Monthly Archives: October 2015

A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD by Anne Tyler

a spool of blue thread by anne tyler

“That was another of their quirks: they had  talent for pretending that everything was fine. Or maybe it wasn’t a quirk at all. Maybe it was further proof that the Whitshanks were not remarkable in any way whatsoever.”

Anne Tyler has a knack of making the ordinary sublime and A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD is no exception. In many ways it’s the  story of a house and home, representing one family’s hopes, expectations and sense of themselves. It’s also the story of how the family changes from one generation to the next, absorbs new members and loses older ones.

The book opens with a beguiling phone call from black sheep, Denny Whitshank, to his parents Abby and Red, and with the proclamation that he is gay. But this is not the start of anything, nor indeed the end, it’s just another moment in time. As is the very first day of 2012 when “Abby began disappearing” and when Linnie May, Red’s mother, interferes with the porch swing. Even explosive secrets soon fizzle out and become just part of the family tapestry. A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD is a comforting blanket stitched from many such moments. Each individual member of the clan is richly depicted, with real warmth and humour. Even minor characters are given the Tyler treatment – Denny’s short lived wife, for example, is “pleasant but distracted, as if she were wondering whether she’d left a burner on at home”. The moments and their players are held together by the family thread, even from beyond the grave, with the resulting whole definitely the star attraction.

Tyler’s lightness of touch is a joy. Her humour as expansive and welcoming as the family home Abby admired when she first met Red’s parents and sought to recreate when they got married. One of my favourite moments is when the pair are mulling over the day before going to sleep and considering what they’d use just one wish on if they had it. Abby declares she’d ask for wonderful lives for all their children, then protests at Red’s failure to put family first when he responds with a wish that his main competitor would be made bankrupt. Her husband’s logic though, is indisputable: “I do put it first. But you already took care of that with your wish.”

Domesticity, minor dramas, discontentment and muddle provide the framework for some universal human truths – such as feeling superfluous when your children have grown up and built their own lives; that “The trouble with dying is that you don’t get to see how everything turns out.”; how the parents of difficult children are left holding sackfuls of anger and resentment, even when they are rejoicing that things seems to be turning out alright; the way we can all sometimes pretend not to notice the passenger standing who needs our seat more than we do; and no matter what your notions of how things should be, everyone else will carry on as they like, regardless.

In the hands of a less deft writer A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD could have been cloying but Tyler determinedly avoids giving us cosy perfection. This is life full of rough edges, indignity and disappointment – and all the more enjoyable for it.

 

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THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB by David Lagercrantz

the girl in the spider's web by david lagercrantz

Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist are back! I didn’t pay that much attention to the writing from the brave man who has picked up Stieg Larsson’s legacy, as I was so caught up in this new installment, but I guess the fact that rattling through it I barely noticed it wasn’t from the same writer is testimony to how well he’s managed to capture both the characters and the style of the first 3 #millennium novels. There’s an obvious lack of the radical edge possessed by Larsson, and at times Salander is flatter on the pages than you might expect; her passion can come across as coldness, for example. But overall, despite the controversy surrounding Lagercrantz being handed the baton and the obvious commercial drive to continue the series, I welcome this new chapter and think it’s a success.

The story features many of the personalities we already know and some new ones, mainly staying true to the qualities and quirks that make Salander one of my all time favourite fictional women. The book picks up her story as she continues the attempt to eradicate every shred of the evil perpetrated by Zalachenko, her father. That means tracking down the outer most reaches of his criminal gang and the mysterious person at the helm, who exerts almost mythical powers over gang members. It’s a mission that brings Salander into conflict with the National Security Agency for breaking into their systems and, in the process, she unlocks secrets that give Blomkvist access to yet another story of a lifetime. There’s hacking galore, industrial espionage, new insight into Swedish politics and business, some typical ass kicking of both the physical and intellectual kind from Salander, and more twists and turns in the fate of Millennium magazine. There’s also a whole new world of technology, courtesy of a professor who specialises in artificial intelligence and whose autistic son becomes a target after witnessing a murder. Salander’s relationship with the boy is especially interesting given their shared personality traits and this, combined with her guardian, Holgar Palmgren, opening up about her childhood, allows Lagercrantz to develop new aspects of Larsson’s anti-hero. He seems to lack complete confidence to do this directly though, with much of what we learn coming second hand rather than seeing her in action. Blomkvist has also evolved, in part because, when the book opens, his career seems to have palled, and perhaps Lagercrantz’s own background as a journalist allows him to feel on more comfortable ground here. There’s some incredibly painful and difficult moments for Blomkvist and I like that the writer doesn’t dodge them: they feel true and brave.

I could wax lyrical for some time but would simple urge you to read the book. Reminiscent of the first #Millennium book, with its detailed and winding plot that sets the stage for more installments, yet at the same time doesn’t leave too many loose ends, THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB is a worthy follow up to Larsson’s trilogy and hopefully we’ll be seeing even more of Salander and Blomkvist in future.

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