28.3.13

Stefan Zweig - The Post-Office Girl

Rating 7.5

The Post-Office Girl has been my commuting book over the last two weeks.

Hence, I read this novel at intervals from 7.30 to 8.30 AM and from 5.30 to 6.30 PM stuck in the upper deck of buses packed with people coughing, listening to music, talking at their cellphones, playing online games and talking to each other. And necessarily in this order.

You may therefore understand that my attention span to the written word was somewhat fickle and got easily unnerved by the virulent bursts of either cheap muzak or vicious hack erupting around me.

All that said and all distractions considered, I quite liked this book.
Stefan Zweig brought me in a very specific age and place (diminished, depauperated and disillusioned Austria in the mid 1920s) and was extremely good in putting himself in the shoes of a woman, the postal official Christine seducted and abandoned by a posh life in the high districts of the Swiss Alps.

I would say that the best chunk of this novel is its seductive part, with poor Christine brought to touch the stars of a carefree and wealthy life for a mere week just in time to lose it due to the weakness and silly social concerns of her benefactors.
I've found far less convincing the second part of the novel where Christine's acrimony for her dull and miserable life is boosted up by Ferdinand, who seemed to me very much a spoof of an actual character.

True, there were times in which I blushed reading the most feuilleton-ish bits of The Post-Office Girl and the abrupt ending of the novel (an unfinished one) let me down, but nonetheless I have to praise the author for most of what he accomplished here.

Just forget all those 'modern Cinderella story' and 'a tragic reindition of the Sleeping Beauty fable' tags you will see printed on the cover of your copy of this book. There's nothing or very little of that sort here.

If there's one novel I thought about when I was done with this one that is, oddly enough, America by Franz Kafka.
Well, to be honest The Post-Office Girl shares very little with America save the German language in which they were written, but in both cases I wished that the author had had the time and the willingness to complete what he had started.

7.3.13

Janne Teller - Odin's Island

Rating 7.2


Funnily enough, this is the third book I read involving some big wig from Valhalla taking a trip downstairs.

Whereas the hilarious American Gods by Neil Gaiman and The Son of the Thunder God by Arto Paasilinna focused on Mr. Thor and his kin, Janne Teller chose no less than the CEO of Norse cosmogony: Odin.

Odin's Island is a brilliant but long winded novel. 
Miss Teller has a knack for creative storytelling and here plays quite skillfully on the thin razorblade separating a young adult from a grown up audience.  However, there's too much on Odin's Island plate to get a satisfactory reading meal. 

The author of this book juggles with Nordic sagas, environmentalism, religious fanatism, pure escapism and geopolitical frictions. No surprises that sometimes one of these juggling balls falls down thus affecting the plot of the novel. It's hard to tell a folktale dressing it up with a dystopian cloth. 

Characters are very sketchy here and Janne Teller doesn't seem to care much to develop some of them as they may deserve. Personally, I couldn't help but picture Tintin's 'Captain Haddock' every time 'Ambrosius the Fisher' said anything, just like the character 'Gunnar the Head' reminded me Kjell Bjarne from the Norwegian movie (and novel) Elling.

Reading an English translation of this book, didn't help me as too many names were translated and with a randomness that left me quite puzzled. It's quite obvious that, say, if you change the original 'Smedieby' into the plain 'Smith's Town' the whole architecture of a modern saga collapses.

As for the religious subplot here, I found it quite brave but it may be hard to chew for those who don't appreciate a certain blend of Danish humour (including the notorious Mohammed cartoons and a movie like Adam's Apples).
Anyways, with its pros and cons, Odin's Island was a pleasant and refreshing novel and left mostly good memories.