Books Read in 2015 19. The Swimmer – Joakim Zander (contains spoilers.)

Genre: Spy Fiction

Narrative Style: Third person from various perspectives interspersed with a first person narrative which details the past.

Rating: 3/520660867

Published: 2014

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Klara Walden doesn’t suspect what she might be getting into when her ex boyfriend, Mahmoud Shammosh, gets in touch with her. Suddenly, she is in the depth of a political scandal that people are willing to do murder over and she is fighting for her life. On the other side of the world, a retired spy tells his story, hoping that he will never have to involve himself in Klara’s life. 

I enjoyed the start of this book quite a lot. It was pacy and the chapters from different points of view kept me guessing as to what was happening. There were hints about torture, terrorism and government cover ups, all of which seemed interesting. I couldn’t quite work out how the first person narrative would join with the present day scenario but it was clear that they would link up.

For me, the narrative started to disappoint when Mahmoud was shot. Not that this didn’t fit with the type of story but he was one of the more interesting characters in the novel and I felt that the story struggled a bit without him. (He had just revealed to Klara that he was actually homosexual. He was then killed off almost immediately as if there was no longer any space in the narrative for him now that he didn’t comply with the masculine presumption of such a genre.) Klara then had to continue on her own and she suddenly becomes this amazing super spy, following leads and avoiding the authorities. This is especially unlikely as it is her stupidity in trusting another ex that brings the authorities down on them and causes Mahmoud’s murder.

I haven’t read much spy fiction but what I have read always seem to have these moments of naivety that bring the authorities and those on the run into conflict. I can see why this is necessary but find it a little irritating as it means the characters swing between naivety and guile in a way that is less than convincing.

The end of this novel was also unconvincing. I felt that the storylines were building up to an almighty climax but in the end it was more of a damp squib. The spy – Klara’s father – saves her life and so is no longer useful in narrative terms so he is killed off. George – who has been kidnapped by the bad guys as he is able to speak Swedish – suddenly manages to escape and is also involved in saving Klara. I was never particularly convinced by this narrative strand but his steering of a boat in a terrible storm to just the right island stretched my disbelief to the very limit. After all this, Klara decides not to reveal the information but to keep it secret. Again, I understand the reasons for this but it still seemed desperately disappointing.

All in all, I think this is a genre I am going to avoid in the future for much the same reasons that I don’t watch these sort of films. The action moves the story and I have to admit, I prefer things that are character driven. I have trouble suspending my disbelief and I felt I would have liked more psychological investigation. It was’t a terrible book just ultimately not for me.


Books Read in 2014 – 47. Let the Right One in – John Ajvide Lindqvist


Genre: Horror, Vampires

Narrative Style: Third person chronological

Rating 5/5 

Published: 2009

Format: Paperbackdownload (14)

Synopsis: Oskar a loner, bullied at school and friendless, is over the moon when he meets Eli, the girl who moves into his apartment block. She seems a little strange but then so is Oskar. However, all is not as it seems and with Eli’s arrival comes a series of strange deaths and uncanny events. Oskar knows she has a secret but could not have imagined the full extent of her story.

Reading challenges: TBR challenge

Time of Shelf: I bought this not long after I watched the film which I really enjoyed. But then I was worried it wouldn’t live up to the film (whenever I read a book of a film, I seem to like it less than the film) so I started to avoid reading it. 

I was a bit nervous starting to read this. Not because I thought I might be scared – I rather hoped I would be – but because I had loved the film so much. (The Swedish original not the American remake.) I had high expectations. What if the book couldn’t live up to them? Well, I needed have worried. This book is amazing in its own right and while I enjoyed it more than the film, the film didn’t lose anything as a result. I could still watch it.

It is almost difficult to know where to start. As with all good horror, this is more than a story about vampires. It’s about good and evil and the very basis of what it means to be human. Eli – or Elias as it is later revealed – has to kill in order to survive ( if survive is really the right word) but is less monstrous than the man who helps her by killing young boys and bleeding them. He is eventually caught out by his own desire for young flesh and when  he becomes un-dead, it is this perversion that drives him to almost destroy Eli in one of the most disturbing encounters in the novel. As a vampire, he represents all of society’s great fears about the potential danger of the paedophile.

By contrast, Eli and Oskar’s relationship is almost innocent. They are both on the cusp of adolescence and their relationship slides between childish and adult. Oskar is more disturbed to discover that Eli is actually a boy (although one that has been castrated) than to discover he is a vampire. She gives him the confidence to stand up to the bullies at school and he gives her a much needed friend. They are both outsiders – the details of their difference are less important than the fact of it.

Where this novel really succeeds is the sense of place that  the reader is given. Like in the best of Stephen King’s work, Lindqvist shows the reader the smallness of his characters’ lives. The small town is suffocating, killing its inhabitants as surely as if it was the monster. And for the ones that are left alive at the end, there is no escape. Only back to the grey, dead landscape of their everyday life.

Having said that, the end of this story is not depressing and you can’t help feeling hopeful for Oskar and Eli. They are the ones that get away and even though one of them is hundred of years old and lives of the blood of others, you hope that they will be happy.