Wednesday 17 December 2008

Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner.

From the back cover:
In this dazzling evocation of late nineteenth century Paris, we follow Victor as his investigation takes him all over the city.  But what will he do when the deaths begin to multiply and he is caught in a race against time?
'A charming journey through the life and intellectual times of an era'  ~ Le Monde

This book is the work of two authors, two sisters who are booksellers, bouquinistes, on the banks of the Seine in Paris.  I find the translation a little awkward, even dated in places.  Whether this is a deliberate attempt to conjure up the era I don't know, but I found it a false note.  "Two stiffs in the same day" neither sounds like 1889 nor the present day.

It is very much set in Paris, and if you recognise the street names and the areas mentioned, it will conjure up an image satisfactorily.  For anyone who doesn't know Paris, I would say it's less successful. It's rather better at the era than the geographical setting.  All the same, it's interesting to read about the time when the Eiffel Tower was brand new, so for that alone it's worth a read.  Less so for the murder-mystery element which I didn't find especially compelling.
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Friday 5 December 2008

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

The Bookseller of Kabul gives interesting insight into the life of an Afghan family both before and after the Taliban.  It describes familyand social life, the political situation and how individuals, particularly women, are affected.  It isn't a compelling read, the writing doesn't seem very fluent and far from fast paced, however it's a book I am glad to have read and would recommend it.

Monday 1 December 2008

Fear and Trembling by Amélie Nothomb

Amélie Nothomb was born in Japan to a family in the diplomatic service and lived there until she was five. She speaks fluent Japanese and did return to work in a Japanese company for a year.

Although for some reason I thought it was going to be a “difficult” book, it wasn’t at all: it’s entertaining and very easy to read. My usual caution about reading books in translation was totally swept away because at no point was I aware of its having been originally in French.

I don’t know whether the fairly dreadful portrayal of Japanese corporate life is accurate or not, but the most fascinating part of the book I found was the section about Japanese women, “if the Japanese woman is to be admired – and she is – it is because she doesn’t commit suicide”. Japan apparently has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, but in spite of the pressures put on them by society, the rate is very much lower in women than men. How much that holds true now I’m not sure.

Something I heard quite a while ago was also mentioned in the book. When people were starting to become aware of water conservation, a hotel said it would be very difficult to put effective measures in to reduce water consumption because a large portion of their clientele was Japanese. Apparently Japanese women become terminally embarrassed if they feel they can be overheard in the bathroom and will turn taps on full in order to prevent this. I never really knew if this was true, but Amélie Nothomb says the same thing.

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