It has been a prodigal summer, lavish in rain, sunshine squandered by days of sheet-grey clouds.
That is a Highveld sentiment of course; readers in Cape Town might hasten to point out the tinder-dry and searing heat they have endured.
Among summer’s pleasures for me, however, has been enforced time indoors, reading and rereading. The advent of a major publisher’s anniversary meant quite a bit of the latter. Faber and Faber celebrated its 40th by issuing a list, Forty Fabulous Fabers(see the list below).
Classic and contemporary jostle here for attention, and the list is, naturally, selective. I would have included Kazuo Ishiguro’s peerless early work An Artist of the Floating World rather than his more recent and not altogether compelling Never Let Me Go.
It was Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer that made mine less so. Her paean to returns, to uninterruptible, cyclical nature and to human conceit about solitude seemed more pressing and poignant in this time of global warming and runaway environmental (and financial) change.
Snow, the Orhan Pamuk novel that both mirrored the Turkey of the time it was written (1999 to 2001) and prefigured internecine cultural and political upheavals to follow, was another familiar well met and savoured.
For relief I turned to the unyielding, peak-truth-to-everyone sensibility of Tim Burton in
The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories. Scarily illustrated by the visual genius himself, it’s a bedside book of an altogether different and nightmarish order.
Tome of the summer is The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson (Maclehose Press), the second in the Millennium trilogy. Larsson died before his work was published, but he lives on in the voluminous novels published to date.
Financial malfeasance is central to Millennium I, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as Larsson seemingly goes about—very successfully—skewering the sort of wrongdoing uncovered by his years as a journalist, but unpunished by the law or society.
Much of its appeal lies in the forensic and exhaustive detail that Larsson weaves into a simple story of loves wrong and right, revenge and family secrets.
The Girl Who Played with Fire establishes the dragon-tattooed outsider Lisbeth Salander as the unquestioned central character of Mail & Guardian Autumn Reading March 20 to 26 2009 5 COMMENT the trilogy (so those rooting for the ever-so-humanitarian magazine editor Mikael Blomkvist, stand down).
Whereas Dragon Tattoo was glacial and somewhat provincial, Millennium II is nasty, bloody, perverse—sex-trafficking, child sex abuse, and so on—and somewhat pacier.
But, really, only just: it is only on page 569 that the action ceases, and it does so almost in medias res.
This is where Millennium III will pick up. Take up this second outing of Salander and Blomkvist and, despite its real-time aura, you will most likely be hooked, again.
Forty all-time favourites
- The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam
- Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam
- The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
- Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster
- The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
- Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
- The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
- The Melancholy Death of the Oyster Boy by Tim Burton
- True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
- Oscar & Lucinda by Peter Carey
- Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
- Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You by Marcus Chown
- Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard by Kiran Desai
- The Brief & Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
- The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell
- Old Possum’s Book of Cats by TS Eliot
- The Waste Land by TS Eliot
- The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden
- QI: Pocket Book of General Ignorance by QI Team
- The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
- Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson
- The Observations by Jane Harris
- The Iron Man by Ted Hughes
- The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
- Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
- The Private Patient by PD James
- Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
- The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
- Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
- The Book of Laughter & Forgetting by Milan Kundera
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
- The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi
- A Grief Observed by CS Lewis
- A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
- A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar
- Snow by Orhan Pamuk
- The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk
- Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
- The Collector of Worlds by Iliya Troyanov