This Week, I Read… (#26)

61 - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

#61 – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

  • Read: 6/13/16 – 6/18/16
  • Provenance: Owned (paperback)
  • Challenge: BookRiot Read Harder 2016
  • Task: Read a book with a main character who has a mental illness
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

Straight out of the gate, I want to say I was on the fence about using this book for this task, as I was aware a major point of contention in criticism of this book was the portrayal of Lisbeth’s autism. I know very little about autism, and I’m willing to bet much of what I know is riddled with common biases–I can’t judge if she was a realistic example of someone on the spectrum, or not. Because I’m aware of that, I’m not going to walk away from this thinking, now I know all about autism, look how informed I am.

That being said, she’s a hell of a character, and I loved her.

I’m always skeptical of over-hyped books (and other media), but I’m glad I finally read this. I feel about this book the same way I felt earlier this year about The Kite Runner–I see it’s flaws as described by other reviewers, and if you didn’t like this book, I get it. But at the same time, I was thrilled to turn every page.

Any author who can get me hooked in a mystery (my least favorite genre) by interweaving a historical disappearance with present-day financial shenanigans, who can write a scene about computer hacking with the same level of detail and interest as scenes of violence, and who makes no apologies for the deep flaws in the protagonists (because, boy, are they ever flawed) has my vote. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

62 - The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

#62 – The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, by Leslye Walton

While a 1-star read would usually have put itself in the Did Not Finish pile, because this was one of the titles suggested to me by my swap partner, I made myself read all of it, because putting it down felt like half-assed participation.

The irony is, if I had put it down halfway through, I would have liked it better than I did when I finished it.

My reviews are never spoiler-free, but this one is particularly egregious, so consider yourself warned–because of that, and also because the book (and thus my review) deals rather heavily with rape, I’ve hidden the rest, so click through to read it.I am literally sickened by this book. I can’t believe I suffered through 200 pages of indulgent and ultimately pointless backstory about a narrator who’s isolated by her family from everything and barely present in her own life (let alone the story) just so her rape and mutilation could be depicted as as a sad, but ultimately transformative event that leads to her slapdash, oh-I’m-in-love-now ending.

From other reviews/criticism I’ve read, the theme is supposed to be something about scars and love, but even when the characters flat-out said they loved each other, I didn’t feel it. The cloak of magical realism creates a distance between the events and the reader (a distance exacerbated by Ava spending 95% of the story narrating events that don’t involve herself at all) that makes it difficult to view the characters as people with feelings.

For the first half of the book, even though that distance kept me from really becoming invested in the characters, curiosity kept me going about where this strange fairy tale was going to lead me–the language is, at times, beautiful, as so many others have said. But the second half of the book fell apart, when I reached the meat of the present-day story. If the attack on Ava was the transformative event that let everyone in her family make peace with their scars…why wasn’t Ava an integral part of the story until almost halfway through the book? The structure bewilders me.

I’m not convinced it should have been in first-person, because how does Ava know all these intensely personal things about her mother’s and grandmother’s lives, when she wasn’t there, and when she never mentions either woman telling her these stories about themselves? (Magic, I guess?) I’m not convinced all of her family history needed to be front-loaded, pushing back the presence of Ava, the titular character of the novel, until halfway through. Oh, she writes a little prologue, but then vanishes into the role of observant narrator for over a hundred pages.

And, quite literally, what is the point of Henry as a character? He’s even more isolated than Ava, because he refuses to speak for most of his life, but when he does, he delivers a message so cryptic no one could possibly understand what it signifies, and thus no one can save Ava from what happens. Then Henry immediately ceases to be important again, getting a single scene where he’s kind of sad his dog is cuddled up to some other boy. He’s a prime candidate for the Indiana Jones test–he could be completely removed from the story, and nothing would happen differently.

I just can’t see what other readers love about this book, when I found it indulgent at its best, and revolting at its worst.

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