Strange Norwegian traditions and a book review

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In my native country of Norway we have a weird tradition called “Easter crime”, in which we read/watch/listen to crime stories during Easter. Looking it up, it apparently began with a very successful ad campaign for a crime novel around Easter time in 1923 which lead Norwegians to start expecting crime thrillers for Easter and we’ve not looked back since.

Easter crime is a tradition I like to uphold not just because I love a good crime thriller but because I have many good memories associated with watching Poirot or Inspector Morse (yes I have also pulled out my Inspector Morse DVDs this Easter) with my mum or reading Nancy Drew mysteries with my friends.

I have (as previously mentioned) a very active and vivid imagination and even now at the age of 35 should not really be reading crime novels right before bed or when home alone, but my sensitivity was even more pronounced as a child and teen. So I loved the adrenaline kick I got out of scaring myself by reading or watching crime stories and I also loved the challenge of trying to puzzle out the whodunit (which, admittedly I’ve always been terrible at!)

I remember listening to an Easter crime radio play with mum one year (I must’ve been 11 or 12) and being particularly terrified. I suddenly realised who the bad guy was because of his tone of voice when he said to the hero, “you have something on your shoulder”, and I was like “no, don’t look, don’t turn around, it’s a trap!!” – and indeed it was. But regardless of how terrified I was in the moment, it was a relatively safe way to “get your kicks” as at least back in those days the crime thrillers always ended well, and there were usually not the sort of grisly murders you get these days.

So, mostly because I have such fond memories of Easters past, snuggled up on the sofa with an exciting book and a mug of cocoa (or as is more often the case these days: a glass of red wine), I turn to crime fiction during Easter. Though it’s increasingly starting to feel like one of those you can never go home again type of things.

Obviously I’m not as easily startled as I was at age 12 – someone saying (no matter how creepy their voice is) “you have something on your shoulder” is not going to make me bat an eye. But… that doesn’t mean I prefer or even like the other extreme which seems to be trending the past 10 years or so, wherein crime fiction writers are in competition over who can write the most vulgar, tasteless, gross and shocking story, where the gratuitous torture and violence seem to have little bearing on the story and is simply there to shock. I’m looking at guys like Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbø (and this is coming from someone who was a huuuuuuge fan, like the biggest, of Jo Nesbø for the first 7-8 Harry Hole books, because back then I found him a brilliant writer and although some pretty horrible things happened they didn’t seem to happen just for shock value – sadly I feel he’s gone over to the dark side since then) as well as some of the “Scandinavian noir” shows that are so popular on Netflix.

What I enjoy is a suspenseful and cleverly crafted whodunit mystery (a little gratuitous violence is OK!) that has me sitting on the edge of my seat unable to put down the book until the very end. I’d like to go “oh of course [person] is the killer, now everything falls into place”, but preferably not until the very end.

So do they still write books like this?? I’d do it myself but I’m not clever enough to come up with a good plot and subtly hint at the solution under way without giving away too much.

Anyway, the first crime novel I picked up this Easter was a pretty decent effort but nothing spectacular.

Book review: The Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryndza

3/5 stars.

So, I love Robert Bryndza from his Coco Pinchard series, and this book gets pretty good reviews so I thought I’d give it a try. And I did like it, but there are a few things that drag it down from “great” to “OK plus” for me:

  • There’s too much superfluous description of surroundings, clothes etc. For instance it doesn’t really add anything to setting/scene/character description that the forensic pathologist has a phone in a leather cover in his lab coat pocket. It doesn’t ring, it’s not hot pink, it’s superfluous (for whatever reason this is the one example that stuck with me..). He also seems to have a thing about people’s weight, at least if they’re big. The book is full of “dumpy” people spilling over the back of their chair or pouring themselves into their skinny jeans. Maybe it’s just me?
  • Erika is way too confrontational and rude without any proper reason. Sure, it’s reasonable to suspect that she’s suffering from PTSD, but that’s never really given as an explanation or excuse for her behaviour. And she’s not confrontational in the arrogantly charming way of say Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock or John Thaw’s Inspector Morse – no she’s just plain rude. Which also makes it hard to see why most of her new colleagues seem to have some loyalty towards her from very early on.
  • While the solution to the mystery is perfectly adequate and plausible, I don’t feel like there were any specific clues laid up towards the killer being the killer – it wasn’t one of those moments (as referenced in part one of this blog) where you went “oh, of course it was [person] all along!”

