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Category Archive for 'Sweden'

In the ending of Unquiet, author Linn Ullman summarizes her feelings about her father, Ingmar Bergman, and her complicated relationship with him and her mother, Liv Ullmann. The book, which she calls a “novel,” is more like a memoir, containing descriptions of many intimate family events, the instinctive reactions of her father and mother to life’s circumstances as they face them, and her own thoughtful exploration of her own identity, which dominates the body of the narrative. Age forty-eight by the time the novel ends, Ullmann presents an honest and realistic depiction of her life from the time she was a tiny child to the present, and she is so determined to be honest with herself and her reader, and so hopeful that her commentary contains elements of universality that she does not even mention the names of her famous parents until well over a hundred pages of narrative have elapsed. Linn Ullman has created a work memorable for its authenticity, its insights into parents and children, and its forthright depictions of the struggles that even caring people have in showing love.

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Few other recent mystery thrillers have accumulated anything like the number of prizes and awards as The Dying Detective by Leif GW Persson, a former adviser to the Swedish Ministry of Justice, a renowned psychological profiler, and currently a professor at the Swedish National Police Board. This novel, recently released in English, attests not only to Persson’s knowledge of criminal behavior and criminal justice, but also to his ability to create intriguing but decidedly “normal” characters and show them in situations which challenge all their abilities. By using characters who are not exotic, however clever and talented they may be in their knowledge of police procedure, Persson allows the reader to identify with them in a series of conundrums which continue without letup for the entire novel as the main character and his associates try to catch the terrible killer of a nine-year-old girl. This is the best organized and developed mystery novel I have read in years. It is complex enough that I found it helpful to create a character list, but each character has a clear place in the action, which develops in meticulous order. The image of an intricate puzzle, though trite, is unavoidable, as Persson adds little piece to little piece to develop and fill in the story of Yasmine and her murder, along with the people in her life who have survived her. The conclusion is a classic, resolving some of the questions still left with only three pages to go, while also, importantly, leaving some questions without direct answers. Persson trusts that his readers have paid attention. The final scene is not open to question if that is the case.

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Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomqvist are back in another thriller, the fifth in the Millenium series with began with THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Steig Larsson. Following Larsson’s death in 2004, and the posthumous publication of three of his thrillers, his heirs hired David Lagercrantz to continue the series. This is the second follow-up novel by Lagercrantz, a somewhat new approach from Larsson’s, in that Lagercrantz’s work contains less horrific violence and more inner analysis. Here many of the previous characters play roles, and two dozen or so new ones are added. Lagercrantz thoughtfully provides a character guide for those who may be new to the series and those who may want an update. Lisbeth Salander plays her role from prison, where she is serving a two-month sentence for having refused to testify in her court case for abducting a severely autistic child and spiriting him to safety, an event which occurred in the previous novel. Here Lisbeth is investigating a group which performed some genetic experiments twenty-five years ago, one in which she may have been an unwilling participant. Blomqvist is investigating a hacker attack on the Brussels financial markets, especially one company involving a Swedish firm. Eventually the two investigations begin to overlap. Salander and Blomqvist dominate the action less than in the past, and the novel is less violent. Some plot devices may tire the reader and coincidence plays a big role, but Lizbeth may have discovered something important to her own growth. Time and future novels will tell.

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The intensely self-conscious narrator of this novel is nowhere nearly as self-aware as she would have her readers believe. A young woman who works in the local hospital cafeteria in Norrkoping, Sweden, to pay the rent on her small apartment, the narrator believes that she is “more than the situation in which [she] finds herself when [she] is wearing [her] ugly uniform.” Unlike her fellow employees of the hospital, she has attended college, leaving, she says, because she never knew she was expected to do any more than learn facts, and she “had gone all the way through high school without really learning the skill of abstract thought,” something that more insightful people learn as part of growing up. She believes that her leaving was not her fault. More self-conscious than self-aware, she is now at loose ends, and she has few female friends, even among those people she knew in college. “I cannot get away from the notion that all forms of sisterhood would mean lowering myself to an inferior level,” she believes, an attitude which does not endear her to other women. As the story line begins, Swedish author Therese Bohman chooses incisive details to illustrate her speaker’s life and thoughts, often using images that reveal far more than the speaker herself recognizes. Before long, one of the doctors rises to the obvious sexual bait dangled by the narrator, with the expected results. Older and married, he is in her bed not long after offering to drive her home from work. The complications and surprises which result are accompanied by details of great irony, which gives a patina of humor to this story of a girl who may or may not be a real woman by the end of the novel.

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Eighty million copies of the three novels in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium series have been sold since they were released in Sweden and then translated into almost every language in the world. Most readers who began this series – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005), The Girl Who Played with Fire (2006), and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2007) – became instant fans of its main characters, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomqvist, and went on to read all of the books. Chosen by the heirs of Stieg Larsson’s estate to be the author of this new Millenium novel, David Lagercrantz is a Swedish journalist who is also a successful novelist, and it may be for these story-telling skills, especially, that he was selected to write the sequel to The Girl Who Played with Fire, Larsson’s last novel. For Lagercrantz, the task of succeeding as the author of a new Millenium novel must have been intimidating, if not terrifying, with everyone who has ever read these novels looking for mistakes, changes, and signs that main characters may not be so intriguing in this novel, or that the plots may not be as full of suspense and wild excitement, or that Lagercrantz might not be up to the task as Larsson’s successor. Time to stop wondering. Here Lagercrantz’s skills as a fiction writer add to the novel, and while it may not have the raw energy – and sometimes sadistic violence – of Stieg Larsson’s novels, it is more polished, with a fine sense of plotting which allows the author to draw in the reader and draw out the excitement.

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