Review: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Swamplandia! is an enviable attempt at a 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 the book as a whole. read more

Review: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind

Perfume is heavy in detail and light in terms of 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.”

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Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

I’ve been reading a book a day this week to start chipping away at my queue. Room, by Emma Donoghue, was next and there are two things you should know before reading: 1) It is written from the perspective of a five year old; 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 can become tiresome long before the 321st page; the second, because this is understandably a disturbing issue for some readers and something you should know before going in. Also, block out a nice chunk of time—it’s a fast read and difficult to put down. read more

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

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 this question aside 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