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Crime

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Title: The City & the City
Author: China Miéville
Year: 2009

I’ve been tempted to read China Miéville many times before, but when I learnt about The City & the City and had the opportunity to borrow it from a friend, i knew that I had no choice but to read it instantly. Why? Because the idea upon which the novel is based is one of the best ideas I’ve ever encountered. I knew I would like this novel even before I opened it, even though I could only hope that the author was competent enough to use such a cool idea and create a good novel as well. He was and he did, far beyond my expectations.

So, what is this idea I keep going on about? The novel is set in a world which seems to be the same as the one we inhabit, but with a significant addition of a city and a city, called Beszel and Ul Qoma respectively. These cities, although geographically coexisting, are two different countries, two different city-states. Citizens in Beszel aren’t allowed to notice what’s going on in Ul Qoma, even though they might share certain streets; the inhabitants of Ul Quoma must carefully “unhear” anything that’s being said on the other side of the border, even though it might be within arm’s reach. The divide is upheld by rigorous social taboos, rules and regulations, internalised by the citizens since they were kids, enabling them to ignore what’s might be happening so close, but is still in another country. There is also the omnipotent Breach, which intervenes whenever illegal interaction occurs between the two cities. Only in the centre of the city can people pass legally over an international border, through customs and reach the other city.

The story starts with body being found in Beszel, and detective Tyador Borlú of the Beszel Extreme Crime Squad starts an investigation. But the murdered woman, a foreign student studying in Ul Qoma, was last seen in that city, which makes Borlú think that this is a case for Breach. However, his request to hand it over to the mysterious and powerful organisation is denied: No breach has occurred, the body was legally transported from Ul Quoma to Beszel, it’s a case for the police, a case for Borlú and his harsh sidekick Corwi. But why would somebody go to such extremes to get rid of a student? Why steal a van and smuggle the body between the cities? The answer is out there for Borlú to find, but in which city?

What is so astonishing about this novel is perhaps not the idea itself, but the fact that China Miéville manages to portray life in the two cities as something quite ordinary and normal. The cities are bizarre, but after only a few chapters, they feel natural and the reader is already in the mindset of the main character. I already said I thought the idea is brilliant, but the author exploits it to its absolute potential and makes far more of it than I thought possible.

In addition to this, the story itself is thrilling, entertaining and fascinating, all at once. Reading the book, I had a very hard time putting it down; I wanted to see what happened in the next chapter and what new aspects of the two cities might emerge. The story is told with a language which probably isn’t beautiful, but yet masterfully used to achieve a certain effect: credibility. In addition, this books is exactly as long as it needs to be, there is no excess and nothing lacks.

To put it very briefly, this novel is perfect. Five snails without even the slightest glimmer of doubt. The City & the City is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Read it now!

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City of God

Title: City of God
Original title:
Cidade de Deus
Directed by: Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund
Written by:
Paulo Lins, Bráulio Mantovani
Year: 2002

Watching preparations for a delicious meal, a chicken manages to free itself from its tethers, starting to run and hop for all its worth through the dusty streets of Rio de Janeiro. Rocket and his friends immediately chase after the chicken, following it through the alleys of the slum area called the City of God. Suddenly, he rounds a corner and finds himself caught in the middle of, on the one hand, gangsters he has reason to believe want to kill him, and, on the other hand, a heavily armed police force tired of the continuous violence in the area.

Through a patchwork of various story lines, this film sets out to explain how things arrived at this point. The narration is a masterpiece of chronologically separate stories, sometimes with different characters, but always wonderfully adding to the bigger picture. The story is set in the harsh reality of the slums of Rio de Janeiro, where two children grow up with their older felon brothers as their only role models. However, they grow up to become wildly different characters, one a photographer, the other a gangster boss, even though both their life stories continue to intertwine through the film.

To state it more plainly, this film is good, mostly because of the story and the directing (I would have given it five snails if I only were concerned with these factors). It’s a film that depicts what I imagine still is a big problem in most of the really big cities of the world, and it does it in a no-nonsense fashion worthy of praise. It’s also worthy my recommendation: See it whenever you have the opportunity!

