Monday, 23 June 2003

Fingersmith & Miss Smilla’s feeling for snow

Listening to:

Debussy, Six épigraphes antiques.

Just read:

Sarah Waters, Fingersmith.

This is a very good romantic thriller. It’s set in 19th century England, and feels quite Dickensian in its setting, and in its mix of high and low. It doesn't have any real humour to it, as something by Dickens would, but equally there aren't any of those Dickensian characters who, though memorable, are really so extreme as to be unbelievable. More importantly, Waters is not confined by 19th century standards of taste and discretion. This gives her a broader palette to work with. This means sex scenes, and it means internal monologues and thoughts that seem more realistic to a modern reader. Waters writes this all very well, in a direct and appealing style.

I will say that there’s a happy ending (and I was very relieved and happy to get there!), but won’t say anything else about the plot because it features some great twists and turns. It’s very well put together and held my attention for its entire duration. Almost all of the characters are sympathetic, even those who turn out to be worse than we think, and this really does keep things engaging.

So, I know I’ve been vague, but that’s because you should get out there and read it for yourself, and I don't want to spoil it.

Peter Høeg, Miss Smilla’s feeling for snow.

Another thriller with a female lead, but the plot in this novel really only features one protagonist, Miss Smilla. The story is about Smilla's investigation of the death of a child who lived in the same building as her. Høeg writes well, and manages to include lots of fascinating background information about life in modern Greenland without the digressions sounding forced. He is occasionally oblique, which is fine (keeps you paying attention), but sometimes flat-out refuses to provide information to the reader even though characters have made a discovery themselves. This makes it a thriller rather than a mystery novel (you’re along for the ride and can’t expect to figure it all out for yourself), but it’s definitely gripping. Høeg is occasionally borderline pretentious but you usually forgive him this and just keep going.

The novel’s big weakness is that the ending is so weak. The chief baddy's motives remain totally obscure, and the big secret is really quite bogus. It’s all beautifully set up though, with the elaborateness of it reminding me of a well designed Call of Cthulhu scenario. The tension also ratchets up beautifully towards the end with a wonderfully narrated sea journey into the Arctic. It’s occasionally a bit graphically violent, but I’d still rate it a pretty good example of the thriller genre.

Now reading:

Jared Diamond, The rise and fall of the third chimpanzee.