Ever so similar?

One of the things I enjoy most about reading books set all over the globe is making comparisons between the worlds being depicted and the world(s) I am familiar with. As I read Liza Marklund’s Red Wolf I was struck particularly by a couple of things that I couldn’t find a sensible way of incorporating into my review but thought I’d discuss anyway.

A difference between my world and Annika’s that had my jaw on the ground was a small passage where Annika is chasing down a lead and attends a government office and asks to see the register of correspondence for one the government ministers which she was legally entitled to see. That day! In Australia you have to submit a request in writing to see the equivalent register, wait 30 days for a response and if your request is agreed to (never a sure thing) you are likely to receive a copy of the document with a swag of blacked out content as the bureaucrats will have redacted anything remotely sensitive.

A surprising similarity had to do with the environment. At first (or even second) thought I don’t imagine anyone would think of Sweden and Australia as being terribly similar . But when I read this passage where Annika is driving through the remote northern part of the country

To her surprise she emerged onto a wide motorway, she didn’t remember that at all. Her surprise only grew as the motorway went on and on without her seeing a single other vehicle on the road. The feeling of surreal desolation took a stranglehold on her neck; she had to struggle to breathe normally. Was this some sort of joke? Had reality slid away from her? Was this the road to hell?

I couldn’t help but think of the remote driving I have done here in Australia, thinking very similar thoughts as Annika does in this passage. Though in my case it’s normally stinking hot and in her case it was freezing cold I still felt a real connection to that passage. There is no feeling quite like driving alone on a bitumen (i.e. civilised) road and seeing no sign of other life. No cars. No trucks. No houses. No grazing animals. Nothing. For what feels like forever.

Can you think of a book you’ve read where you’ve noticed something really different from your own world?

How about a similarity that you weren’t expecting?

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5 Responses to Ever so similar?

  1. Dorte H says:

    I have noticed that when things are TOO different, I find it difficult to evaluate the crime plot because I don´t know how people behave normally.

    I often find similarities though I didn´t expect it, e.g. when I read novels from remote settings in Scotland, Ireland – and the USA for that matter. Village people are village people, it seems. Suspicious and judgmental towards ´strangers´, people who were not born into the community. So Ann Cleeves´ Shetland feels like home in some ways, so did Belinda Bauer´s Blacklands – but not Daniel Woodrill´s Winter´s Bone – we were not quite as tough and cruel as that.


  2. Bernadette – Interesting question! As I was reading your post, I was thinking about Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Missing Servant, which I expected would depict a life that’s very different to mine, and in many ways, it did. But the layers of bureaucracy that Vish Puri has to go through to do his job are not so different to what we have here. With that, I empathised. And in one scene, Hall describes outdoor markets that are quite similar to ones I’ve been to in Tijuana, Mexico, about an hour and a half or so from where I live. Maybe we are more alike than we sometimes think.. This is very good “food for thought.”


  3. @Dorte…I have an image in my head now of you all singing (and doing the actions to) Y.M.C.A. now (Village People…) Oh never mind – I’m slightly mad. You’ve piqued my curiosity once again to read the Woodrell though

    @Margot…perhaps some things are universal…maybe even the other planets in our solar system have bureaucracies that make life nearly unbearable?


  4. kathy durkin says:

    Yes, differences–in climate and geography, Indridason and Sigurdadottir’s Iceland is very different from my large East Coast U.S. city. The lack of women’s even basic rights in Saudi Arabia was tough to read about in Ferraris’ books, as well as the lack of any justice in the criminal justice system. Both issues were also true to some degree in “Inspector Singh Investigates,” this one in Malaysia, and the legal system in Carofiglio’s books based in Italy also present many inequities.


  5. Maxine says:

    I loved that aspect of the Annika books and particularly the author’s journalistic confidence at portraying them. At time of reading, the UK had no Freedom of Info act, and when Labour got in and introduced one as promised (but reluctantly in the event) it was an emasculated version of the US/Scandinavia model.

    One real-life eg of the Swedish FoI act in operation was in 1997, when two academics used it to see the identities and reports of peer-reviewers of applications for medical research grants in Sweden. They could thus definitively demonstrate the appalling gender and “boys network” bias that was in operation. This research was published in Nature and eventually led to not only Sweden but also other countries’ medical and other research councils making their selection procedures far more transparent.


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