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Title: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
Author: Michael Chabon
Year: 2007

These are strange times to be a Jew, even more so in a world where the state of Israel failed miserably and where many of the world’s Jews ended up in Alaska after the implementation of the Slattery Report, and especially when the lease of that frostbitten piece of land is coming to an end, and Jews soon will need to look elsewhere for some place to live. In the final weeks of the Jewish settlement in Sitka, a young man who was once deemed to be a future messiah, is found shot dead in his hotel room with a mysteriously set-up chess board on his bedside table. Alcoholic and decadent policeman Meyer Landsman starts investigating, sometimes with the support of his half-Jew half-Indian companion Berko Shemets. However, the investigation soon spins out of control and Landsman is relieved of his badge and gun, but he doggedly continues to follow the trail with reckless abandon, discovering ever more unsettling truths as he goes a long.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is the first book I read by Michael Chabon, but I can promise you that it will not be the last one. Even though I am normally not a fan of detective stories, this one has two things that I like very much, one of them truly unique. To begin with, I fancy the alternate-history genre. Admittedly, apart from the Jews inhabiting Alaska instead of Israel, the alternate history elements of this novel are not that prominent, but the are enough to earn my liking. This is an awesome genre that allows the author to mix reality with fiction in a way which appears both realistic and fantastic at the same time.

Even more important than that, however, is Chabon’s fantastic language. His style is truly unique and reminds me of no other author whatsoever. He uses words in the most unconventional, but yet effective way. His metaphors are sometimes beyond description, but most of the time they are entertaining, well-written and sometimes they also succeed in giving the reader a good idea about what the author wants to describe. Here is an example from page 135 which might be said to be typical for the author’s style:

Rabbi Heskel Shpilman is a deformed mountain, a giant ruined dessert, a cartoon house with the windows shut and the sink left running. A little kid lumped him together, a mob of kids, blind orphans who never laid eyes on a man. They clumped the dough of his arms and legs to the dough of his body, then jammed his head on top. A millionaire could cover a Rolls-Royce with the fine black silk-and-velvet expanse of the rebbe’s frock coat and trousers. It would require the brain strength of the eighteen greatest sages in history to reason through the arguments against and in favor of classifying the rebbe’s massive bottom as either a creature of the deep, a man-made structure, or an unavoidable act of God. If he stands up, or if he sits down, it doesn’t make any difference in what you see.

This kind of imaginative and highly creative language permeates the books. Chabon’s language is always interesting, albeit not always meaningful. Details, such as the recurring allusions to Chess, adds to the overall rating. Chabon also employs a mixture of Yiddish, Sitka slang and English, which works very well (however, this can not be said to be a major part of the novel in the same way as it is for, say, A Clockwork Orange).

In addition to this, the characters who inhabit the world of this novel are truly masterpieces. They are multi-faceted and highly credible portrayals of human beings, but are still very interesting and entertaining. I especially like Landsman himself, mostly because of his refusal to do what sane people would do in his place, and because of his sense of humour. This, and much more, makes me smile and laugh a lot when I read The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, a valuable addition to a novel which would have felt heavy otherwise (literally speaking, the novel spans 400 pages).

That being said, the book is not perfect. The plot itself is interesting and Chabon does his best to deepen it with layers of chess, Judaism and Alaskan landscape, but it still is not even close to the brilliance of his language. Therefore, I felt a little bit disappointed in the end, and considered giving the novel only four snails. However, looking back at the novel as a whole, the good parts are so outstandingly good that I have no choice but to give four and a half snails to The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.

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Reservoir Dogs



Title: Reservoir Dogs
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avary
Year: 1992

Five men are handpicked by gangster boss Joe Calbot to steal a large number of diamonds, but something goes terribly wrong and the police arrive on the scene too fast. It is apparent that someone is a mole, but who? The story pivots on this crucial question and using the same technique of non-chronological narration which adds depth and excitement to a story that is not very interesting in itself. This film is worthwhile watching because of the good directing and at times brilliant acting, but apart from that, it has little that appeals to me.

Since I like the style, I will expound on it somewhat. I enjoy the in medias res that plunges the watcher straight into the heart of the story. Only gradually are things made clear, and it is not until the very end that all knots are untangled. Combined with an intricate switching between scenes taking place at various times and locations, this keep my interest up for almost the entirety of the film. This is perchance not a unique skill of Tarantino’s, but it is still rare enough to make it the quintessential quality of this film.

As for recommendations, I assume that Tarantino fans have already seen Reservoir Dogs, so I will not bother to recommend it. Instead, I will point to Pulp Fiction as a film which manages to do everything I have mentioned above, but much better and also more entertaining.

