Reading (February 2023)

personal reading, university

February was a little more successful than January, and I managed to finish several books — including one that actually took less than a month!

First was Rebecca, as mentioned previously — I was actually about three-quarters through at the time. I want to avoid posting too many spoilers, but I will say that it was interesting that the twist came out of nowhere, at least for me, despite the book having begun with a flashback. It’s very successful in terms of making you completely aware that something terrible is going to happen, and then making you wait for three quarters of the book without a clue what. I think I disagreed with the afterword, by another author who seemed to have assumed that her interpretation of the characters (the opposite of my own) was self-evidently the one Du Maurier had intended — I’m not sure it’s so clear. But perhaps that depends on knowing more (or too much?) about Du Maurier.

Next was a re-read of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I think I more clearly saw the flaws in it this time. I remember around the initial publication there was a lot of criticism that it was misogynist, seemingly because it depicts violence against women. That’s not entirely fair, obviously: the book is unquestionably against violence against women, the violent acts are committed by terrible people and nothing about the book seems to condone that. Obviously, books often depict bad things, and it’s not always made explicit that those things are bad; it should be self-evident, in many cases, anyway. Actually, I don’t think Larsson even has that problem: if anything, he sometimes seems to be spelling out more clearly than necessary that sexual abuse and the far right are bad things.

However, I do think there’s a lot of male-gaze type of thing going on; there’s certainly a slightly uncomfortable feeling about the way he depicts Lisbeth Salander (young, petite, eager to have sex with a middle-aged journalist she’s just met). Arguably there’s also just a little too much pleasure in describing sexual crimes; I can’t quite decide whether this crosses the line or not. (Certainly it would have been possible to be less explicit, but he’s no George R.R. Martin either.)

Finally, I finished off Wessex Tales for university. I don’t have very much to say about it; it didn’t seem to have enough depth to compare it to Far From the Madding Crowd, for example. I’ll be moving onto some collections of fairytales next (Grimms, Hans Christian Andersen, etc), which will be interesting in a different way.

War and Peace: on track, though the descriptions of troop movements are admittedly a slog. I do find it interesting, though, the way he uses ‘our’ to refer to the Russian troops,1 a sort of implicit assumption that the readership is Russian perhaps? Or, at least, a closer identification with one side that seems usual for this kind of writing. It reminds me of a newspaper, “our brave boys”, for example.

  1. Or at least this translation (Pevear/Volkhonsky) does so, and I assume that’s representative of something in the original text. ↩︎