Swamplandia! is an enviable first novel. The New York Times Book Review proclaims: “Vividly worded, exuberant in characterization, the novel is a wild ride. . . . This family, wrestling with their desires and demons . . . will lodge in the memories of anyone lucky enough to read Swamplandia!” True. The writing is vivid, the characterizations are exuberant, and it is memorable, but the last quarter is so terrible that I can’t recommend this book. read more
This book is fantastic, but I’ve had a hard time convincing friends to read it. The full title is Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science, and they’re wary of this subject for the potential gross-out factor, the fear of learning that doctors aren’t perfect, and the suspicion that it’ll be technical and boring. I’ll address these, but the main thrust of this review is to say Atul Gawande has written an engaging work with sincerity and compassion. He contrasts stories of failed attempts with wondrous success cases, tackles the difficult subject of how a good doctor can become dangerous, and speaks for patient education. His observations are presented as a series of essays that can be picked up for a quick read, but will likely pull you from one to the next. read more
Perfume is heavy in detail and light on plot points, so here, to minimize spoilers, is the description from the dust jacket:
In the slums of 18th-century Paris a baby is born. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille clings to life with an iron will, growing into a dark and sinister young man who, although he has no scent of his own, possesses an incomparable sense of smell. He apprentices himself to a perfumer and quickly masters the ancient art of mixing flowers, herbs, and oils. But his quest to create the ‘ultimate perfume’ leads him to commit a series of brutal murders until no woman can feel safe as his final horrifying secret is revealed.
I’ve been reading a book a day this week to chip away at my queue. Emma Donoghue’s Room was next, and there are two things you should know before reading: 1) It’s written from the perspective of a five-year-old boy; 2) The woman (Ma) is being held in the room as a sexual prisoner. I mention the first caveat because the incessant voice of a five-year-old child can become tiresome long before the 321st page; the second, because it’s a disturbing element and something you should know going in. read more
Being a translator isn’t easy—the writer is credited with the good stuff while flaws are blamed on the translator. Many reviews say The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is poorly written or poorly translated. It’s hard to tell which, and I’m going to set aside this question since I can’t read Swedish. The plot is solidly constructed and paced, but suffers when severed from its original setting, culture, and language as the translator makes no effort to bridge the gap for a foreign audience. Example: “Norsjö was a small town with one main street, appropriately enough called Storgatan, that ran through the whole community.” (282) Why is this an appropriate name? I assumed (correctly) that Storgatan meant “Main,” but I’d been hoping for a pun and looked it up just in case. The translation runs unevenly; it uses plain, simple language with frequent cliches, before tossing in an oddball word that no native speaker would include: “Every family had a few skeletons in their cupboards, but the Vanger family had an entire gallimaufry of them.” (134) Context gives this away, but it reads unnaturally in context. read more