Maria Lang: Siden, Sammet/Silk, Velvet

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Maria Lang was a Swedish detective novel queen already before anyone had heard about the Nordic Noir. She wrote over 40 novels, usually one a year. Her main detective character in the later stories was Christer Wijk, a police investigator. Silk, Velvet is a story situated in Stockholm, in the 1950/60s. The story reels around a fashion atelier in Kungsholmen, its employees and customers.

Maria Lang Siden Sammet

Author: Maria Lang
Publisher: P.A. Norstedt & Söners Förlag 1975
Category: Detective fiction
Original language: Swedish
Rating: 4/5

Helmet Reading Challenge 2017, number 37: A book by an author who has written more than 20 books.

Lang’s books are Agatha Christie style mysteries, right down my alley in other words. I reread this book when we were visiting Stockholm this summer, staying in a hotel in Kungsholmen. It was a time leap to an earlier era in a city that has changed a lot since fifties and is changing all the time. It is also one of my old hometowns, so the familiar streets and places in the book brought an extra shiver for the reading experience.

In Silk, Velvet a rich and nasty customer, Veronica Thoren faces her end in the sewer’s atelier. As Christer Wijk sets about to investigate, he soon realizes everybody seem to be connected in one way or other to this irritating person and would have plenty of reasons to murder her. But who took the scissors and stabbed her?

Lang has created a delicious cast of characters in a very 50’s spirit. It is still in a way the age of innocence, but the human nature is the same – regardless of the era. Reader collects clues together with the detective and gets to put her little gray cells to work.

Netflix has a 6 part series on Maria Lang detective stories. These films feature Puck and Eje, my favourite amateur detective couple. This series has an excellent period feeling of the 50′ and 60′ Sweden.

Susan

You can also buy the Crimes of Passion with Puck & Eje in DVD:

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Kristina Carlson: Mister Darwin’s Gardener

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Despite the name, this book is more about the God than the garden. Kristina Carlson has fantasized the village of Mr Darwin and its inhabitants and their various perspectives on religion in the end of 1870s, when Mr Darwin’s writings on evolution were already well known. A prominent position is given to Mr Darwin’s gardener, who’s had more than his share of the bad luck in life and perhaps for this reason, is not very highly regarded in his village.

Kristina Carlson: Herra Darwinin puutarhuri

Author: Kristina Carlson
Publisher: Otava 2009
Category: Fiction
Original language: Finnish
Rating: 3/5

Helmet Reading Challenge 2017, number 43: A book that you have planned to read for a long time.

I came across this book in the Helmet Literature Challenge Facebook group and the title got me intrigued. I just had to read it, no matter what the actual content. There was absolutely no rational reason for this, so it must be that the title just was exactly right for me. Whoever invented it, made a good job!

The novel is mostly a collection of thoughts – of Thomas Davies, the gardener, and of the people of the village. These thoughts are foremost gloomy. The structure makes it at times very difficult to follow whose thoughts are at hand. However, it was very difficult to put down this book. It kept me in its hold. Right from the beginning the story seems to build up to something sinister, a twist, in the end… but that never materializes.

Carlson is a very skilled writer in her own style. The sentences are often long and missing punctuation, as they are the flow of thought of the characters. But they also feel quite authentic. It doesn’t really matter if one is not able to follow who’s thinking. In the end, it is not important. What is important is the big picture, the petty, narrow-minded pattern of thought that seems to prevail in the village.

Kristina Carlson is an acclaimed Finnish author. She knows her craft. Thus, it is even more concerning that she joins in this book the plentiful crowd of contemporary Finnish authors, whose stories are basically infinite dwelling in misery. The villagers in Mr Darwin’s Gardener have no single happy or even friendly thought. Perhaps that’s why the aftertaste of the novel is bland. Without ups, the downs don’t feel like anything. Is happiness considered too “light”, naive or downright commercial to be included in serious literature? When was the last time a humorous novel won one of the better literature awards?

Susan

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Maria Jotuni: Suhteita, Rakkautta/Relationships, Love

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If you were transported a hundred years back in time, what would life be like? What would the relationships between people be like? Or language? I’m pretty sure there’d be quite a bit more difficulties than often is presented in time travel fiction. Maria Jotuni’s book is not about time travel, but reading it now was a journey to the past.

Maria Jotuni: Suhteita, Rakkautta

Author: Maria Jotuni
Publisher: SKS 1998
Category: Fiction
Original language: Finnish
Rating: 3/5

Helmet Reading Challenge 2017, number 3: Finnish classics.

Maria Jotuni (1880-1943) was a Finnish female writer, who described the relationships between men and women in a way that the public was not accustomed to in the early 20th century. This book contains Jotuni’s short stories. The writing style varies and is at times quite experimental. Some of the stories lean on the overtly artistic side.