That being said, Bryndza is still an excellent writer overall, and the story was exciting and at times hard to put down. And though there were superfluous descriptions I also very much enjoyed the descriptions of the different areas of London, which made me feel as if the writer is a local – it came across as convincing even though he may have made half of it up. I classify this as a solid first effort and I’ll give the second one a go soon as I think there’s definite potential here. And bonus points for not being over-the-top grisly or morbid. I’d also like to learn more about Erika’s background, and found the conversations with her father-in-law surprisingly heart-wrenching.

Book review: The Sea and the Silence by Peter Cunningham

4/5 stars.

Another book in the series of “Sarah reads books she downloaded to her Kindle on a whim for cheap or free”. In this case the title really appealed to me – there are few things I like more than the sea and silence, and I have resolved to read more books by Irish writers.

This was a very unusual book, written unlike any other I’ve read.

Roughly the first half of the book is the story of Ismay – Iz for short, who struggles with her marriage and being a good mother for her son. The second half of the book is about Ismay’s younger years, before she got married. It was a very clever way to tell the story. In the first half you are aware that something must have happened – something dramatic probably, but you only really get to see how the two parts of the story fit together right at the very end of the second half, and then everything falls tragically and beautifully into place.

I must admit that although I grew to love the writing, I found it hard to get into at first. I felt as if Iz was relating stories from her life as if they were peripheral to her and of no interest or consequence. But at some point after the 30% mark I was completely drawn in and captivated, and actually ended up really liking the writing style once I’d gotten used to it.

There’s also a nice (and understandable) juxtaposition in the first half being related in a more distant manner, and the second half more passionately. Between Ismay the realist and Ismay the lover and idealist.

It’s a slow burn, but becomes totally engaging. And heart breaking. Spoiler alert: it does not end well. (Not that much of a spoiler as that’s kind of apparent from early on.)

The language is at times really poetic. I love the highlight function on Kindle but I sadly forget to use it. The quote that I did manage to highlight is possibly slightly spoilerish, but really illustrates what I love about the writing style:

I craved that speck of time between his life and death so that I could ease myself into it and remain there forever.

I find it so relatable and understandable and yet poetic.

Now that I’ve finished the whole story I’m kind of tempted to go back and read the first half again just to see how exactly everything fits together – kind of like at the end of the Sixth Sense you want to rewind the movie and watch it all over again, because surely they messed something up? (Other spoiler alert: they didn’t.)

I would recommend this to anyone interested in family sagas and Irish history that has a little bit of patience and doesn’t always need a happy ending. This kind of storytelling is maybe not for everyone, but I ended up being very pleasantly surprised.

 

 

 

 

The Guilt Spiral

The guilt spiral is a mystifying thing that occurs when bad things happen to people around me. I start to feel guilty that the bad things are happening to other people instead of me. And then I start to feel guilty about feeling guilty because bad things aren’t happening to me. At this moment there are quite a lot of bad things happening to people around me.

I think I feel this way because on some level I cannot let go of the idea of fairness and that people should get what they deserve. It’s part of the appeal of television; in most cases the bad guys get their comeuppance and the good guys live happily ever after (well, maybe not so much in modern television – I’m looking at you Joss Whedon and George R.R. Martin). Occasionally the good guys will die young and blameless and their equally young and blameless peers will bear the exquisite suffering on their noble faces like the True Heroes that they are. But real life is not a carefully crafted drama where good and evil are balanced, and where some karmic justice is at work. It’s just a bunch of people, muddling along, doing the best we can, and stuff happens that’s mostly outside our control. And then we deal with it. But as someone who grew up with books and fairy tales, a strong sense of justice and a vivid imagination, I on some level refuse to accept this.

