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{Review} The Royal Guest – Henrik Pontoppidan

When I think of Scandinavian Literature, I think of iconic children’s stories and crime novels that blow most of the ones I grew up on out of the water. So, for Rose City Reader’s  European Reading Challenge, I decided to shake things up a bit and go for books that don’t fall into either of those genres but were written by famous authors. (Pontoppidan won the Nobel Prize for Literature at the start of the 20th century).

It’s a shame I didn’t try this sooner…

Blurb
Six years after their wedding, Arnold and Emmy are as in love as ever and want for nothing in their country lives save for the occasional visit from their city-dwelling relatives. When they learn at the last minute that their guests will not be able to stay with them during the Carnival, they decide to make the most of it and spend a quiet evening relaxing.

Then a stranger, the so-called Prince of Carnivals, arrives begging a room for the night. It quickly becomes apparent that this is no ordinary man and his carnival madness threatens to be their undoing…
Review
After years of openings that start with snow (or other forms of pathetic fallacy), it was wonderful to begin by reading a wry observation on country vs. city life and the way in which each is viewed by the other. It’s a nice hook to start the story on and it works very well as the yarn unravels.

Pontoppidan has a beautiful way of bringing characters to life through the smallest of details and the off-the-cuff remarks that they make. We know just how deeply in love his happily in love couple are from the first. Furthermore, the story opens with them being peaceful and ‘we know we love each other’, something that has been sorely lacking in several of the romance stories I’ve read recently.

This is an exploration of the strange and sometimes surreal, although I wasn’t entirely convinced by the revelations centred around the Prince of Carnivals. Then again, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with that element in An Inspector Calls until I’d read it several times. The realistic elements in The Royal Guest, such as the couple’s changing attitudes to each other and their interaction with other people who live in their town get a thumb’s up though for feeling realistic and developing at a steady pace that captured my attention for the duration of the story.

Overall
This is the perfect book to introduce yourself to Danish Literature with: it’s perfectly balanced and examines love, forgiveness, trust and the unexpected in an interesting way. The only element I’m not wild about is who the Prince of Carnivals is. But that is just me needing to know all the answers. 😉

WNI’s verdict? WIN

 

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{Review} Letter from an Unknown Woman – Stefan Zweig

As read for European Reading Challenge (Austria)

This may just be my book of the year…


Teaser

‘To you who never knew me… my child died yesterday’.

On his birthday, a famous writer receives a letter from a woman he does not know but who has loved him since she was a girl. As her life ebbs away at each stroke of her pen, he learns about a love he never knew could exist.

Review
Zweig’s short stories are good, but Letter from an Unknown Woman blows all the ones I’ve read until now out of the water. The concept is simple, the characters are few and the story is short but this somehow made the lady’s tale still sadder. It also made her convincingly obsessed with the man she is writing to.

Her acceptance of his superficiality should have annoyed my inner-feminist. Instead it made my heart bleed to hear her recount the lack of recognition on the love of her life’s face at each chance (or otherwise) encounter. His employee on the other hand, recognised her immediately after not having seen her since she was a girl. This man evidently thought that all women are the same (ie. not worth remembering) even though he treats them courteously in the bed-room.

Wild Night In does not condone stalking BUT, and I don’t know how to explain this…  But when Edward-from-Twilight told Bella that he watched her every night when she slept, it was a bit creepy (especially as they had barely spoken before) and made me want to hit my head against things. In Letter from an Unknown Woman, the lady’s confession that she had sat and watched his window just seemed unbearably sad. She never demanded anything from him that he wasn’t willing to give.

Overall
Every twist or rather, unravelling of the plot spurred me to read on and hear this woman unburden herself of her story for the first and last time. I am going to break the self-imposed book buying ban for this one. It is worth it.

Wild Night In’s Verdict? WIN!

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2012 in Books, European Reading Challenge

 

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