Reading Challenges

November 24, 2010

G.W. Dahlquist's The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters

Every literary review and author testimonial published regarding G.W. Dahlquist's The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters boasts a staggering list of overlapping genres or literary/cinematic references that the novel calls to mind.  Initially, I had my doubts about a book whose end papers boast the following descriptions: "Think of The Advenutres of Sherlock Holmes: its lurid plots, its murky pea-soupers.  Now apply the production values of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, commission a re-write by the Marquis de Sade." and "Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, Edgar Allen Poe and Alexandre Dumas with shades of Kubrick..."  I was dubious as to whether the book would live up to the standards of such formidable giants, some of whom I count amongst my absolute favorites.  Yet, now faced with the task of noting my own thoughts on the book, the only words that come to mind are more of those genre hybrids that inspire both curiosity and skepticism at the same time.  Victorian sci-fi.  Gothic alchemical psychoanalysis.  Erotic swashbuckling steampunk thriller.  

There, now that all that genre twisting is out of my system, read this fabulous book with its artful style that isn't afraid of a run-on sentence or two and beautifully compiled, copious adjectives. The writing is lovely, the characters--although unoriginal in their unlikely-misfits-thrown-together-from-all-social-casts--are fun and personable, and it's a damn good story to boot. The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters is a fantastic tale with rotating narrative accounts told by its three main characters who unexpectedly find themselves fighting a mysterious cabal whose coercion therapy holds great consequences for both the individuals involved and the fate of several nations. Stylistically, aspects of Philip Pullman and other contemporary British writers come to mind, though Dahlquist is an American playwrite.  There exists surprisingly little buzz or background information about the books, but I did dig up the following interview with the author via Powell's Books HERE.  A sequel entitled The Dark Volume has been published by Penguin that I happily acquired recently and will soon dive into.  The official website for the books is HERE.  I can't help but think what a great film the book would make.  As I was reading, I saw the story's action unfold in my mind as a series of cinematic sequences, but since the first book seemed to tank in terms of sales, I suppose a film is rather doubtful...

I leave you with another review that begins with yet more labels, but in the author's own words: "a mixture of HP Lovecraft, Sherlock Holmes and Victorian pornography..." HERE

Camilla Läckberg's The Ice Princess

While I'm on a Scandinavian thriller jag, I should add Camilla Läckberg's The Ice Princess to my list of recently read nordic crime novels.  I never used to consider myself a thriller kind of gal until Stieg Larsson's books came into my life.  Since then, Swedish writers have made me fall hook, line and sinker for their take on the highly politicized murders and cold cases from their...well, cold country.  Lackberg is another fine example of a Swedish writer who uses her hometown (in this case, Fjällbacka)--from its climatic patterns to its socio-political terrain--to shape a mystery in intimate detail.  I look forward to reading the follow-up novel, The Preacher.

Many of the Swedish thrillers I've read share a similar interest for discussing themes related to social concerns for women, immigrants and the rise of right-wing extremism encapsulated within a winter landscape that renders life challenging, providing enough darkness to hide in the shadows and enough snow to bury secrets undetected.  Moreover, the idea of one's past actions resurfacing years later to negative effect are central in the stories of Läckberg and Larsson.

Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse Novels & Alan Ball's True Blood

HBO's series True Blood, based on Charlaine Harris' The Sookie Stackhouse Novels, has been renewed for a forth season.  For my part, I've just read the eigth novel (Dead and Gone), the complete short stories (compiled in A Touch of Dead) and viewed the show's third season.  I'm not one for hype, and there's certainly plenty of that surrounding True Blood--in France, it's the show to watch and Americans seem to be ga-ga for the trashy sex scenes they'll never catch on Prime time--but cher reader, turning your nose up for such reasons would be a grave mistake.  

Harris has created an expert depiction of small town life that is filled with humor, gothic southern mystique, monster lore and lovable characters.  Woven into her artfully crafted universe of vampires, bar maids, shape-shifters and local rednecks, there is also a message of tolerance and equal rights for all that rings through loud and clear.  As Harris says herself in the following interview, it may not be subtle, but her metaphor for gay and minority rights is wrapped up in the vampire's coming out of the coffin campaign (note the God Hates Fangs sign in the opening credits of Alan Ball's True Blood).  True Blood departs considerably at times from the plot of the Sookie Stackhouse Novels and expands the roles of secondary characters like Jason, Terry and Lafayette (fabulously portrayed by Ryan Kwanten Todd Lowe and Nelsan Ellis, by the way).  The great character acting is reason enough to invest time in watching the show, but the books flow so well from one to the next, you may just find yourself  running to the store to buy them all.

Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander

Recently I was introduced to the Yellow Bird films based on Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell's beloved inspector Kurt Wallander books.  The timing couldn't be better as I've been searching for something to help me avoid the withdraw symptoms experienced since completing Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy (in both book and film format).  Similar socio-political themes and nordic small town locations help create the same atmospheric tension that Larsson crafted so well.  Incidentally, Yellow Bird is also the same company that produced the Millenium films.  I haven't had the pleasure of reading Mankell's series yet, but will put it on my wishlist.  As so often happens, the books appear to vary from the films which, based on what I've read on fan sites, offer a more lighthearted take on the character and also focus on his detective daughter Linda from the get-go.

Inspector Wallander appears to be a pretty popular character: he has his own website, two televised/filmic takes on his life in Sweden and a British remake with none other than Kenneth Branagh in the lead.  For now I'm enjoying watching Krister Henriksson's portrayal of Wallander in the Yellow Bird series, but who knows how attached I'll get to Henning Mankell's Ystad inspector?

And if you happen to be heading off to southern Sweden any time soon, be sure to follow the inspector's footsteps in Ystad with information from this helpful website HERE

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