The Sinking of the Laconia Not having a Radio Times last week I was lucky to catch a bit of Front Row telling me there was a new Alan Bleasdale (and as everybody has been saying, about time to). This was a two part, three hour drama on - guess what - the sinking of the Laconia, and the picking up of the survivors by the U-boat responsible. It was terrific stuff, well-written, well-acted (though how almost no-one guessed that the German woman was German, goodness only knows, because I can't believe anyone British would have believed her a native speaker unless she claimed she had grown up somewhere in Colonial Far Away), beautifully shot, nice CGI (only the smoking chimney was obviously painted in), with very effective emotional manipulation. It's a German co-production, and I did have some difficulties in the first twenty minutes until I learnt to tell apart the various blond men with beards. The second part isn't quite as good as the first - there are some great scenes, but the British in East Africa, and Americans on Ascension Island are presented less subtly than the other characters. Admiral Dönitz comes off rather well, the role of heartless German baddie taken by an assistant. Prompted to look up the incident afterwards, I was sardonically amused to note that Dönitz - who dictating at the end the new rules of not giving aid to the shipwrecked, notes that "if we lose, they will call this a war crime" - that post-Nuremberg, "the sentence of Dönitz [was] not assessed on the ground of his breaches of the international law of submarine warfare" - because the Allies had been doing it first.
Daddy Long-Legs, Jean Webster I loved the women's college element of this story, but - speaking as a person who roles her eyes when reading that "Twilight" is a bad example for teenage girls - good heavens, but Master Jervie is the creepiest romantic hero I have ever come across. I could have rather enjoyed a novel about a man who, having taken it upon himself to educate a girl finds himself falling in love with her and torn about how to behave. This is not that novel.
Day, A.L.Kennedy I had high hopes of this, so regret to report that I found it technically accomplished, unsubtle, and boring as hell.
Mirror Dance, Lois McMaster Bujold Flicking through this the other day, it suddenly struck me that Miles might have had much less angst about women if only he didn't mistakenly believe that his mother was prepared to leave Beta Colony for Barrayar solely on account of the Power of Lurve for his father.
Beware of Pity, Stefan Zweig I read this before Christmas, and it's simply terrific. I picked it up off the table in Waterstones, recognising Zweig as a collaborator of Richard Strauss. Beware of Pity is his only novel, and follows the encounter of a young lieutenant in the Austro-Hungarian army with a paralyzed young woman, Edith von Kekesfalva, who falls in love with him. It's brilliant and terrifying and sad - the portrayal of Edith's father in particular is extremely subtle and human - and I spent quite a lot of it feeling that surely there was some allegory in it somewhere, given that it was first published in 1938 and Zweig was Jewish, only to find that there didn't seem to be. It's an involving, but not easy read - it struck me at the end that it actually makes quite a lot of sense if read as a horror novel. In many ways it could have been written by Stephen King.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson Unfortunately, the best thing abot this novel is the original title, "Män som hatar kvinnor" – "Men Who Hate Women". You can see why it went for international English-language* publication, but it's a pity. Our hero journalist and his goth hacker sidekick are both entirely uninteresting characters. Fortunately, the central mystery, "who probably killed Harriet Vanger" and the story of the Vanger family and corporation are interesting and entertaining, even if the end is a bit conventional. I did wonder whether at times there were elements that would have meant more to me had I been more familiar with the cultural context - issues such as the legal guardianship of adults, for example.
*Swedish readers, I assume the lumpen prose is down to the original, not the translator?