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Commentaires écrits par
Alfred J. Kwak

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par Paul Theroux
Edition : Poche

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Forgotten, intriguing debut, 24 juillet 2017
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Waldo (Poche)
Finishing a book, then starting another by a different author soon after, is often confusing. Rarely more so than with “Waldo” succeeding Jo Nesbo’s 1997 debut “The Bat”. Aged 25, Paul Theroux debuted in 1967 with “Waldo”. This reader had great trouble making sense of the first chapters. Only after 50 pages or so, accustomed somewhat to new idioms, weird thoughts and ugly background information, the story appeared to take direction: a reset, a fresh start away from his awful family and towards more personal fulfilment for Waldo (18): his homecoming after 14 months in a juvenile correctional facility, prompts him to seek a new life for himself.
Waldo’s remake starts with his meeting Clovis Techy, a glamorous 37-year old woman in his/their psychiatrist’s waiting room. [Dr. Wasserman already treated him when behind bars/glass and insisted on regular consultation after his release.] She finds him cute, a kindred soul and invites him to a party. What happens there and next is not for me to tell.
Am ignorant of serious literary studies of Paul Theroux’s oeuvre and cannot judge how important or prophetic this novel is. For what it’s worth, PT as a life-long anti smoker, made Waldo smoke and his dad argue against it. But Waldo wanting to get away from it all, making a total break surely is a life-long theme. Paul Theroux succeeded royally, travelling the world’s continents to describe what moves and shakes people outside the US, in travel books and novels, never losing sight of himself being an American.
Not to be missed for PT followers like me, readers (f/m) who have read >80% of his enormous output.

Sinning With Annie
Sinning With Annie
par Paul Theroux
Edition : Relié

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Versatile writer, 23 juillet 2017
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Sinning With Annie (Relié)
Versatile writer
Find re-reading a string of early concoctions by a famous author like Paul Theroux quite interesting. Literature is all about subtly plagiarising earlier works of other writers qua theme and message, style, credibility and atmosphere. Which books informed his early stories? Which early stories became later novels?
Most were written during his time at the University of Singapore and were first published in various US magazines. His stay there also resulted in the under-reviewed novel “Saint Jack” (1973], which was filmed later.
The opening story is a pastiche of Arthur Koestler’s influential 1940 novel “Darkness at Noon”. Midway, another pastiche about poets criticising each other, or what? Skipped it quickly. Otherwise, PT has a terrific ear for English spoken by foreigners (Indians, Russians, even Brits). Here it sometimes diverts attention away from whatever he had in mind plot-wise, or as message, most notably in the title story. His best stories are about fellow Anglophone expats in Tanzania, Uganda and Singapore. PT is a versatile writer, straddling several genres. As a Bostonian in London he could be called a mid-Atlantic author . As an American now living in Hawaii and having covered India, China, Malaysia and Oceania, ‘mid-Pacific author’ would be more appropriate. And it all began with years in Africa, a continent he has revisited several times...
Today, PT’s early novels and short story collections cost almost nothing, stand-alone second-hand or in trios or quartets crammed into cheap omnibuses. Finally, found no story here that became a novel later.

The Bat: Harry Hole 1
The Bat: Harry Hole 1
Prix : EUR 6,50

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Dream debut, 20 juillet 2017
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Bat: Harry Hole 1 (Format Kindle)
Found the pace, characters and richness qua background and language use (esp. HH’s inner thoughts, verbal asides and digressions) absolutely delightful. It is the kick-off of a ten-book series where its hero Harry Hole (HH; 32), a police detective from Oslo, Norway, opens up to secrets about himself as he will never do again. To whom? To a Swedish girl! [Why the exclamation mark? No love lost between the nations. Neutral Sweden let the Nazis pass through to occupy Norway, then made a fortune supplying steel to Axis and Allied nations during WW II]. Why? He fell in love with her. Where? In Sydney, Australia. Why?
Because a backpacking Norwegian girl with an Aussie working permit was raped, mutilated, strangled and thrown off a cliff. Sydney at the time was busy preparing its 2000 Olympics and wants no drop in attendance or tourism from such crimes. HH’s superiors have a strong hold on him re his alcoholic tendencies and send him on a 30-hour flight to assist Sydney PD. He is streetwise and has good English, but will he stay sober? Leave what follows to fresh readers to discover, but rest assured, more havoc will occur, more blood will flow.
Learned a lot here about Australia’s past and its 1997 present, weird fauna and legislative track record re Aboriginals, drug-related crime and Sydney as a heaven for gays. The plot moves in unexpected ways and follows Nordic dreams and Aboriginal lore. Most importantly, author Jo Nesbo combines great background research with spot-on cameos of many characters. E.g. he makes Harry’s most senior contact in the Sydney PD say, ‘the dumbest people on earth are policemen and New Zealanders’. Highly recommended, if only to read what he exactly meant by that...
Great finish. Not to be missed, even after 20 years.

