22 April 2012

Event telling (not story telling)

You've probably read that I like good story telling. I also like well-created characters. Karin Fossum has created and described some good characters, primarily her "hero," Norwegian police Inspector Konrad Sejer. She has also told some very good stories. I read the first one in 2006 and liked it. I've gone back and read several others. Some better and some not as good.

 In the best of her books, the story telling and the characterization are equally well done. She's written ten books featuring Inspector Sejer. The one I checked out from the Northfield Library was The Indian Bride, published in 2007. Strangely, there's not much there about Sejer, except for a routine interaction with his old, cancerous dog. And there's not much story either. And when I finished the book, I wasn't sure the story was over or the mystery resolved.

You don't have to accept my reaction. The Los Angeles Times gave it a LA Times Book Prize, so somebody thought it was better than I did. That's not unusual or unexpected.

 The Indian Bride's story centers on a Norwegian bachelor farm equipment salesman. At the age of 51, enchanted by a photograph in a book, he flies to India to find a bride. And he finds a bride. After a whilwind courtship, the happy couple is married. He returns to Norway. She settles things in Bombay and follows him. But, the groom's sister is in a car accident and he's attending her in the hospital when his wife arrives from India. The cab driver sent to meet her misses the incoming bride. The bride finds her way to the village of her future and then disappears.

Inspector Sejer is called in when a body is found just outside the village. As you might expect, the rest of the book is a combination of police investigation and Sejer's meditations about who, among the suspects, was most likely guilty.

The most interesting story is the trip to India by a small town Norwegian, but even that isn't well told. I think that if Fossum had found a middle aged, parochial Norwegian from a small town and taken him or her to Bombay and shared the physical and cultural shock, she'd have had a lot to tell. There's some mention of the discomfort of the heat, but that's about it. And what about the courtship? How does this large Nowegian man make enough conversation with the waitress at the tandoori restaurant to convince her to marry him? What is there about her and her life to make running off with the big guy attractive to a 30-something Indian woman? How do they communicate given his limited English and non-existent Hindi? Oh, there are stories to be told. But they're not in The Indian Bride.

And the police investigation takes place mostly "off-screen." Sejer ruminates about the various suspects. And about the time an arrest is made, a couple of the regulars at the village cafe speculate reasonably about the guilt of someone who hadn't been a suspect earlier. Was the case solved? Or will it come back to haunt Sejer in another book?

So this wasn't a Fossum book that was wonderful for me. It won't deter me from reading another if I see her name on the spine of a book on the library shelf, but it won't send me purposefully searching for another.

If I'd looked carefully at the ReadingBlog entries, I'd have seen that Dan Conrad wrote a couple years ago that he didn't like The Indian Bride.

Have you read The Indian Bride? What did you think of it? Write and tell this little bit of the world what you think.

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