English as She is Spoke

Do you write letters to the newspaper bewailing the falling standards of English or, when you see such letters, do you shrug your shoulders and mutter “wodever”? Either way, here is a Christchurch Writers Festival event for you – English as She is Spoke which pairs Dr Elizabeth Gordon and Simon Winchester in what promises to be an event that is scintillating enough to render me speechless.

Elizabeth Gordon writes a regular column in The Press and her latest book Living Language: Exploring Kiwitalk tackles issues around language change in New Zealand. In other words, she writes really well about language. Simon Winchester on the other hand writes brilliantly using language and his The Professor and the Madman (aka The Surgeon of Crowthorne) is a must read for anyone interested in English.

I can’t say I am going to this event entirely without leanings. At times Gordon’s column has made me emit high-pitched keening noises whilst stabbing at the page with a blunt instrument. What is more, I have on occasion refused to stay in places which cannot correctly spell the word accommodation, recently joined a group called “there, their and they’re are not the same”  and feel heartbroken when some young people in libraries appear unable to articulate the simplest of requests.

That said, I will be in the queue for this event with an opinionated open mind (if there is such a thing), my mouth shut and my posture leaning to the side of the aisle on which Winchester sits. How about you?

PS – I am dedicating this blog to the patriarch of the Festival Team, Richard Liddicoat who for some time now has suspected that I am incapable of writing a blog of under 300 words. This one comes to exactly 299 Richard. Do I get a chocolate fish?

My Swedish challenge leaves me cold

I am one of only 6 people in the world who doesn’t adore The girl with the dragon tattoo.

I wanted to find out why there is  all this fuss about  Stieg Larsson  – what makes him so compelling?  The appeal of mysteries has always been a mystery to me – the closest I’ve come is  Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brody series and the wonderful Secret History. So I made  Swedish mystery my 5 book challenge with a small deviation to Swedish fiction.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is  a clunky mix of corporate politics, sexual violence, neo-Nazis,  IT and curiously old  fashioned Biblical blood and gore.  Even the relationship between the computer savy and deeply disturbed Goth, Lisbeth, and the gruff, man-alone Blomkvist doesn’t warm me.

I suppose it is all about plot and that compelling quest for whodunnit but I really don’t care because there was no character development of the culprit.  Perhaps I’m too faint hearted for all that gruesome sexual violence but it doesn’t make it any better that it is Larsson’s way of exposing misogyny. The revenge is just as repulsive and voyeuristic.   I have no desire to read the other two.

Henning Mankell is the other doyen of Swedish fiction so I dipped my icy toes into Italian shoes though I cheated a bit as it is not strictly Mystery.  Unlike, Larsson he can write – I liked this well crafted book.  It is also disturbing and mysterious but  so much more. The taciturn and flawed Welin has a dark past  which comes back to haunt him.  The women are strong, the landscape white –  you can feel that strong sense of place.  I was chilled to the bone as  Welin breaks the ice to take his daily swim of penance in the frozen sea of his archipelago but at at least there seemed to be blood flowing in his veins.

I’m reading more Mankell and  Shadow by Karin Alvtegen and look forward to the winner of the CWA’s International Dagger Award,  Swede Johan Theorin with his book Darkest Room.   I seem to be avoiding frost bite so far.

If you are already up for the Swedish challenge, explore some more authors from our  If you like Scandanavian crime booklist.