alternate readings

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

domestic violence & moral chaos without hope

Arnaldur Indriðason "silence of the grave" is a second novel with the same "hero" Erlendur a police investigator who pursues his pet projects on company time in manner which could only make a real police investigator laugh at the absurdity of it. In this story vast amounts of human resources are expended on solving an unreported crime which is at least sixty years old and all the major players are dead. Our hero Erlendur is caught up in a personal tragedy which is a somewhat distracting subplot. However, Erlendur's attempt to reconcile himself with his personal failing as a father decades ago adds some depth to his investigation of an old crime which was rooted in domestic abuse. In other words, the threads of the story do come together into one fabric, eventually.

Once again, this is not a thriller. There is little suspense. The plot is complicated by multiple rapid time shifts which on first reading are potentially confusing. The theme which is central to the story is relationships between man and woman in and out of marriage in a culture where religion and law have little or no influence on human behavior. The graphic depiction of abuse and hatred between man and wife, former lovers and so forth is so raw and untempered that some people will find the story hard to read. This is not a pretty picture.

The enigmatic appearance and disappearance of a would be deliverer in the form of a GI private from Brooklyn illustrates the complexity of the author's treatment of human evil. We are left wondering at the end if the GI from Brooklyn is just another evil man in a story filled with evil men. His appearance certainly seems to be motivated by a mixture of compassion and self serving. His positive impact on the life a family is significant but at the critical moment, he isn't there.

more on this later.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

something to read

I was looking for something to read after work, when I was too tired to do anything serious like Ajax. Having read all the Tony Hillerman detective stories more than once I was yearning for something with a different worldview. I found two books by two authors who were not-American, Arnaldur Indriðason Jar city, Henning Mankell Depths.

Tony Hillerman writes with a secular voice, a perennial anthropology graduate student, looking on the paganism of the Native Americans with a mixture of respect and disbelief but showing no such favors to Christianity for which has nothing but disdain.

I find it amusing that in a secular culture a secular author still feels the need to tell us his main character is secular, like Joe Leaphorn in Tony Hillerman's mysteries. Jim Chee is more complex, he is a traditional Navajo who is training to be a Singer (a.k.a shaman). Chee, yet another former anthropology student, struggles with the conflict between secularism and the traditional Navajo worldview. The tension between paganism and secularism is a constant in Hillerman's Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee novels.

Moving to the Scandinavian world of Henning Mankell we encounter a different sort of secularism from Tony Hillerman. Mankell reads a little like an late blooming existentialist. There is a strong undercurrent of despair in his worldview that you don't find in Hillerman. Hillerman's world is bleak, but there is a sort muted optimism in his atheistic materialism. Mankell's world doesn't hold out any sort of hope. It is despair from start to finish. His heroes are empty men acting out their meaningless roles in a world which is filled with powerful forces of "evil".

Mankell, like some of the atheistic existentialists of the mid 20th century, occasionally launches into a moralistic sort storytelling where his preachy style gets somewhat annoying. Mankell doesn't appear to have read Nietzsche. He doesn't seem to understand that his worldview doesn't give him any platform for preaching. He has no framework for even defining what is "evil".

I have just started reading Arnaldur Indriðason, finished Jar City yesterday. Once again, Arnaldur tells us that his main character is secular. Why does this need to be pointed out, in a culture where empty church buildings are preserved as artifacts from a distant past? Arnaldur is every bit as bleak as Mankell, but different. The English version of Jar City is marketed as a "thriller" which it certainly is not. There is very little suspense in Jar City. It reads more like a tragedy of the modern sort. A long day's journey into night.

more on this later.