Most of them are however quite brutal in their view. This is the bread and butter of the Finnish prose nowadays too – If you’d familiarize yourself with Finland just by reading Finnish contemporary literature, it would be very hard to believe the polls telling Finns are among the happiest people in the world.

Relationships, Love tells about the dark side of the ordinary life. Jotuni’s writing flows easily, but her use of dialogue is at times overwhelming. What’s interesting is to compare the language of the beginning of the 20th century to the language of today. It was sometimes difficult to understand what Jotuni’s characters were saying, because of the old-fashioned way they use the language. Unfortunately, it also distances the reader from the text so much, that the story becomes more of a curiosity than something to immerse oneself in.

When these stories were first published they were perceived as modern and ground breaking. Jotuni brought the new ideas and philosophies of her time into her stories’ world. She wasn’t preaching; her stories were built on a worldview that was just budding at the time.

Susan

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Janet Hoult: Dragons – Their History and Symbolism

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Dragons are as alive and well as they used to be a thousand years ago. Popular culture is steaming with dragons in books, movies and games. There are terrifying dragons as well as kind dragons. Even dragons hiding themselves in human form.

Dragon

What is it that makes this legendary creature so intriguing to us? Janet Hoult’s small book on the history and symbolism of dragons is filled with examples on the ways dragons have been a part of the folklore and history of mankind since the earliest of times.

Author: Janet Hoult
Publisher: Gothic Image Publications 1987
Category: Non-fiction
Original language: English
Rating: 4/5

Dragons are known everywhere, but there are certain areas more prone to this imagery than others. In Europe the British Isles seem to be the main stronghold of the dragon-lore. There are numerous places, whose names reflect their history of dragon legends – either with the word dragon or worm included in the name. Most often this seems to come in the form of a “Worm Hill” in the place where a dragon was supposed to have been killed by a local hero, usually sometime in the Middle Ages or before.

I wonder if the word worm has come to signify dragon for the same reason as in Finland there are numerous nick-names for a bear – it was believed that saying aloud the word bear would bring the feared beast to the speaker, thus it was better to use some kind of euphemism.

Janet Hoult presents in her book the history and ceremonies related to dragons, their different shapes and types around the world, British dragon legends, which are plentiful, especially the ones related to St. George and St. Michael, the ones connected to King Arthur and the use of dragon symbol in alchemy and so on.

Hoult’s book contains several drawings of ancient art works depicting dragons. These are wonderful, but some of them even more intriguing than others. One of the pictures illustrates South-American elephant-headed rain god and a dragon. A South-American elephant? This had to be checked, and it turns out there has indeed been elephants in South-America.

However, the conservative science places them in much earlier times that obviously was true, based on the art works created by South-Americans. A bit more cross-boundary science would be beneficial for all, one might think. Art historians specialized in South-America could tell the paleontologists right away that their assumptions can’t be true.

Susan

Dragons: Their History and Symbolism:

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Stefan Casta & Emma Tinnert: Butterfly Book

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Butterflies. There’s something otherworldly in them. They’re beautiful and scary at the same time. Butterflies seem as light as the wind, which blows them around. But if you look them close up, they’re hairy little creatures with long legs, long feelers and absolutely huge eyes. Compared to its body, butterfly’s wings are XXL size.

Butterfly Book

Author: Stefan Casta & Emma Tinnert
Publisher: Mäkelä 2014, Finland (the Finnish edition)
Category: Non-fiction
Original language: Swedish
Rating: 5/5

Despite these thoughts, I find butterflies fascinating and amazingly beautiful. They have body colours that are hard to find in any other creature on earth. What’s more, their life cycle would be science fiction if it wasn’t real world: from eggs to caterpillars, to chrysalis, to an adult butterfly.

Stefan Casta & Emma Tinnert have created a book that presents the most interesting Scandinavian butterfly species. It also tells the basics of the butterfly physiology. Did you know that butterflies hear with their hairs and smell with their feelers? Their large wings are like solar panels. Before a butterfly can fly, it has to warm up. In sun butterfly’s body temperature can be even 15 degrees higher than the air temperature. This makes it easy for its flying muscles in the centre of the body to speed up to flight.

This summer my attention is drawn to one particular butterfly species: Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus). It was voted as the national butterfly of Finland earlier this year. There are three different subspecies of the Common Blue. Most of them are of a beautiful blue shade, but some individuals are brown. I’ve yet to see this butterfly in the nature. It is a somewhat small butterfly – wing span of 21-33 mm, so it takes a sharp eye to spot it in the meadows where it lives.

Susan

No butterflies? Grow them on your backyard!

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