Thursday, May 14, 2009

there are some talented women out there, as well as those from those icy, cold places

This last week I had the pleasure of reading three mindboggling good books, books so good that you don't want them to end and hesitate to start another one right after, sure it can't live up to the pleasure of the one before, and another pretty good book as well. Two of these books continued my personal theme of reading authors from cold, icy lands of long winters, where there seems to be a disproportionate amount of literary talent.

"Doghead"(St. Martins 2009, originally published in Denmark in 2005) by Morten Ramsland comes to us from Denmark, where it's evidently considered the best book written in aeons. It swept the Danish literary awards, winning Author of the Year, Book of the Year, the Reader's Prize, and their very most prestigious prize, the Golden Laurel Prize. It also picked up a couple of prizes in Italy, but so far other nations have withheld their loot from Mr. Ramsland. I enjoyed this book, a rambling recount of a family's generations of harsh luck and odd characters, but not quite so much as the Danish did. It struck me as a much quicker moving John Irving novel, covering as much ground in 5 pages as Mr. Irving might in 75.

Another novel from the cold Northern lands, "Last Rituals" by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Harper 2007, now in paperback, originally published in 2005 in Iceland) absolutely riveted me. This was Icelander Sigurdardottir's first book, and it's unbelievable that she could have such polished prose and well-turned plot on her first outing. A heavily pierced and scarified German graduate student comes to Iceland to write a thesis on medieval witch burnings (which in Iceland were all-but-one of men, unlike mainland Europe, where women were the primary victims). His mutilated corpse is found at the university, and a single mother and attorney is hired by his family to keep an eye on the police's investigation. Ms. Sigurdardottir has a second book just out in the U.S., with the same main character, which I am eager to read.

"Dream House" by Valerie Laken (Harper Collins 2009) was my other top favorite of this very good batch of books, along with "Last Rituals." A neurotic high school teacher pushes her slacking spouse into buying a large fixer-upper in Ann Arbor, Michigan, later learning that a murder occurred there. Incidentally the man who committed that crime as a teenager has just been released from prison. This book is a tour de force, with truly believable, well-rounded, and flawed characters. I never wanted it to end. Like "Last Rituals", this unbelievably good book was a first novel. Both are very literary books, although "Last Rituals" can be termed genre fiction, a murder mystery.

The other very enjoyable book I read was "Life Sentences" by Laura Lippman (HarperCollins 2009). Ms. Lippman is already a bestselling author, but I hadn't read her previous works (her top-selling book, "What the Dead Know" is now on my to read list). Ms. Lippman gives us Cassandra Fallows, a best-selling author of memoirs full of too much information, who has just released a less-well received first novel. Ms. Fallows needs to write another memoir, since fiction isn't working out for her, but she despairs of wringing more material out of her life. Then she finds out that one of the girls she went to school with committed an infamous crime.

I felt like I was on a roll, reading one great book after another, without a dud in the lot. I hope this luck continues.

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