Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback

Read: 3 September, 2017

I have such a long TBR list that I don’t often get to just pick a book up based on the cover and synopsis and just give it a try. But I had a gift card, I was in a book store, and I couldn’t find any more of the books from my list. I picked Wolf Winter because it’s a Canadian author born abroad, and that’s a niche I’ve been pursuing lately. Plus, I tend to enjoy Scandinavian literary sensibilities.

The story starts as a murder mystery, but in the small settler community of Blackasen, an investigation quickly starts to turn up secrets in every closet. As one character says, the settlers who choose such a harsh, isolated livelihood are all running from something.

The book is slow, and takes the time to build up its dark atmosphere. The mountain always seems to loom, the snow always seem to press in, and wolves stalk the forest. And in all of this is the hysteria that makes ones’ neighbours the greatest danger of all – precisely the kind of atmosphere that makes The Thing (1982) one of my favourite movies.

The characters are all flawed, but feel quite solid. They all make terrible mistakes, but their mistakes are earned.

I loved that the book never talked down to the reader, but never erred in the other direction, becoming inaccessible. It’s a delicate balance, but it really worked. Events will be described in vague terms, in allusions, approached sideways, but clear shapes emerge.

One of my favourite aspects was the handling of magic. I really enjoy ambiguous magic – magic that could be real, but could just be in people’s heads. And this balance is also deftly handled in the book. It’s never quite clear whether Frederika really is able to see ghosts and cast spells, or if she is just suffering from hereditary mental illness. The story works with either interpretation.

To sum up, I took a chance with this book, and it’s an absolute gem. It’s atmospheric and brooding, it’s ambiguous but not pompously so, and it tells a solid story about superstition and family and survival in extreme environments.

Buy Wolf Winter from Amazon and support this blog!

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Read: 19 September, 2010

I bought the book because I kept seeing it everywhere and I thought – why not? Then it sat on my shelf for a long time as I read other books on my reading list that were a higher priority.

When my dad came to visit, he was looking over my bookshelves and saw that I had The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I admitted that I hadn’t read it yet, and he told me that I absolutely must. Well, with an endorsement like that, how could I refuse?

I say this because it tainted much of my experience of the book. When I got to the anal rape scene, for example, all I kept thinking about was my dad reading it… and liking it. Yes, I know, the book is excellent and I’m sure that my father’s endorsement was not predicated on a predilection for anal rape. Still, though, it made reading about anal rape even more uncomfortable that it is normally.

Not that I normally read about anal rape…

But apart from all that, this was an amazing book. It’s a mystery – a disgraced journalist is hired by a wealthy businessman to solve the 40-year-old murder of his niece. But it’s far more than that. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a statement about misogyny and violence towards women. In one way or another, each of the book’s plots and subplots hinge on hatred towards women. Larsson strikes that very delicate balance between making his point without being it. Again and again, he shows us violence against women, but he never allows it to normalize. It’s as horrific the last time as it is the first.

And boy, is it ever horrific! The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was an extremely uncomfortable book to read. Larsson takes society’s dirty little secrets and shoves them right in the reader’s face with unrelenting force. But the writing is so masterfully executed that I found myself unable to put the book down, even while my head and stomach both were reeling.

When my dad was making his pitch for the book, he said that it’s incredibly long, but that the style is so accessible that he was able to finish it in under a week. It took me only a couple of days. It takes a while to get into, introducing the vast network of characters slowly, and it might be easy to give up within the first couple dozen pages. But stick with it, the payoff is well worth the wait.

Buy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo from Amazon to support this blog!