The Interpretation Of Murder – Jed Rubenfeld

The Interpretation of Murder - I'm a bit unsure why Freud is there at all!

The Interpretation of Murder – I’m a bit unsure why Freud is there at all!

I love the idea of this book – a murder mystery including real people in a fictional setting.  I really enjoyed about the first three quarters of it, but then somehow, I got a bit bored.  All of a sudden it seemed a bit daft and disjointed and I didn’t really see the point of it.  Overall, I think I liked it, but it’s not quite as clever as it should be.

The basic premise is a murder mystery based in New York in 1909.  A sadistic killer is bumping of high society girls and the mayor, coroner and detective must solve the case.  Alongside this, Dr Younger, our part-time narrator is hosting his hero, Sigmund Freud and his entourage, including Carl Jung in the U.S.  This part is based on fact, Freud did indeed visit the States in 1909 and returned to Europe with a strong aversion to ever returning.  Why he hated the States I don’t know, but this novel attempts to give us a reason, albeit fictional.

Younger is asked to help treat one of the killers victims, Nora Acton, who has survived but has no voice or memory of her attack.  With Freud’s help, Younger attempts to psychoanalyse her and help restore her memory, thus helping the law men solve the case.  This bit’s all good, there’s twists and turns and it keeps you guessing until the end who the killer is.  Don’t worry, I wouldn’t tell you here, I’m not that mean.

Yet there’s a couple of side stories that are really surplus to requirements.  Firstly is Freud’s ongoing feud with Jung, who is painted particularly unsympathetically here.  Whilst it’s an interesting relationship, it has no relevance on the story whatsoever and seems there only to serve the purpose of including Freud in the book.  Freud himself has little impact on the murder case and seems there only to add a slant to a good old murder mystery tale.  It doesn’t really need that slant.

Secondly, Younger has an obsession with ‘solving’ Hamlet.  What does the ‘to be or not to be’ speech really mean, why did Hamlet talk but not act?  What relevance does this all have to our murder mystery story?  None really, except it gives a reason to talk more about Oedipus.  There’s just no reason to include any of this into the novel and yet I quite liked that it was there, as if Dr Younger was preoccupied with his own self-indulgent studies and not really concentrating on the case.  This perhaps makes him a more believable character.  I suspect really that Rubenfeld was preoccupied with his own studies and not really concentrating on the plot, but I didn’t really mind that.

What I did mind was the last few chapters.  There was a build up throughout the whole book and then in the space of a few pages, everything is neatly wrapped up pretty unconvincingly.  I swear I could hear the author thinking ‘crap, this is turning into a pretty long book, I’d better finish it quickly!’

And yet, I still think I liked it.  There was a number of characters introduced who I couldn’t remember and it turned out I needed to remember them.  The plot’s a bit scattered and the romance element unconvincing, it clearly thinks it’s cleverer than it is, and yet…I think I’m just a sucker for a good mystery!  There’s no other explanation.

Sample Text:

“There is no mystery to happiness. Unhappy men are all alike. Some wound they suffered long ago, some wish denied, some blow to pride, some kindling spark of love put out by scorn — or worse, indifference —  cleaves to them, or they to it, and so they live each day within a shroud of yesterdays. The happy man does not look back. He doesn’t look ahead. He lives in the present.”

Further Reading:

If you like a good historical mystery you might like The Shadow Of The Wind

If you like fictional books about real people you might like The English Patient


Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life In Wartime Sarajevo – Zlata Filipović

Zlata's Diary - a true account of life in wartorn Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic

Zlata’s Diary – a true account of life in wartorn Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic

Yet again, I must confess to buying this book for purely shallow reasons.  I used to work in a charity shop and this book sat on the shelf for so long that I began to feel sorry for it and so bought it myself.  This isn’t a novel, but a diary kept between 1991 and 1993 by Zlata Filipović, an 11 year old girl (born in 1980) living in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war. EEK, SOUNDS A BIT LIKE ANNE FRANK! BUT DOES SHE SURVIVE