And on some level – sadly – I seem to think that I deserve bad things more than others do. Hence the guilt. I haven’t yet in my 35 years been able to exactly determine why I carry this guilt around. It’s not from being unusually lucky, so I feel as if it’s “my turn”. Compared to most of the people I know, I end up somewhere around or above average on the “bad things have happened” scale (don’t worry, I won’t detail my grievances). For the record I would say I’m around or above average on the “good things have happened” scale too.

Of course I was born in Western Europe and always had a roof over my head and food on the table so I also habitually feel guilty for not having been born in say a poor African country. But the long and the short of it is that this cosmic burden of guilt is not doing me or anybody else any good – so I’d like it to go away please.

Because I veer towards being overly analytical, I wrote myself a letter to try to convince myself to stop with this nonsense:

Dear Sarah,

Sometimes bad things happen to people around you. It doesn’t mean you caused it or that you should feel guilty because right now bad things aren’t happening to you.

Most of these bad things you cannot fix. Sure, you can be there and offer what support is possible, but you cannot make friends, family, or colleagues physically or mentally well. You are not a doctor or a psychiatrist. You are not omnipotent. You do not have magical powers. There’s no misplaced Hogwarts letter with your name on it.

My advice to you is this: be there when you can, in the way that you can, for the people you care about. Try to appreciate that you have your health, a happy relationship and that your life is not generally falling to pieces. This is a good thing. It is not something to feel guilty about. It doesn’t mean there’s some glitch in the matrix and actually these things should be happening to you, and because they’re not, it in some way becomes your fault that it’s happening to others. Good and bad things do not happen because you deserve them. They just happen. Your friends deserve to be happy, but so do you. Go. Be happy.

Love,
Sarah

Fuck you depression, step 2: exercise

So I’m sure we’re all well aware of the both mental and physical health benefits of exercise. And to quote the inimitable Elle Woods:  “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.” (Legally Blonde is my guilty pleasure movie, don’t judge!)

And I understand it’s very hard to get started with, particularly if you’re already feeling depressed, but I have to say I believe it works very well as a pre-emptive measure, and even during periods of depression can help make things less dire if you can just manage to get going. And it doesn’t have to be a major change. Just going for a short walk now and then when the weather is nice can already help a great deal. The human body thrives on being active, and a happy body leads to a happy(er) mind.

And this is coming from someone who does not naturally love exercise or sports. Especially team sports… In school I dreaded team sports even more than maths, and that’s saying something. Not only was I extremely uncoordinated, I also didn’t really take to the concept of people throwing round objects of various sizes at me, at which point I was expected to catch them, rather than  – you know, dodge them,  run away, or hold my arms over my face and scream (Volleyball was the worst. It’s always really obvious when it’s your fault in volleyball.)

I came to exercise in my early thirties, by way of necessity. I was really, really overweight, and I needed to do something about it. As anyone who has tried to lose weight knows,  even though what you eat is the most important part, you need to exercise to try to prevent muscle loss.

After several years of regular exercise (these days normally 5 workouts a week), I must admit I still do not actually enjoy it. BUT, I do enjoy the after effects. In the short term (post-workout) it makes me feel happier, in the long term it makes me feel better about myself – I feel healthier and fitter – indeed I am healthier and fitter. I feel stronger and more confident.

I will probably never be completely happy with myself, but there’s a satisfaction in knowing that I’ve done the things I can do to be happier and healthier.

It’s still a bit of a slog at times, and there are many (most) mornings where I do not want to get out of bed and jump around or go for a run, but I am so convinced of both the long and short term benefits of exercise that I mostly manage to get myself to do it anyway.