The Inspector and Silence
The Inspector and Silence
Prix : EUR 6,49

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Slow and contemplative, 14 juillet 2017
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Inspector and Silence (Format Kindle)
Much enjoyed “The Hour of the Wolf”, the first I read but seventh in the series. This is the fifth, with dark clouds and shimmers of hope right from the start. After 35 years of solving murders (only one unsolved), Commissioner Van Veeteren (VV) is considering a career change. In addition, after 25 sour years of marriage and a divorce, he feels attracted to a widow with chestnut hair he met in an earlier case...
This is not a fast moving murder mystery. A woman calls anonymously about a murdered young girl associated with a puritanical sect holding a summer camp. Its leader, the three supervising woman devotees, all 12 girls deny any knowledge of anyone missing. Days go by while the plot thickens at glacier pace, giving Nesser the opportunity to fine-tune VV as a person. He loves classical music by composers like Pergolesi and Fauré, good food and wine, and playing chess, making him sound like a logical thinker. But when pure reason offers no insight, he relies on logic’s older sister, intuition.
More people will come to grief in this thriller, some fatally, others emotionally. Find it esp. re background, police work and use of media, a mediocre work. It is also a transitional title. From book 6 onwards, VV will be prodded out of his semi-retirement of antiquarian bookseller again and again. His transition may even have inspired the production of the successful German TV crime series “Wilsberg”.

Hour of the Wolf: An Inspector Van Veeteren Mystery (7)
Hour of the Wolf: An Inspector Van Veeteren Mystery (7)
par Hakan Nesser
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 14,72

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Intelligent thriller, 7 juillet 2017
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Hour of the Wolf: An Inspector Van Veeteren Mystery (7) (Broché)
Ideally, a book series should be read from the start, not begun with book # 7 when its hero, Commissioner Van Veeteren has already retired. First published in 1999, there are laptops and mobile phones, but no Iphones or mentions of the internet, whilst fax and cassette recorders were still key police tools. Its original title was “Caramboles”, referring to three-ball billiards’ uncertain outcome at every turn of player.
More in particular, it shows how a man makes a fatal error of judgement, fleeing the site of a fatal, nightly accident. Days later, he receives a letter and a demand for money: he has been seen. Dramatic events follow, for himself and others, esp. for Van Veeteren. The result is a well-plotted and –written police procedural that ends in New York. Pace and style are impeccable and the series is innovative in name-giving. How so?
Every police thriller is full of street names. They are a staple of the genre and a welcome padding device. When situated in an Anglophone crime context, readers unfamiliar with a city can read over them without second thoughts. But Swedish (and Icelandic!) street- and personal names can become jarring. One wonders, why these unpronounceable, irrelevant details, except perhaps to enhance the book’s authenticity?
Hakan Nesser’s solution is the creation of a nation resembling Sweden. No Swedish names for persons, streets or other landmarks. Instead, he created what I would call Northern EU-sounding geographical and family names (Scandinavian, German, Dutch, Flemish), either very common or unlikely to exist in reality (e.g. Van Veeteren). Plus personal names with a migration history, as in US and UK crime books. [All this may be old hat. If so, sorry].
Finally, US readers are not to worry. The NYC street plan was closely adhered to and the investigating officer stayed at the Trump Tower Hotel. I repeat, a delightful book. On tomorrow’s to do-list: score # 1.