The Grapes Of Wrath – John Steinbeck

“Why, Tom - us people will go on livin' when all them people is gone. Why, Tom, we're the people that live. They ain't gonna wipe us out. Why, we're the people - we go on.'    The Grapes Of Wrath

“Why, Tom – us people will go on livin’ when all them people is gone. Why, Tom, we’re the people that live. They ain’t gonna wipe us out. Why, we’re the people – we go on.’ The Grapes Of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath is the story of the Joad family and is set during the Great Depression.  The Joads are ‘Okies’ – poor farmers, displaced and desperately seeking work, as their farms were repossessed after crop failure due to the Dust Bowl.  The story begins with Tom Joad, who has just been released from prison.  Upon returning home is surprised to find nobody there, and very few people for miles around.  he learns that his family has gone out west, to California, to seek a future for themselves and so he sets off to catch them up.

Setting off with his friend, Jim Casy, Tom soon catches up with the rest of his family – Ma and Pa Joad, Uncle John, Tom’s brothers Al, Noah and Winfield, his sisters Ruthie and pregnant Rose Of Sharon, Rose Of Sharon’s husband Connie and Grampa and Granma Joad.  Together they set off for California, believing in the promise of work.  What they discover is that the roads are packed with people just like them looking for exactly the same things – dignity, hope and a future. DO THEY MAKE IT?

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne

"We're not supposed to be friends, you and me. We're meant to be enemies. Did you know that? ”   The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

“We’re not supposed to be friends, you and me. We’re meant to be enemies. Did you know that? ” The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

Apparently the first draft of this book was written in just 3 days.  I have to say that doesn’t entirely surprise me.  It’s not that I don’t think the book is good, it’s just not the sort of story which demands a whole lot of research.  It’s subject matter is pretty straightforward and it’s style is quite simplistic.  At times, it’s a bit too simplistic for my liking, written as it is from the perspective of a 9 year old German boy during WW2.  There were times when I had to remind myself that kids then were a lot more innocent and naïve than they are today, but still I felt as if Bruno, our protagonist, seemed younger than 9. SO, TELL ME BRUNO’S STORY…

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson

The sort of book I buy for the cover

The sort of book I buy for the cover

This is the sort of book you may pick up and read purely based on the title (see also ‘A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian’ and ‘The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts’).  In my case, that’s partly true, but also because it was on special offer on the Kindle.

Originally written in Swedish, it follows the adventures of said 100 year old man, Allan Karlsson.  Recently moved into a residential home, Allan is alert and spritely for his age and certainly not ready to slow down.  After making his escape, he spontaneously steals a suitcase and travels across Sweden, creating a motley crew of friends along the way (including a pet elephant).  What Allan doesn’t anticipate is that the suitcase contains thousands in stolen cash and he unknowingly is being chased by a psychotic drug-dealing motorcycle gang leader and the police.

Alongside this story is the story of Allan’s long life, his achievements and political allies.  It’s a sort of Forrest Gumpian story, with Allan creating the A-Bomb, befriending Truman, Stalin, Mao and Franco throughout the years.

Ok, so it’s not great literature, but it is an entertaining read.  It’s easy enough to get into and reads pretty well.  I did find myself wondering when it would end though.  I reckon it could do with being ¾ quarters of the length it is.  There are only so many world leaders Allan can befriend after all, even after 100 years on the planet.

Sample Text:

“I shall destroy capitalism! Do you hear! I shall destroy every single capitalist! And I shall start with you, you dog, if you don’t help us with the bomb!’
Allan noted that he had managed to be both a rat and a dog in the course of a minute or so. And that Stalin was being rather inconsistent, because now he wanted to use Allan’s services after all.
But Allan wasn’t going to sit there and listen to this abuse any longer. He had come to Moscow to help them out, not to be shouted at. Stalin would have to manage on his own.
‘I’ve been thinking,’ said Allan.
‘What,’ said Stalin angrily.
‘Why don’t you shave off that moustache?’
With that the dinner was over, because the interpreter fainted.”

