September 2020 reads

This month’s reads are another mixed bunch. I started off with The Snowman, Harry Hole 7. The book was adapted into film and featured Michael Fassbender as the star detective. I followed this with a classic for a change. Lord of the Flies, published in 1952, is a literary piece that resonates to this day. While the work was short, Flies was the most challenging of the trio. Finally, I tackled Whistleblower (Susan Fowler). The latter marks my twelfth nonfiction foray for the year.

  1. The Snowman (Nesbo).

The book opens on an ominous note with a mother driving her son through the snow. The unnamed son tells his mum that ‘We are going to die.’ Following this, there’s the usual piling of bodies. The killings involve married women. Detective Harry Hole is entrusted to lead a task force into the murders, which a snowman always accompanies. In this instalment, Hole has a higher rank and graduates from his cramped office. For the most part, he leads a four-person team to unlock the slaying. This includes Bjorn Holm (forensics), Kattrine Bratt and Magnus Skarre (detectives). However, he is as isolated as ever. His trusty sidekick, Halverson, was killed in the prior book. His friend, the resident evidence expert Beate Lonn, is on maternity leave. Finally, his muse, Rakel, has moved on. However, he does have the support of his chief, Gunnar Hagen.

Throughout the book, Nesbo fights with his inner demons. He has to claw his way out of the dark side. Meanwhile, the stunning Bratt enters as a new detective. The book is notable as four suspects are apprehended at various stages. There’s a lot of second-guessing and curveballs to throw off the reader. It’s not until the final fifty pages that the true matador is revealed. They first arrest Filip Becker for his wife’s murder but let him go for lack of evidence. A doctor, a presenter, and even one of their own become caught up in what has become a PR disaster for Oslo police.

All this transpires as they fight a losing battle to fend off the media from the case. Hole even heads to Bergen (Norway’s second city) to find some answers. In his quest, he even ventures to a cabin on a fjord. Hole’s sleuth skills prove the decisive factory in unravelling the case, which the new forensic technology greatly aids. More than his prior villains, the matador is never more sadistic as he slices and dices his way while leaving no clues. Brace yourself for one helluva ending. Published in 2004, this one was released in the same year as Connelly’s Angel’s Flight. Like all his other works, this one is an easy police procedural. I also heard that it’s much better than the movie.

Rating: 4.4/5

  • Lord of the Flies (William Golding).

I’ve heard about this one for some time now but decided to check it out after bingeing on The Society. I first encountered Lord in an ep of The Simpsons. I recall the class being stranded on an island, crucifying Millhouse for gobbling all their food. The latter’s big gut was the tell-tale sign. They even staged a kangaroo court for good measure. Meanwhile, it’s been seven long decades since Golding unleashed his allegory. The novel takes place during a war; hence the kids are left alone. Despite all the years, the book’s themes of savagery, autonomy, and self-preservation remain pertinent to this day. As one educator noted, the times may have changed but human nature has not. Only 261 pages long, the text is riddled with unnecessary descriptions of the forsaken island. Every extended portrait makes me cringe and I fancy omitting the superfluous words.

There are many ways to dissect this text; it can mean many different things to disparate identities. Numerous characters populate the read: from Ralph (the chief) to Jack (the challenger), Piggy (the voice of reason) to Simon (the in-between). There’s also the littluns, passive and naïve; there are the twins, Sam and Eric. Jack is heading the hunters who promises a better world, dangling the carrot stick of fresh pork. Ralph reasons that he assembled the tribe when no one could and thus should be skipper. For the most part, he has their support until the blandness of eating fruit shifts the group away. Spearheaded by Jack, the island descends into chaos and the kiddos have to choose between a mad challenger and a moribund chief. Already dishevelled from lack of nourishment and grooming, the lot soon turns into murderous savages with painted faces and menacing spears. Ralph gave them order and an action plan; he instructed them to light a fire and be saved. Yet they mocked Piggy and his wise words and soon may turn on Ralph too.

Golding paints a miniature society, one where roles are assigned and must be followed. We could either be hunters, gatherers, or middlemen. In one haunting stroke, the author shows the worst of humanity. While evil can be shocking, what’s more repugnant is being irresolute while evil shows its face. Due to the number of characters in this one, most of us would relate to a few of them. We could all find parallels in these unique boys: confident and daring (Ralph), needy but determined (Piggy), fair like Simon or tough like Jack. Though it’s longer than necessary, you can glean many lessons from this text. I reckon all serious readers should try Lord of the Flies at least once.

Rating: 3.8/5

  • Whistleblower (Susan Fowler).

A pioneer of the #metoo movement penned this daring account. Before she toiled in Silicon Valley’s most valuable start-up, Fowler lived with her six siblings in rural Arizona. Her mum home-schooled them until one day, Fowler had to fend for herself. Her dad, a pastor, worked two jobs while being a polyglot. Fowler learned to play the violin at a tender age and brimmed with dreams as a child. Whether as a teenager, a college student, or as an adult, Fowler constantly had to prove herself. Despite her young age, she faced many battles. For instance, she dealt with rejection as an autodidact. When she was finally accepted, she studied many folds harder than her peers just to catch up with them. She even had to forget about her beloved violin due to a string issue. Meanwhile, just as she was commencing her studies at Arizona State, her dad passed away.

She ended up enrolling at Uni of Penn, ultimately choosing a double Philosophy and Physics major. Just like before, she had a lot of catching up to do. In the Ivy League school, being competent wasn’t enough; breaking even not an option. She had to fight and claw her way, and yet a tricky situation saw her losing her Physics degree. She then had to reinvent herself as a coder in the West. She joined Uber with high hopes in November of 2015. From her first day as a mid-level engineer, she was subject to sexism. When she wanted to transfer to another team, her requests were rejected. Many times, she tried to talk to Human Resources (HR), but they gave her various excuses: first-time offender; she was the problem.

Fowler confessed about witnessing a toxic, dog eat dog culture inside the start-up. As proof of this, the number of female engineers kept on shrinking. However, Fowler made some friends during her stint with Uber, lasses who suffered the same fate. Disappointed and wrathful, Fowler left Uber in December 2016. In February, she wrote a blog post detailing her time with Uber. Soon she would become a star, an embodiment of the movement. Being the exemplar is not all rainbows and butterflies: there is dissent, doubt, and chaos. While others try to discredit you, Fowler knew that she was fighting the good cause, that she was persecuted because she was right. The author, through her trials, encourages her readers to learn from their mistakes and grow as humans. Whistleblower was one of this year’s easiest reads, one that could realistically be summited in two days.

Rating: 4.7/5

So, there you have it. Again, three books. Once more, there’s one nonfiction read and two novels. However, for a change, this would be just the second week since my last catalogue. At the moment, I’m grappling with Karin Slaughter’s latest. The Silent Wife looks okay, but it’ll be my last Slaughter for a while. After going through seven straight Will Trent instalments this year, I’ve understood that I need more variety. While the next reading list might yet be pretty similar, I’m confident of change.

cable car in Bergen, Norway
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