Monday, January 11, 2010

The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell

The Man from Beijing

Mankell is a master, and those readers who like his writing will see his control and skill amply displayed here. A very grisly murder in northern Sweden has a host of richly drawn characters that we'd like to know better. But to propel the mystery, Mankell introduces far-ranging motives. It could be an interesting prod to inventiveness in a writing class: include China in your next writing assignment. This mystery becomes a little unwieldy and farfetched when it goes back over several continents and several generations in Part 2, but Mankell comes back in Part 3 to something much more interesting: a discussion of the economic and political changes taking place in a rapidly modernizing China, and in a slowly deteriorating Africa. Especially interesting are ruminations on China in Africa. If readers remember the author John le Carre's last couple of books set in Africa, The Mission Song and The Constant Gardner, this a polemic similar, but comes off a little better.

Anyway, this is some comfort reading for those who are going to read Mankell regardless. Scandanavia still seems cold and remote, Beijing fast and flashy, Africa hot and beautiful.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

The Financial Lives of the Poets

This is a pinhole peep at a man whose life is in disarray. First he loses his job as a journalist, and then, gradually, we see him losing all good sense. Windmilling on the edge of disaster, our protagonist struggles in vain to keep up his end of what had been a life with benefits: a big new house, a wife, and two kids in private school. He had me snorting with runaway laughter. Everything is on the skewed side of perfectly has the sense of trying to reason with someone who's smoked too much pot. Their mind rotates, quickly at first, and then in smaller and smaller circles, until they reach some inevitable stupid conclusion, much like the protagonist in this book. Gets his life in a twist and continues to dig and dig until everything is completely buried. Walter is up to his old tricks in ...Poets, after his huge successes with Citizen Vince and The Zero.