I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions, but I’m going to try for a summer one and aim to post here more often.

My recent reading has been largely fiction. I finished  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo a week or so ago and started The Girl Who Played With Fire.

What follows definitely includes some spoilers. Consider yourself warned.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was an excellent book. It is always impressive when an author is able to sustain a story over that kind of length without losing focus. The story isn’t incredibly deep or profound, perhaps, but it is captivating, with vivid characters and a variety of interesting subplots. The story is very layered. There is Blomkvist, the journalist found guilty of libel and the plots that emanate from him (the results of the libel suit, on the one hand, and the job he gets offered on the other). And then there is Lisbeth Salander, the young hacker who has her own complex interactions with government interference in her life, along with the growing relationship that develops between her and Blomkvist. Surrounding Blomkvist and Salander are a constellation of other characters who float in and out of the core stories. As I said, complex, but impressively managed.

Sadly, A and I followed it up by going to see the film version of the The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which was disappointing. I don’t understand the positive critical response to it (I have to assume the critics haven’t read the book), because the movie altered some very fundamental elements of the book (ie the difference calling the police and not calling them when one discovers that someone is a serial killer is huge) and removed whole aspects of the book (ie Blomkvist’s relationship with Erika, which led to Erika being fairly irrelevent in the film).

I can’t figure out whether I would have enjoyed the film without having read the book. I certainly felt stuck comparing the two, whether I wanted to or not. The book was too fresh in my mind not to.

The one positive aspect of the film, though, was the casting. The characters, all of them, although particularly Blomkvist and Salander, were perfect representations of what I had in mind after reading the book.

I’m still only at the beginning of the The Girl Who Played With Fire, but enjoying it so far. I have no desire to see the film (which is playing in town this month), though.

Let’s call it research…

I’ve recently read two books by Barbara Demick that I’ve been going on and on to A. about, so I thought this would be a good place to start this blog!

I can’t quite remember how I found out about Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, I know it was shortly after I read Guy Delisle’s graphic novel, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (actually, it was a bit of a Guy Deslisle orgy, I read Shenzhen and Burma Chronicles in the same week). While Delisle’s books offer a fascinating personal, outsider’s perspective on repressive countries, Nothing to Envy is something else entirely. The website offers a thorough description. Briefly, the book is based on interviews with six people, from the same city in northern North Korea, near the Chinese border, all of whom have defected to South Korea by the end of the book. Demick’s writing is vivid and the city and it’s people come to life.

I’m not writing anything that directly hooks up with Nothing to Envy, of course, although there are aspects that will certainly feed into the novel I’m working on (let’s refer to it as PC). Demick’s choice of individuals to follow is, of course, constrained by circumstance — she can’t talk to people who haven’t left — but all the same, within that, the people are all very different and the stories of how they came to defect vary tremendously. I’m intrigued by the mindsets that are portrayed, the way in which people cope with such an atmosphere (heavily constrained socially as well as politically).

When I looked up Demick to see what else she had written, I was thrilled to find Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Saravejo Neighborhood (out of print, I got a copy through inter-library loan). Logavina Street is a lot more relevant to PC. Relevant enough, in fact, to throw me into the depths of another round of complete indecision as to where PC is going (or, more properly, where it’s coming from, as it is the background and “big picture” stuff that is eluding me). Logavina Street has a similar set up to Nothing To Envy, people in a small geographic area experiencing particular external stress. Logavina Street differs in the exact circumstances, of course — constant bombardment, snipers, the omnipresent reality of war is obviously a different sort of thing. It also differs, though, in the outcome — some of the people escape from Bosnia, others stay, some go and return. Anyway, it’s a fascinating read. It certainly gave me a lot to consider.

More later…