Further Reading:

If you liked the Scandinavian motorcycle gangs you might like The Girl Who Played With Fire

If you like the eccentricities in old age you might like Mr. Rosenblum’s List

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernières

Captain Corelli's Mandolin “History is the propaganda of the victors.”

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
“History is the propaganda of the victors.”

Unusually this book was recommended to me by both my Mum and my Dad.  They tend to have very different tastes in literature so I suppose I initially read this out of curiosity.  It was the first De Bernières book I’d read and I had no expectations at all.  I began reading it whilst living abroad, hanging out in cafes, being very continental, bohemian etc.  This was a mistake…

At one point I started crying in a café.  Another time my friends turned up halfway through the last chapter.  I couldn’t wait to get home to read it, so after a fun night with my friends, I sat in a shop doorway and read the last few pages by the light of the lampposts.  Very few books have stayed with me as much as this one.  Ok, so it’s a bit schmaltzy and not entirely historically accurate, but it’s a good story so who cares.

Corelli is an Italian Captain, sent to Kefalonia during WW2 with the occupying forces.  He is met with resistance from the locals (perfectly understandable) until his charm and charisma win them over (not too believable, but I’ll let it slide).  Actually, he is charming.  I’d hang out with him.

Corelli is not a conscientious soldier. He wants, as much as possible, to have a peaceful war.  He doesn’t care about the Nazis or Hitler and would much rather discuss Puccini than politics.  His music is his first passion.  Then he meets Pelagia, a local girl who is engaged to a member of the resistance.  So far so Romeo and Juliet / love across the divide!

It’s essentially a love story, but there’s different forms of love at work here.  The love between Dr Iannis and his daughter Pelagia, the love between Corelli and Pelagia, Carlo’s love for Corelli, and the love and support of the community for each other.

De Bernières has a great imagination for character creation.  All of his characters are colourful and intriguing.  There’s none of his familiar magical realism here but it’s not needed.  This is a story about the impact of war on ordinary people.  These are the stories you’ll never find in the history books, yet the ones which truly bring home the horror and loss suffered.

I’ve read this book twice now (so far) and each time, I’ve laughed and cried at the same parts and loved the characters more each time.  Do yourself a favour and read it.  In fact, do yourself two favours: read the book and avoid the film.  Nicholas Cage?  What were they thinking?!

Sample Text:

“When you fall in love, it is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake, and then it subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots are become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the desire to mate every second of the day. It is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every part of your body. No… don’t blush. I am telling you some truths. For that is just being in love; which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over, when being in love has burned away. Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? But it is!”

Further Reading:

If you like a good wartime romance you might like Guernica

If you like a long-drawn out wartime romance you might like A Town Like Alice

If you like reading about life under occupation you might like The Moon Is Down

The Shadow Of The Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

If you like history, mystery and romance this may become your new favourite book.

If you like history, mystery and romance this may become your new favourite book.

If you like a good mystery story, then this could be for you.  Daniel is a young boy who is taken the ‘Cemetery of Lost Books’ in Barcelona by his father.  He is told that, as this place is secret, only a select few have ever known about it.  Everyone who is initiated must chose 1 book which they will protect for life.  (I know this may sound a bit daft written here, but go with it….)  Daniel chooses a book called The Shadow Of the Wind by Julian Carax.  After reading it, Daniel tries to find more work by this author, but struggles to find much information at all (did I mention this is post-war Barcelona i.e. no internet!)  All he finds are reports of a strange man, called Lain Corbert who has been buying up Carax’s books in order to burn them. SO THIS LAIN CORBERT IS CLEARLY A BADDIE THEN, RIGHT?