Paris Nocturne
Paris Nocturne
par Patrick Modiano
Edition : Poche
Prix : EUR 10,56

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Speak Memory, 5 juillet 2017
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Paris Nocturne (Poche)
A boy (6) is hit by a car in a French village and remembers being taken to hospital by a young woman. A man (almost 21) is hit by a car by a woman one night in Paris. Both are taken to hospital by police. All this is told by a man (57), who has led a very disciplined life for more than three decades. No further details about him in this novella-- except for an incident with a woman stalker-- but they form a trinity of one single person, with the oldest looking back, trying to make sense of two car accidents and their impact. It straightened him (57) out, but readers are not told when, how or why, but he is happy to consult his memory and write down what the car accidents did to him, back then...
Memory deteriorates with time and is quite selective. The human mind ignores or deletes billions of impressions instantly, but stores significant events along with context (weather, smells, etc.) whilst suppressing other experiences, good or bad too. Remembering oneself aged six or almost 21, can possibly entail wrong and unfair judgements of others and be favourable of oneself: here, in retrospect, an awful youth with a shady, possibly criminal father, moving ever further away, not a word about the mother. Then, lots of conjecture about the women connected to the accidents he suffered, and brief mentions of a curfew, perhaps dating the quest described here to 1961 (when on October 17th something terrible, long unmentionable, happened in Paris).
Are individual and collective memories reliable? Devoting so many pages, details and description to his investigative walkabouts during starry or foggy Paris nights enhances the depth of his trauma during the months after the accident. Nice to read for Parisians, but irrelevant to foreign readers, an abstract street guide without visual landmarks or memories, almost padding. Modiano also spoke of parallel worlds and –realities and ‘life is a permanent return’. I do not much care for this book.
My next recreational book (Hakan Nesser, “The Hour of the Wolf”) began with a car accident too, deadly this time. And it moves briskly forward in time, no memory gaps there.

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec: A Commissaire Adamsberg novel
The Ghost Riders of Ordebec: A Commissaire Adamsberg novel
par Fred Vargas
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 9,63

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Fantastique, 2 juillet 2017
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Ghost Riders of Ordebec: A Commissaire Adamsberg novel (Broché)
Have read most of Fred Vargas’ novels (the Three Evangelists books, the ones about Louis Kehrweiler, the series about Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg (J-BA) and love them all. They are crime novels but not police procedurals. They are peopled by not one or two, but lots of extraordinary characters with astonishing personalities, talents and habits. They are situated today, in Paris or in rural parts of France (the Pyrenees, the Provence, here Normandy) with occasional forays into foreign nations (Canada, Great Britain, Serbia), always problematic since J-BA is a minimalist linguist. They all have their roots in Deep France with its Black Death and Crusades, medieval myths and legends, werewolves and here, an 11th century band of vengeful, partly-petrified ghost riders led by Seigneur Hellequin.
Here, like James Bond in the first minutes of a film, J-BA shows his credentials by quickly solving a murder by letting his intuition latch on to the tiniest of clues, then proceeds to the real business at hand, or rather, a triple challenge. First, there is the old lady from chilly, taciturn Normandy reporting her daughter’s vision or sighting of said ghost riders, who are not to be taken for granted because they kill, usually four times. Secondly, an industrial magnate in Paris burns to death locked inside his Mercedes. Here J-BA’s team of 28 crime fighters makes a quick arrest of a young arsonist of North African descent whose preferred car make is just that. But was it him? Finally, a third case that occupies J-BA throughout the book is the distressed pigeon. Who tied its little feet together so that it could fly no more, take only the tiniest of steps?
Adamsberg will spend several dry summer weeks in Normandy, with dark rain clouds looming over the western horizon, in the company of walking encyclopaedia Danglard and his saviour in Serbia, Veyrenc, with reinforcements standing by...
Readers interested in the workings of J-BA ‘s illogical working mind can leaf to chapter 50 for his own diagnosis. Otherwise, if a butterfly fluttering its wings on one continent can cause a hurricane on another, what is far-fetched about these crimes? Verdict: as always, expect the unexpected; lots of cross referencing and –linking, fantastic characters (Léo, the consultant osteopath, the crossword expert, the mother, the perp himself) and a master test for translators. Highly recommended. Read this book. Or better, read Fred Vargas’ books chronologically.

