February’s been a pretty intense month of reading: from teenagerdom and mental health in The Perks of being a Wallflower, to suspected murder in The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It wasn’t exactly a cheerful selection of books, but they were pretty damn good regardless…The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo- Stieg Larsson
I’m so glad I can finally write about this! I was going to put it in my Favourite Books post, but I wanted to write a review too, so I settled for doing the latter and simply informing you all that this is one of my favourite books (that was me informing you, haha). Onto the review…
Journalist Mikael Blomkvist has just been conviced of libel when he receives a call on behalf of industrial magnate Henrik Vanger. Vanger wants Blomkvist to investigate a mystery from the past: the disappearance of his niece in 1966.
Though Blomkvist doubts he can crack the case, he takes it on and soon finds himself knee-deep in the murky waters of Vanger history. An unanticipated addition for Blomkvist is tough private investigator Lisbeth Salander- the girl with the dragon tattoo, plus a few more inkings and tattoos besides.
I’d really struggled with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo first time round, but this time, bizarrely, I was hooked from the first page. I ended up going to school several days on the bounce with raccoon eyes from staying up reading into the small hours!
Though I would love to recommend this book to everybody, I’ll be straight- if you’re easily offended, you should stay well clear. The film’s am 18, which should be indicator enough. You’ve probably heard of the rape scene, if not- warning, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo features violence (including violence of a sexual nature) against both men and women. This has generated a lot of criticism, which I personally find immensely irritating.
- Here’s a stat: 35% of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence.
- Another: some national studies show that up to 70% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse from a partner.
- Three for good luck? Only 13% of women report their most serious occurrence on non-partner violence to the police.
Think how much more violence against women goes unreported. Then, please, tell me that it’s wrong to write about it in fiction. Maybe it would be more useful to campaign against violence against women IN REAL LIFE, than to rail against graphic scenes of violence IN FICTION.
While we’re on the topic, what about caring about violence against men? For all she was a victim, Lisbeth’s revenge against her (male) abuser can hardly be condoned, yet this was picked up much less in the reviews and general chat I read about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Maybe we should work at ending violence against all genders, before complaining at authors who dare to write about it?
Another complaint I read frequently was with regards to the swearing. Some readers found the language too strong and used excessively. If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you’ll know swearing is a pet peeve of mine in literature, as I believe it is used for the “shock value” too often (and I’ll admit I’ve had comments on my own work making the same point, so I’m not exactly innocent). In this case, I thought the swearing was fitting to the genre, characters and story. I was frustrated to read comments saying that people wouldn’t let their teenage daughters read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because of the expletives and violence. Listen (or read, whatever): unless she was homeschooled and never left the house, your daughter will have heard the words mentioned in the book. You know your own child’s maturity, but please don’t let them not read books simply on the basis of them being a teenage girl! Especially since this is such a good book!-5/5
Stats: The Telegraph; http://www.unwomen.org
The Perks of Being a Wallflower- Stephen Chbosky
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming-of-age novel first published in 1999, but still immediately relevant for teenagers today. Chbosky explores themes perma-linked to adolescence, such as drinking, drug-use and sexuality through the mind of a teenage boy, Charlie.
The book begins with Charlie writing a letter to an anonymous friend about entering his freshman year of school the next day. So far, so relatable. Charlie falls into friendship with outsiders Sam and Patrick, and is soon attending parties- experimenting with drinking and drugs- while still labelled a “wallflower”. The nickname comes from Charlie’s observant nature, and his ability to keep quiet about the things he sees.
The novel is typical YA fodder, made unique only by the fact that it is written entirely in letters from Charlie to his friend, who some interpret as being the reader. It’s true that the format makes it more personal, but I still found the novel left me cold. I felt it was nothing that hadn’t been done before. That’s not to say it’s a bad read- I’m 100% positive YA readers will love it- it’s saying I personally didn’t like it.
One thing the book does have in its favour is it’s sensitive approach to mental health. Charlie has been affected by the death of his aunt and suicide of his friend, and is clearly vulnerable. This affected me personally, since it was as a result of reading this book I realised I needed to speak to my parents about my own feelings and mental health. I think it helped me a lot as I became more aware of tackling how I feel and making an effort to tell or write down my feelings so I don’t bottle them up- I don’t especially want to talk about it, but I do want to make it clear that for any teenager perhaps not feeling 100%, it is worthwhile reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower if only to recognise that this isn’t usual but you aren’t alone.
For all I think this is a book that has been done a thousand times before, I would recommend it to YA readers (I don’t especially like the genre, so it was probably unlikely that I would like Perks). As I said, there’s nothing wrong with it, so 3/5.
The Cuckoo’s Calling- Robert Galbraith
Cormoran Strike is surprised when John Bristow turns up at his offices, wishing to hire him to investigate the murder of his sister- supermodel Lula Landry, whose death was ruled an open-and-shut suicide. He takes it on, though, and soon finds this case isn’t quite as closed as it seems.
This is the first book in the Cormoran Strike series. I read the second in January, and was keen to read the story of the mysterious Lula Landry case so frequently mentioned in The Silkworm. For starters, I should explain that, although The Cuckoo’s Calling isn’t as good as it’s sequel, it isn’t too shoddy itself. I mentioned in my review of The Silkworm that JK Rowing (even when mascarding as Galbraith) is perfect for crime writing, with her skill at manipulating plots. The reader is hooked into the story with each revelation about Lula’s death- the shouting a neighbour heard before Lula fell from a balcony, the gold-digging real mother adopted Lula had found on her quest to find her roots, the on-off boyfriend with a history of drug-abuse who had rowed with Lula before her death…
We also meet Strike’s soon-to-be assistant Robin, who arrives as a temp and who proves incredibly useful on the case, despite her and Strike’s initial awkward meeting. It is in this novel too that the seeds of a relationship are planted- Strike is conscious of Robin’s appearance, especially when she gives him a twirl in an expensive dress as part of their investigation. I mentioned in my review of The Silkworm that Robin is little more than a pretty face, though Rowling seems determined to make her a love-interest for Strike, who has just been dumped by his glamorous girlfriend, Charlotte. I really hope Robin and Cormoran don’t end up a couple, because their friendship is a good enough read, and it frustrates me that men and women are never allowed to just be friends in fiction and the media.
Would I recommend The Cuckoo’s Calling? Yes, but mainly so you can read it and get onto The Silkworm. It’s good, but The Silkworm is 10 x better. -3/5
The one I put down: The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins
I’m only going to write a quick comment here: nothing wrong with the book, I just wasn’t in the mood. I’ll pick it up again another time.
I’ve started Gone with the Wind, so that’ll be in my March round-up. Until then, keeeep reading!
(My review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is miles longer than my other reviews, oops. It was brilliant, though- plus, once you get me on a rant, that’s it!)
Let me know your opinions of the books above in the comments below!