The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson, 2005) – Journalist Mikael Blomkvist finds himself embroiled in the forty-year-old investigation of a young girl’s disappearance. Determined for a breakthrough, he forms an unlikely alliance with a secretive social misfit.
Espionage thriller The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo unveils complex social critique in a compelling narrative that makes an indelible impression.
Before his untimely death, author Stieg Larsson had completed three manuscripts. And we should be so lucky that the trilogy was published posthumously in full. Titled Män som hatar kvinnor (or Men Who Hate Women), the first novel sheds its disguise as a mystery thriller and highlights the unequivocal theme of the series – violence against women.
Its English name The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is much less impactful as I regret my inability to read Swedish. But am I glad to have read it anyway after watching the brilliant movie adaptations. The essence of the plot never feels lost in translation on the pages. Translator Reg Keeland ensures powerful motifs remain in provocative terms.
Abuse by both society and individual recurs, and most falls upon the novel’s protagonist with little relent. Lisbeth Salander’s very presence invites judgement. Of tattoos, piercings, social ineptitude and incipient belligerence, she is met with prejudice and rejection despite guileless intentions.
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Mama’s Boy and Other Dark Tales (Fran Friel, 2008) – Fran Friel rounds up a diverse collection of humanity’s darkest thoughts, delving into the depths of deranged minds.
Psycho, but not quite. Depravity meets wit and unexpected grace, making for a oddly delectable stew.
“And that’s why I love you.” The mostly harmless Valentine’s Day prompt sparked an unusually disconcerting inspiration for author Fran Friel, introducing us to an exciting voice in the horror world.
Objectionable motifs spawn in her strange and brilliant debut Mama’s Boy, a title that betrays its echoes of Bates Motel’s notorious proprietor(s). Familiar elements nevertheless feel more like a satisfying reinterpretation, rather than a direct rip-off.
Shuddering chills never falter in the hands of an unflinching and vivid storyteller. Friel’s immediately distinct writing style dismisses the pesky and inevitable accusations of mimicry from Psycho fans.
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Cabal (Clive Barker, 1991) – Revelations of blood on his hands drive Boone into a quest for Midian, a sanctuary to the Night Breed of his dreams. Includes stories from the final volume of Books of Blood.
What’s below remains below. Before The Scarlet Gospels, we revisit the grim surrealism of the darkly bewitching Midian.
Tomorrow, Harry D’Amour will make his anticipated return at last as the last chapter of the Hellraiser mythos finds its way onto our shelves. Before The Scarlet Gospels arrive, we Clive Barker fans have a dozen of horrifically enthralling works to tide us over. To sate my need for a good read, I have chosen my personal favourite Cabal, a rare novella I find myself revisiting from time to time.
With vast imagination, Barker has such sights to show us. Weaving several fantastical worlds of immense scope, his writings open our eyes to wondrous places far beyond the fifth Dominion. To Everville, Abarat, and the depths of Hell we have thus far travelled. In Cabal, Midian draws us with its compelling exploration of the demons that reside in the hearts of men.
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A Wrinkle In Time (Madeleine L’Engle, 2007) – The arrival of a stranger brings Meg Murry and her little brother Charles Wallace on a hopeful journey in search of their missing father.
Mainly written for the young ones, A Wrinkle in Time presents a meaningful parable of complex themes that go beyond faith.
Like all stories of hidden portals and doorways, A Wrinkle In Time starts with the young ones brimming with curiosity. Siblings Meg Murry and Charles Wallace make two. And so the story goes, as the unexpected arrival of a peculiar visitor sparks their fantastical adventure of self-discovery.
Through wardrobes or disappearing brick walls, hidden worlds structure the vertebrae of the genre, no doubt a familiarity to avid fantasy readers today. Yet of outcasts and scientifically-inclined heroines, the tale remains as refreshing and captivating as any, especially for the younger readers.
A mirror of the teenage psyche, the protagonist Meg is emblematic of many recognisable themes. As a stranger in a strange place, she soon learns to embrace and redefine her faults.
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On The Road (dir. Walter Salles, 2012) – Young writer Sal Paradise begins his life on the road, sparked by the carefree spirits of his new friend Dean Moriarty.
Though well-produced and acted, this dry adaptation fails to grasp the life in Jack Kerouac’s words and the vibrancy of his characters.
I first read On The Road in secondary school. Back then, I found Jack Kerouac’s words most alluring in his cadence. The eloquent author left a mark with such vivid, instinctive dialogues that flow with such energy, life and heart. More than a story, the novel is a rare invitation to a drifter’s vast world and a free spirit’s winding journey.
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
– On The Road, Jack Kerouac
So when I heard about a new movie adaptation, I was excited. The tone seemed on the right track as Sam Riley’s narration rasps over its trailer along the verve of the beat. After a long wait, the DVDs hit the shelves and sadly failed to match my expectations.
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Over the years, I have never found the eloquence or wit to defend my belief, or lack thereof. In search of perception and reason, I had my first encounter with the works of Christopher Hitchens earlier this year.
Then, I began on the provocatively controversial title, God Is Not Great. In the compelling pages ahead, I found truths not just in his vivid argumentation on religion, but his propagation of independent thinking. Every word offered learned insight into complex issues that matter. His essays also invite us to question what we learn and what we are taught.
As a writer, I’m inspired by his words. As a reader, I’m inspired by his impactful ideas of true morality, which will live on and continue to change the world for the better.
It would be unfair to define Christopher Hitchens solely by his atheism. He was an honest and audacious thinker with rationality unimpeded by scorn. He was a frank intellect with quick wit, quite often unmatched. Despite his passing, he will be survived by every word, essay and debate, and we thank him for his quest for the truth.
Rest in peace, Christopher Hitchens.
13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011