somewhere in the middle of this long book that feel quite redundant.

If I had to compare Jo Nesbø’s style of mystery writing to another author’s, I would say he bears no similarity to the weirdly boring Stieg Larsson. Rather, Jo Nesbø is the Norwegian version of Michael Connelly. (Connelly apparently agrees and has published rave reviews of this writer’s work.) Nesbø’s protagonist called Harry (sic!) Hole is a police officer on a mission. He is also a lonely drunk and a die-hard romantic who gets treated badly by the woman he loves. Nesbø isn’t nearly as good as Connelly in creating a complex and richly-layered protagonist. His Harry looks a little cartoonish at times. He is much better than Connelly, however, in writing the ending to his mystery. Connelly’s endings tend to be much too abrupt. This gifted writer doesn’t seem to realize that you cannot announce the culprit’s name on the last page and just be done with it. The laws of the genre require that after the culmination there should be a winding-down period where the readers are offered an explanation of either what drove the murderer to commit the crimes or a description of the deductive process of the detective that resulted in solving the mystery. Nesbø’s ending is absolutely perfect.

The Snowman is a serial killer mystery. In the novel, Norwegians seem quite frustrated with the fact that they alone, of the three Scandinavian countries, have failed to produce a serial killer of their own. There are other cute moments in the book that have a very specific Norwegian flavor. See, for instance, the following passage that would have Ayn Rand die all over again were she around to read it:

‘It’s a very small shop. We don’t have many customers. Almost none until the Christmas sales, to be honest.’‘How. . .?’‘NORAD. They support shops and our suppliers as part of the government’s trade programme with Third World countries. The message it sends is more important than money and short-sighted gain, isn’t it.’

This is, of course, a very dangerous game that the third richest country in the world (after Luxembourg and Qatar) is playing. Oil comes and goes while people who have been corrupted by such ridiculous handouts remain.

There are some sparks of wisdom in this novel that I wanted to share with you. One of the characters says, for example:

Our generation has turned itself into servants and secretaries of our children. . . There are so many appointments and birthdays and favorite foods and football sessions that it drives me insane.

Anybody who has observed the frantic scrambling of the Western parents to organize endless play dates and activities for their children will have to agree with this observation. 

I enjoyed this book quite a bit and recommend it highly. Of course, it didn’t hurt that snow was mentioned pretty much on every single page making this summer heat somewhat more bearable.
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Movies I Actually Love, Part I

I have mentioned time and again how much I dislike cinema. It pretends to be art but almost always fails to live up to the claim. As entertainment, it is too authoritarian for my taste. There are, however, several films that I love and consider to be as close to works of art as any movies can be. Here they are in no particular order.

1. Before Almodovar sold himself out to Hollywood and started churning out idiotic tear-jerkers of the Hable con ella and Todo sobre mi madre variety, he was actually a great movie-maker. What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984) is, in my opinion, his greatest work. Every frame, every move of every actor, every single word are absolutely amazing. I really wish we could have the early Almodovar back, but obviously that’s not going to happen.
2. Before Javier Bardem sold himself out to Hollywood and became the new favorite lap dog of the egregiously untalented Penelope Cruz, he was one of the most gifted actors of his generation. Mondays in the Sun (2002) is so professionally and beautifully made and Bardem is so incredibly good in it that I can’t stop watching this film. I’m now on my second DVD because I watched the first one so many times that it became useless.
3. El verdugo (1963) or Executioner by Luis Garcia Berlanga is a classic of Spanish cinema. It is a very quiet, low-key portrayal of how easily and casually one can slip into performing acts of atrocity in the most mundane way possible. In many ways, this film is very symbolic of what the entire XXth century has been like.
4. In case you think I only like Spanish-language movies, you are wrong. Crash (1996) by David Cronenberg (not to be confused with a 2004 film by the same name) is a brilliant movie. It has been criticized by prissy viewers and film critics. Nevertheless, it is one of the most insightful cinematic analyses of sexuality that I have ever seen. The movie’s tone is subdued to the point of being flat which is precisely what makes it standout against the background of regular Hollywood concoctions that attempt to deal with sex. Hollywood film-makers and audiences are so terrified of sexuality that they talk, cry, babble and prattle it to death.
5. As I said many times before, nobody knew how to make movies like the Russians. It’s very difficult to choose one film that I consider to be the best among the incredible production of the Soviet filmmakers. I guess, Unfinished Piece for the Player Piano (1978) has got to be the winner from the Soviet epoch. The film is based on a play by Anton Chekhov. Chekhov is obviously a genius and making a film based on his work is a huge challenge. Nikita Mikhalkov, the director, used to be so good that he created a version of Chekhov which is better than the original. This is also the only film where Mikhalkov delivers a great performance as an actor. (His acting talents are extremely limited but here he was really good.) Forget about the plot of this movie, just observe how beautifully the director creates the ambiance. The actors are phenomenal, as usual in Soviet movies.
6. From the post-Soviet era, I recommend Heart of a Dog (1988). This movie is based on a novel by one of the greatest Russian writers of the XXth century, Mikhail Bulgakov. Once again, as amazing as the novel is, the film manages to be almost as good. Unlike the previous movie I listed here, I don’t think this one exists with English subtitles. Which is a shame because non-Russian movie-lovers are losing out on something huge here.
(To be continued. . .)

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