If you’re struggling, my tips are:

Find a routine that works for you and stick to it. For me, exercising in the morning works best, as I know from experience that if I leave it till I get home from work it’s too easy to find an excuse (I’m tired, I’m just going to finish this chapter, I’m just going to watch one episode etc. etc.) But in the morning, as long as I manage to flop myself out of bed, I might as well exercise as it’s not like I’m going to sit down and watch Netlfix at 6 AM.

Find the path of least resistance. Building on my previous statement – try to find a form of exercise you find enjoyable, or that you at least hate less than others. Just walking at a brisk pace is already good for you. Plus there’s that fresh air and sunlight that’s rumoured to do some good as well (vitamin D, people!)

Fake it till you make it. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. So however arduous it is, try to stick with your routine for let’s say a month, and you should start to find that it comes easier, and becomes more automatic.

Set specific goals. It definitely helped me to have a specific goal to work towards. I lost the weight, I’m stronger and fitter than ever, and my next goal is to run the Dam-tot-Dam race (16,2 km) in September. As well as of course keeping the weight from piling back on. Constant vigilance!

So, to recap: more exercise = less depression and less shooting your husband. 😉

But do take care of yourself, listen to your body and don’t push your limits more than is healthy. This week I’ve taken it a little more easy than I’d normally do but I’ve still gotten some workouts in and they do still make me feel better afterwards.

Fuck you depression, step 1: openness

I met an old friend today,
But I turned and walked the other way.

Depression is not so much a friend as an enemy, I suppose. But sometimes when you know your enemies this well, they almost seem like old friends.

Yesterday’s post was part acknowledging to myself that I’m here again now, I’ve come to the fork in the road and I recognise the signs. I have to actively choose to walk the other way while I still can, or I’ll be dragged down. And partly it was a promise to be open to those around me – the great void of the internet, and the people closest to me.

If you open up you’ll find that a surprising amount of people have been through something very similar. And surely there’s some consolation in the fact that you are not alone, even in your darkest hour? Even when you really feel like nobody understands – somebody does. Trust me. You’ll find that there are many around you who’ll find it easier to share their story because you shared yours, and will be grateful for it. This is something I’ve discovered again and again. I mean, choose your moment and your audience by all means. Maybe don’t tell your butcher. But do tell your mum, your partner and/or your best friend – or even find a support group – they’re not just for addicts!

But, sometimes sharing is hard. Sometimes you feel like you don’t have the words or you don’t want to burden those around you – because it is a burden. It’s a burden to know that someone you love is suffering, and you can do very little to help. A very dear friend of mine is currently undergoing treatment for cancer. I can’t fix it, I can’t make it go away, but would I rather not know? Not in a million years. I still have the opportunity of telling her I love her and that I’m here for her and she can talk to me if she wants to, to offer what little support I can. And so I believe it is with depression or any mental illness as well.

I know it’s difficult for poor Boyfriend to deal with all this. He  – luckily – has no experience with or understanding of what it’s like to be depressed. Which is one reason I am drawn to him. He’s pretty much always happy and easy-going, he is a stabilizing factor in my life, my safe harbour. Another thing he is is selfless.

This selflessness is not unproblematic though. My failure to be happy becomes his failure to make me so. I talked to my mum earlier today who had read yesterday’s post and was all prepared with a battle plan. Boyfriend asked jokingly (I hope and assume) if one of her strategies was for me to find a new boyfriend who’d make me happy.

But my darling, we are all very much the masters of our own happiness, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Do I expect and anticipate that you will contribute to my happiness? Absolutely. And I’ve many years of evidence to support it. Do I expect you to be the maker or destroyer of my happiness? Frankly that’s a scary thought so let’s not even go there.

So let it not be your failure, or indeed anyone’s failure. Let it just be what it is. Let us find a way through it together and come out stronger on the other side.

