Delirium Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver’s second novel, Delirium tells the tale of a world where love is illegal. Yes, that’s right – the emotion of love is illegal.

Its actually not a bad idea, and the novel starts brightly enough, introducing Lena the 17 year-old main protagonist, and her corner of the world in Portland, USA.

This novel borrows very heavily I feel from Children of Men (P.D James’ book, not the film), and Logan’s Run (the film, not the book). It copies the notion of a time-limit on a person’s freedom from Logan’s Run, whereby upon turning 18 years of age, you get de-loved, so to speak. To cut a too long story short, Lena rails against this dystopian society, and to be quite honest you could probably guess the rest of the story from here!
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Post Office – Charles Bukowski

Post Office was the celebrated American author Charles Bukowski’s first novel, chronicling the life and escapades of anti-hero Henry Chinaski, which all revolve around his soul-destroying employment in the titular post office. Bukowski to me is like a proverbial breath of fresh of air – his writing is honest, unpretentious and straight-from-the-hip, and this book is all the more vivid and real for that.

When we first meet Henry, he is a hard-drinking average Joe, putting in a long tough slog as a stand-by postman. His boss is the ultimate hard-ass, who makes it his mission in life to make things as tough as possible for Henry. Bukowski really paints a grim picture of minimum-wage working conditions in America here, it really wipes the glamour off the “American Dream” for me; in fact, Henry’s life reads like the American Nightmare.

Despite all his travails, Henry has a real lust for life – the job just can’t beat that out of him. This is evident from his ever-fascinating love life, with women who clearly love and respect him, and have a lot of “time”, shall we say, for him. Its evident from his unexpected compassion towards the same women in times of extreme stress – you can really feel his pity and sorrow for his young wife when he sees her falling for another guy for example, who he knows is only after a one-nighter.

In fact, the above episode also demonstrates another exemplary quality of Henry – his acceptance of all the curve-balls life just throws at you. From cheating lovers, to torturous bosses, to Dickensian work environments, he just motors on to the next seemingly good thing. So yes, this novel is a litany of bad-luck stories and amazingly unfortunate happenings for Henry, but its a real┬átestimony to the human spirit that he can “keep on keepin’ on” throughout it all.

Technically, the style is brash and stripped of all literary niceties, yet it is profoundly coherent and gripping. Henry maintains a dark sense of humour throughout, and without ruining it for you, there is one particular scene involving the boss-from-hell, Henry and a certain favoured employee, that is one of the funniest passages I can ever remember reading. All the more impressive when the humour is delivered so effortlessly and economically by Bukowski – its really wonderful.

Overall, my main memory of this book will be the life of vain toil of the semi-autobiographical Henry Chinaski – I really shudder to think what life must be like working the insane soul-sucking shifts our protagonist did in this book. That said, I loved the ending – its reminiscent of the classic ending to Trainspotting, where Renton is donning the proverbial garb of normality, and coming to live in a town near you!

 

The Stonecutter Camilla Lackberg

This is the third installation of the Patrik Hedstrom series, which could also validly be called the Erica or Fjallbacka series I suppose. That might be jumping the gun a bit I suppose, bear with me!

Camilla Lackberg is a Swedish author, whose novels are set in the rural seaside town of Fjallbacka. This novel, like the previous two, is a thriller in the guise of a detective whodunnit story. I wouldn’t call this a slow-burner as such, nor is it a fast-paced action thriller: I think its a medium-burner, if you’ll excuse my tongue-in-cheek expression.
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Dont Look Back Karin Fossum

Don’t Look Back is the latest in the series of Inspector Sejer crime novels, penned by Norwegian Karin Fossum. This is a flawed gem of a novel – sparkling in the beauty and clarity of the small-town atmosphere and environment it creates, but with one major flaw – more about that later. It also finishes with, as one reviewer describes it – “with such a blow to the stomach”. Indeed, there is a terrific and totally unexpected sting in the tail of this tale.

It opens with real vigour and passion, there’s no gently easing into this one, and Karin keeps an ominous and foreboding tone throughout. In a small town, a teenage girl’s body is found naked and dead by a lake, the body covered by a jacket. The concentrated force of the subsequent investigation penetrates the previously hidden world of this small village, as is inevitable when a large force focusses on a small object. These are the twin strands of the novel – the town’s hidden world, and the mystery of the girl’s murder.

Both strands are seemlessly combined and interwoven throughout, and Karin has created a real page-turner here, with both strands mixing at an increasing pace, culminating in a breathless finish. Inspector Sejer, while not quite as intimately depicted as, for example, Harry Hole or Patrick Hedstrom are by Jo Nesbo and Camilla Lackberg, is nonetheless a leading character you respect and get some sort of feel for.

The twist in the tail of this novel is stunning – the author manages to sneak it in, right at the death so to speak, in such a genius manner that I did not even realise it was a twist at all, until a few minutes reflection after finishing the book. Amazing, really. I actually thought the book had ended with a whimper, until the realisation of what happened hit me like a hammer.

So what then, you may wonder, is the “major flaw” I alluded to earlier? POSSIBLE SPOILER FOLLOWS. It is the fact that right from the frantic beginning of this novel, there is an incident that occurs, which surely any policeman worth his salt would have investigated fully or more thoroughly, and which directly impacts on the dramatic ending. It is utterly unbelievable that Inspector Mejer would so flippantly discount an obvious suspect. I was literally screaming throughout the novel, “what about Person X???”, but alas to no avail, as King Canute could testify. So therefore, the novel’s plot depends on a suspension of disbelief on our behalf, which is too much to ask in my opinion, and it is such a shame also.

This really annoyed me at the time (seeing a classy novel tainted by the above issue), but it wouldn’t put me off reading Karin’s other Sejer novels. I would chalk this one up to a plot device that is just too unbelievable – there’s no reason to believe such flaws will be present in the other novels of the series. Its worth reading I suppose, the atmosphere throughout is fantastic and eerie, and the twisted ending is sublime. Ah, what a masterpiece this could of been!

Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut, the late American science fiction writer, served in the U.S army in World War II, was captured and imprisoned by the German army in Dresden, and therefore witnessed the fire-bombing of that city by the Allies in February 1945. Slaughterhouse 5 is the book he felt compelled to write about this massacre, being turned as he said into a figurative “pillar of salt” in its aftermath. It is also his rejection of war of any kind in its entirety, and should be considered a classic “anti-war” book, as well as a testimony to the bombing of civilian innocents in Dresden.
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