twenty.

Forty Days Without Shadow by Olivier Truc (2012)
 An ancient Sami drum is stolen from a gallery in Kautokeino and a reindeer herder is found murdered out on the vidde. And with a UN conference on indigenous peoples coming up, the drum needs to be found as fast as possible. Kenneth Nango and Nina Nansen from the reindeer police are asked to help out on the cases. 
Kenneth, a local Sami, who has been in the police for decades has admirers and enemies, even within the police. He knows most of the people in Kautokeino. Nina Nansen has just started working in the reindeer police and as she is from the south of Norway, she is not used to the conditions and cultures of the north. And she is especially fascinated by the sun coming back on the horizon.

As the plot thickens, a Frenchman with a taste for young girls and metals, makes his presence known in Kautokeino. It also seems that corrupt politicians and police are involved in the case. And then there is an old map indicating a gold mine.

It is always interesting to read books about Norway written by foreign authors. Olivier Truc is a French journalist who has worked mainly in Sweden and he definitely has a lot of knowledge about the Northern Scandinavia. The atmosphere of Kautokeino is spot on at times, and I especially think he explained the political climate well.  As this is fiction, some things are made up, such as the transnational structure of the reindeer police, but I think that is necessary for the story. I found the beginning of the book slow, probably because of too much information which didn’t really fit in with the story. But as the story progressed, the information became more integrated. The end came too fast and I was confused when there were no pages left on the Kindle. I would really like to know how Kenneth and Nina reacted to what had happened.

A good read which made me homesick for the Arctic and longing for snow and darkness while being in sunny Edinburgh. 

fourteen

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky 
Unfinished, published in 2004
“It’s a truism that people are complicated, multifaceted, contradictory, surprising, but it takes the advent of war or other momentous events to be able to see it. It is the most fascinating and the most dreadful of spectacles, she continued thinking, the most dreadful because it’s so real; you can never pride yourself on truly knowing the sea unless you’ve seen it both calm and in a storm. Only the person who has observed men and women at times like this, she thought, can be said to know them. And to know themselves.”
Storm in June, the first part, tells the story of a handful Parisians who flee the city during the German invasion in 1940. Their escapes are chaotic and many families are split up on the road. The second part, Dolce, describes the everyday life in a small rural community after the ceasefire and the villagers are forced to have Germans living in their houses.

Irène never got to finish her book as she was deported to Auschwitz and died there in 1942. I couldn’t help wondering what a great book it could have been if she had been able to finish it. In the appendixes she describes the occupation and her plans for the book. Reading the first part was as chaotic as the chaos the characters felt when they fled from Paris. There were a lot of characters and I had problems with who was who. I definitely liked the second part better, and I found that I had time to reflect on the story yet the feeling that I was reading an unfinished work never went away.

I liked Iréne’s style, and I have put the Wine of Solitude on my wish list because I want to read something that was published during her life time, along with a biography about her.  I’m also questioning the need to put this unfinished work on the 1001 books you need to read before you die list as I don’t think it’s a masterpiece.

This was the February read in Line’s 1001 books challenge.

eighteen.

Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant (1885)
Georges Duroy wanders the streets of Paris with enough money to either for two more meals or two drinks. Luck has it that he runs into a fellow soldier from his time in the military and he doesn’t only invite him to dinner, he also offers to help him get a job as a journalist. And Georges seizes every opportunity he gets to climb in society and into bed with women – as long as they can help him, of course.
This is one of the classics that blew my mind! A man with no moral sleeping his way up to the top. Not that most of the women weren’t innocent, they had their own reasons for entertaining Bel-Ami, the name which they called him as he was truly a beau. And if it hadn’t been for the tell-tale signs like horse carriers and telegrams and the political discussions about French colonisation of North Africa, this could have been set in our time (except than it probably would have been graphic sex instead of kisses on the hands and cheeks).
It was such a quick read – was already halfway when the aeroplane landed and I just had to finish it today. The only thing that was annoying was the end, I always hoped for some better (in other words scandalous) end to Georges De Roy.
A new film version is out soon – with Robert Pattison (definitely not my kind) starring as Bel-Ami, Uma Thurman and Christina Ricci as some of his lovers. This ought to be good!
I’m also glad to discover that the 1001 list includes more books by Guy de Maupassant and I hope they’re even more scandalous than this one. 

sixteen.

the Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo (1831)
 Quasimodo looks more like a monster than a man. After his mother’s death he was taken in by the priest of Notre-Dame where he eventually ended up working as the bell ringer, a job which made him deaf. He spends most of his time in the tower, watching down on the streets and people of Paris. He is especially interested in a beautiful young gypsy, la Esmeralda. But his saviour, the priest Claude Frollo, is also in love with the gypsy and he orders Quasimodo to kidnap her. 
This book was a real struggle. It shifts from a very exciting story to long descriptions of architecture, philosophy and so on. Most of these parts I skimmed as I just wanted to finish the book. It is set in the late 1400s, and I wonder why. I also really dislike the way the authors used interrupt the story to address the reader with either a short summary or something off-topic.
I’m sure that I would have loved this story if it had been straight-forward. I kept looking at the progress bar wondering when the story would really get off and I think finally it did after I had read about 60%. And I remember the first 30% were especially terrible. And what worries me more, is that I never connected with the characters, none of them won me over and that’s probably one more reason why I didn’t like the book.
And I’m also disappointed because I really enjoyed les Miserables when I read that one a couple of years ago.
But at least I can finally cross out another big classic on my 1001 books challenge! If you want to read what others thought of the book, check out Line’s 1001 books challenge (in Norwegian).

sixty-five.

the Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (2006)
Renée is the concierge at a fancy apartment building in Paris. She grew up in poverty and is satisfied with her easy job, although she is very clever and loves art – a secret she hides from the residents. Paloma is a 12 year old girl living in the apartment building. She is far too intelligent for her own good and contemplates suicide before she turns 13. When a Japanese gentleman moves into the building, their lives change.

It took a long time before I realised that the book was narrated by two persons and not just Renée as a girl and at present time. The story also seemed very dull in the beginning, but the last 100 pages or so were so good. I’m not sure if I liked the end or not, it did seem unfair that it ended the way it did.

The film version (also French) came out recently, and I have a feeling that it might be better than the book.