And to you lot out there, sitting in your dark corners thinking you have no one and no one will understand: Please reach out to someone. Reach out to me, if you want, I’d welcome it. I’m never as happy as when my misfortunes, experience, mistakes, trials and tribulations can be of help and comfort to someone else. I feel redeemed; like some small part of it is worth it all.

Be kind to yourselves, people.

 

 

Will I feel better in the morning?

For a long time (years) I’ve not felt much. By which I mean my feelings have been superficial. I can feel happiness, enjoyment, sadness and all those things, and do so quite frequently, but it doesn’t really touch me.

I used to be on the other end of the spectrum. I used to feel everything really intensely. And it was hard, but I miss it.

I thought  there was a thing  about me blocking out my sensitivity and that’s how I got to where I am now, so I’ve been trying to work on that. Trying to accept and appreciate my sensitive side without leaving myself completely unprotected. I’ve tried to focus on being in the now, on living, on doing things. But either I’ve failed at that or I somehow lost my way.

My feelings have been shrinking over the last few weeks.

We have a magnolia tree in our garden which is now just past full bloom. I remember when we moved here, the intense feelings of joy of looking out at the tree, sitting in the garden, enjoying the peace and quiet and sunlight, smelling the flowers and other spring scents. Spring used to make me deeply happy.

Last weekend I sat in the garden in the sun, reading a nice book. It was pleasant. Objectively speaking it was nice. But you know, nothing more than that. I sat staring at the tree for a while, trying to force myself to feel something more, trying to tap into those feelings I believe I still have – somewhere. But, I guess you can’t force these things.

But you can’t coax them either.

Today I feel nothing. And I want to do nothing. I mean I don’t even want to watch Downton Abbey and have a glass of wine, which is usually pretty fail-safe. I don’t want to go for a walk, I don’t want to read, I don’t want to play Super Mario – there’s nothing I usually enjoy that tempts me.

I cried a bit, but it’s out of some kind of emptiness rather than sadness. I feel the lead coating of depression settling over me, and I’m not sure how to fight it.

I used to always hate it when people said that I’d feel better in the morning, or after a good night’s rest – I’m still waiting for that morning. Will I feel better then? Is it morning yet?

Book review: Library of Souls

3/5 stars

This is the third and final instalment in Ransom Riggs’ tales of Peculiardom. The story in the first book was based around old, mysterious photographs that the writer had collected, which also feature throughout the series. This way of telling a story worked very well in the first book, less so in the second and third – I’ll get back to that.

When I look at my review for book two in this series I could honestly have written almost the same thing for book 3.

When I picked up the first book it was full of magic and marvel and it was something completely new. The pictures were fascinating and added a lot to the story, the world and the characters were intriguing.

It sort of.. fizzled out a bit. I mean, Ransom Riggs remains a good writer, and the world he has built is still really intriguing, and it all hangs together. But.. there was just too much drudgery and chasing and fighting in the third book (and to a lesser degree in the second). I want to read more about peculiar people, their world and their abilities. Sure, it’s described along the way, but it’s by no means a main focus anymore. Plus many of the characters we’ve gotten to know in the first two books are not present for much of the third instalment. I don’t mind new characters being introduced, but it seems a little like they’re being introduced “for the sake of it”, or because there were pictures that roughly fit their description. Notable exceptions being Sharon, Bentham and Mother Dust (and of course grimbears!)

Like in the second book I didn’t feel as if the pictures added much to the story. Sometimes it feels as if unnecessary  bits are added in in order to use a certain photo, and other times I feel as if the description preceding the photo just doesn’t match it very well – which pulls me out of the story as it forces me to think “that’s not how I imagined it”.

I LOVE the panloopticon – such a fun and clever idea. I also found the idea of the library of souls very interesting, but in the end I don’t think that storyline really reaches its full potential. It’s a bunch more fighting and escaping again.

I’m close to giving it four stars because I liked how it ended, but there’s just too much slogging through stuff that wasn’t terribly interesting before I got to that point.