The Red Address Book belongs to a dying nonagenarian and is one of the most pleasant feature of the story, as it structures the chapters by important people in her life (almost all of them no longer with us). And what a life she has led! It includes two childbed deaths, a suicide, several orphans, a tragically lost love, a miraculous survival from a bombed military ship during WWII, a dead baby, a crazy French woman, a rape, sexual assault, and more, much more. If you can believe all the tragedies and lucky coincidences, you will love the book, as it’s told in a cheerful and engaging way.
I just could not believe.
The Little Old Lady Who Broke All The Rules is languishing in retirement home that is going downhill when she decides that she and her friends should seek adventures elsewhere. They choose crime and fool everyone through a combination of fastidious preparation and the invisibility of seniors. It’s funny and light and if you have not had your fill of the old-people-can-do-anything fiction wave, you will like the story.
If you are tired of all the books telling you that the French do everything better, here’s one about how you should really look to the Swedes. The author is a Brit married to a Swede and in Lagom: Not Too Little, Not Too Much: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life she sets out to share the Swedish lifestyle and how we, too, can transform our lives by, basically, throwing away all our stuff, getting up early, and aiming for small, calm celebrations. Not exactly the American way, but certainly looks enticing and photogenic.
Fasten your seatbelt. After a starkly violent first chapter, The Father: Made in Sweden, Part I takes us on an epic story of three brothers, raised by an abusive father and a loving but ultimately powerless mother, design and carry out a string of audacious bank heists. As the story unfolds their past is revealed, as is that of the police detective investigating the crimes, and we understand their strong bonds as brothers that protected them growing up and endanger them now.
Interestingly, “Anton Svensson” is a pseudonym for two authors working together. They sure can concoct a powerful story. And this is only part 1…
Perhaps you read Britt-Marie Was Here, lauded here a couple of months ago. And if you did, and liked it, you will undoubtedly love A Man Called Ove. For everyone else, A Man Called Ove stars a grumpy, fussy, lonely old man who misses his dead wife so much that he spends the first many chapters trying to commit suicide, in a completely controlled, preplanned, unobtrusive manner, as befits his style. But life intervenes as his new neighbors need help backing up their moving trailer without destroying his house, an old friend needs help escaping from the clutches of the social services, a young man needs help when his dad throws him out, and many people need rides to the hospital. The story flashes back movingly to his hard life while he grudgingly, but dutifully helps everyone and eventually finds a warm circle of friends.
A touching and comforting story if you need reassurance that our fellow human beings are mostly good.
In the spirit of the 100-Year Old Man Who Jumped Out of the Window, Britt-Marie Was Here is the apparently simple story of an apparently simple woman who transforms her life after walking away from her cheating husband and his controlling way. But unlike the 100-year old man, Britt-Marie encounters no gangs or elephants, just a bunch of kids in an economically depressed small town who love soccer and would love nothing more than a proper field. She will save the day, but slowly, never giving up her OCD ways, and never succumbing to an easy happy-ever-after ending. Lovely.
The heroine of The Other Woman is a temporary confused young adult working in a hospital cafeteria, where she meets a married doctor and embarks on an obviously dodgy affair. The book explores her curiously sophisticated analysis of the situation, and the ending is a breath of fresh air. Nicely done.
The Drowned Boy is a young boy who drowns in his family’s pond under suspicious circumstances. His father is overcome by grief while his mother wants to immediately rebuild her life. The police will have to work hard to find the truth.
The strength of the story is not so much the plot (although it twists nicely, to the very end) but rather the psychological study of the parents and the family of the mother.
The Fly Trap is a memoir of a Swedish entomologist who specializes in a subset of flies. Don’t leave yet! It’s really quite entertaining, as a stream-of-consciousness diary of his life, the storied life of the inventor of the clever fly trap he uses (the son of a French immigrant to Sweden), and, most amusing, rantings about the silly ways of eco-warriors. And the kitchen sink, in this case the factoid that the author bought a house because the outhouse it came with had belonged to some 19th century bishop and poet. It is a two-seater, if you can picture that.
Fly collectors must have a lot of time on their hands as they lie in wait for their subjects. The result is a success, especially if you, like me, are always curious about other careers than the one you chose.
My Struggle: Book Two: A Man in Love takes the author from his childhood and very young adulthood, narrated in Book 1, through fatherhood, with a wonderfully resonant start juggling strollers and whiny kids and attending what looks like a standard, miserable birthday party, at least for the introvert dad and his introvert daughter. The pace of the action is as glacial as in Book 1, as the author reflects on minute uncomfortable moments and how they arise and move on — and yet we keep reading, or at least at did, because we do want to know what’s coming next or rather what came before, as the story unfolds mostly backwards, and keeps going for almost 600 pages.
As in the previous book, one of the delights of the story are the little asides about life in Sweden (where the author and his eponymous hero moved, rather suddenly, from Norway). Who knew that Swedish apartment dwellers have to reserve time slots in the building laundromat? How civilized and also a little, shall we say, rigid… And I kept thinking back of how the hero’s trials with fatherhood and the incredible boringness of life with small children, interspersed with great big laughs, matches the findings of All Joy and No Fun, reviewed recently on the blog, — but Knausgaard is able to render the dual aspects in a much more engaging manner.