Waiting for Sunrise: A Novel
Waiting for Sunrise: A Novel
Prix : EUR 5,70

5.0 étoiles sur 5 An Accidental Spy, 25 juin 2017
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Waiting for Sunrise: A Novel (Format Kindle)
William Boyd returns to WW I once again with this slowly developing, but by no means boring story about Lysander Rief (LR), son of the late Halifax Rief, a great actor whose performance of King Lear made audiences shiver in their seats. LR is an actor too, not yet famous, but quite familiar with disguise and improvisation, highly valued talents for a man having to escape from Vienna in 1913... What was he doing there? Seeking treatment for a rare male sexual dysfunction best left for the reader to discover. [The only other literary personage I know of with the same affliction is superhero Jonathan Hemlock in Trevanian’s “The Eiger Sanction” and “The Loo Sanction”. Who never considered seeking psycho-analytical advice.]
When the Great War begins, LR enlists, then becomes a spy. As the saying goes, “all in love and war is fair”. Does Lysander live according to this maxim? William Boyd’s great storytelling, attention to detail and a number of memorable characters made this a great reading experience. His treatment of WW I as a gigantic worldwide logistics operation by half a dozen competing states and their armed forces, is brilliant. So is the almost cinematographic evocation of many scenes and events. Historians describe 1914 as the end of the long nineteenth century and in one of the last chapters, dealing with Lysander in late 1915, his mood has darkened, thinking every certainty has gone, what lies ahead is hidden in darkness...
Finally, re the Austrian angles and spying operations on British soil (partly) under cover of well-connected fundraising charities, this could be a tribute to Graham Greene’s war-time novel “The Ministry of Fear” (1943). Chapeau!

A Summer with Kim Novak
A Summer with Kim Novak
par Hakan Nesser
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 12,96

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Great book for fathers, 21 juin 2017
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : A Summer with Kim Novak (Broché)
Halfway into this very entertaining and deftly-plotted novel I wondered if there might be a boys’ variety of a genre intended to help girls through puberty. Erik (14) and his school friend Edmund spend the 1962 Swedish summer holiday in a wooden summerhouse at a small lake, swimming, rowing, smoking and daydreaming about their teacher Ewa, who has a striking resemblance with movie star Kim Novak. Ewa turns up at a village festival nearby with her fiancé. Soon after, something terrible happens, as foreshadowed from page 1 onwards as a dark cloud and cliff hanger, something marking the lives of a limited number of people for life, including a police investigator.
Hakan Nesser brilliantly describes in laconic words and dialogue the curious, sometimes cruel mindsets of 14-year old boys, their uncertainties and fears, their daring, posturing and cynicism, and their residual ignorance: Erik struggles with questions he won’t ask his friends or parents (who commune in proverbs and homilies; besides, his mum is terminally ill). What lies beyond Treblinka- Cancer-Love-F***-Death, words Erik invokes when near to tears?
However, Nesser follows Erik until he is 49, so it is not a ‘How to Survive as a Boy at 14’-book after all. Its surprise ending may not be to everyone’s liking, but confirms the author’s plotting skills. Authentic brand names enhance any book’s historical correctness, but were cassette players and –tapes available in 1962? Every reading father will recognise himself in Erik & friends’ exploits and will love this book. (Grand-)mothers are overrepresented in reading clubs. Given its size and realism, it should be a candidate for future discussions. Found it enjoyable and will read more of his books.

The Strangers in the House
The Strangers in the House
par Georges Simenon
Edition : Broché

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Courtroom drama, 19 juin 2017
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Strangers in the House (Broché)
Hector Loursat, scion of a notable family in a French provincial town, was a successful lawyer until his wife absconded with another man, leaving their two-year old daughter Nicole in his care. The event prompts him into an existential, cynical stupor of 18 years, leaving Nicole and much else around the dilapidating mansion to his housekeeper. He snap-reads from his thousands of books, drinks his daily three bottles of wine in his overheated study, oblivious of the world outside. Until one night he hears a gunshot from somewhere inside the house. Should he bother to investigate?
He does. In one of the four rooms of the dusty attic he finds a stranger dying, seconds later dead. Just before, he saw a flash of someone in a raincoat... Police investigations proceed ever so carefully to protect the reputation of father and daughter and their wider family , which disgusts Hector. He leaves his smelly lair to do his own investigations, re-entering a world full of fearful citizens: some privileged and rich, some middle class , many working poor and the underworld. Whose young, bored denizens occasionally mix in small groupings, bands, gangs, always led by a rich kid.
Georges Simenon was a famously-productive author, pounding a book out of his typewriter in a week or two. Did he ever rewrite anything? Did his editors dare to if needed? Passionate 1939 murder mystery full of existentialist disgust about life in a suffocating provincial town. Nice finish.

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