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A Clockwork Orange

Titel: A Clockwork Orange
Regi: Stanley Kubrick
Manus: Anthony Burgess, Stanley Kubrick
År: 1971
Recenserad: 2007-05-28

Det här är Stanley Kubricks filmatisering av Anthony Burgess bok A Clockwork Orange, som jag läste tidigare i år. Filmen håller sig ganska bra till boken, även om våldet är nedtonat och mindre stötande än vad det är i boken. De flesta av de förändringar som gjorts känns motiverade och jag tycker att konverteringen till film har lyckats bra.

Jag tänker inte skriva om handlingen en gång till (just eftersom den är så lik), förutom att det är värt att kommentera att sista kapitlet inte är med. Egentligen är inte detta Kubricks fel, eftersom den amerikanska versionen av romanen också saknar det. Grejen är att sista kapitlet ändra i princip hela boken från att ha ett väldigt deprimerande slut till att ha ett relativt positivt. Ha det i åtanke när ni ser filmen/läser den amerikanska versionen.

Det som är bra i boken är bra i filmen, förutom att språket förstås inte får lika stort utrymme. Detta kompenseras delvis genom andra saker som i sin tur inte finns i boken (det finns många genomtänkta scener som verkligen känns rätt), men på det stora hela tappar filmen en del jämfört med boken. Missförstå mig inte nu, filmen är kanske så bra den kan vara, men innehållet gör sig på sätt och vis bättre som bok. Alternativt är Burgess en bättre författare än vad Kubrick är regissör.

Jag ska avsluta med att åter hänvisa till boken som är en av mina favoriter. Gillar man inte böcker går det bra att se filmen, men är man det minsta intresserad bör man kika på också på boken, som i min mening når betydligt längre.

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Titel: A Clockwork Orange
Författare: Anthony Burgess
Utgivningsår: 1962
Recenserad: 2007-01-27
Status:
N/A

Första sidan av A Clockwork Orange gav mig lite av en chock. Tänk er cockney blandat med ryssinspirerad slang. Resultatet är tämligen svårbegripligt. Det går dock fenomenalt fort att komma in i stilen, även utan att hela tiden använda ordlistan längst bak. En del verkar tycka att det här är ett hinder för att läsa boken, men så länge man har någorlunda koll på engelska tror jag inte att det är ett problem. Orden förkommer dessutom i en kontext när det nästan alltid är uppenbart vad de betyder.

Boken består av Alex berättelse om sitt eget liv, hur han och hans gäng misshandlar, rånar och våldtar. Till sist förråder de honom och han blir gripen och dömd till fjorton års fängelse. Även om själva handlingen är gripande och intressant i sig, finns det så mycket annat som gör den här boken bra. Huvudtemat är det goda och det onda. Kan man vara god om man inte har valet att vara ond, eller krävs det valfrihet för att ordet god ska ha någon innebörd? Utan att kännas övertydligt eller moraliserande, belyses denna fråga på ett sådant sätt att allting faller sig bra in i berättelsen i övrigt. Intrigen hänger väl ihop och det finns mycket lite i boken som är överflödigt eller egentligen inte hade behövts. Något sådant är det få författare som klarar av, en eloge till Burgess för det.

Stämningen är också en bidragande orsak till att jag gillar A Clockwork Orange skarpt. Burgess har verkligen lyckats förmedla känslan av att vara femton i en storstad i en värld vi inte vet så mycket om (det är någon form av underlig parallellhistoria, men det är egentligen inte så viktigt). Språket som används är förstås en starkt bidragande orsak. Jag försökte hålla utkik efter bra exempel på hur det används och här kommer det vinnande förslaget:

”O my brothers, to viddy. That is to say, she had real horrorshow groodies all of which you could like viddy, she having on platties which came down down down off her pletchoes. And her nogas were like Bog in His Heaven, and she walked like to make you groan in your keeshkas, and yet her litso was a sweet smiling young like innocent litso.”

Precis som jag redan påpekat, lär man sig jargongen nästan med en gång och förutom kanske första kapitlet är det bara ett stort plus och en enorm stämningsskapare.

Sammanfattningsvis är A Clockwork Orange otroligt bra och kan läsas med behållning av de flesta. Kombinationen av att boken innehåller intressanta tankar, är välskriven och verkligen sätter spår i medvetandet långt efter att man lagt den ifrån sig, gör att jag efter en stunds tvekande ändå ger den fem sniglar.

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