I’ve got some more serious stuff on the go in my typically undisciplined way, but for the last month I’ve been addressing a deficit in my fiction reading. Three titles I’ve recently finished, starting with the latest.

Nikolski by Nicholas Dickner.

Won this year’s Canada Reads Award on CBC radio. I can see why so many people, including the Canada Reads jury, found this book whimsical and charming. I’m just not sure I know what to say about it otherwise. Nikolski combines a refreshing innocence with a postmodern sensibility that refuses to tie up the loose ends and tell the reader what to think.

Nikolski is about three young people, quirky loners trying to figure out who they are based on fragments of family history and legend. These fragments include pirates, fish, lost parents, and a mysterious book. The three characters cross paths, but their connections are coincidental and aren’t much developed. Even the title of the book suggests its unresolved nature. Nikolski is supposedly a village in the Aleutian Islands, and for one of the characters, whose “name is unimportant”, it is the last place on earth connected to a father he never knew. The title suggests a quest to this place, but maybe the name Nikolski is just a playful reference to the author’s name? Whatever the answer, you’ll find Nikolski a lighthearted and pleasant, if sometimes frustrating, book.

The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo by Steig Larsson.

I’m coming late to this bandwagon – I’d read a bit about the late author and about how his home in Stockholm is now a tourist destination, but I hadn’t connected him with this book, the first in the Millenium trilogy. When I was in Chapters here in Ottawa a week ago there were Steig Larsen books everywhere, and a lot of promotion to the film version of GwDT, which I am hoping to see shortly.

The central charcter, Lisbeth Salander, is a fascinating figure, and she is a sort of spokeswoman, in a kickass kind of way, for the author’s obvious anger at how women suffer violence from male partners and authority figures, even in supposedly utopian Sweden. Actually I don’t know much about Sweden at all, but apparently Larsson’s cold-eyed vision of Swedish society may be closer to the mark than we might want to admit.

It’s hard to talk about this book without giving the plot away. I’ll simply say that while it started slowly for me, by the halfway point I could hardly put it down and now I am eager to read the next two. If you haven’t discovered Steig Larsson yet, and if you like crime thrillers, you’ll enjoy his work.

The Book of God and Physics, by Enrique Joven

A present day Spanish Jesuit schoolteacher with a love for astronomy and with a passion for a Renaissance treatise, the Voynich Manuscript, written in a secret language and connected with famous astronomers such as Tycho Brahe and Galileo. Sort of like Girl With The Dragon Tattoo only without the sex and violence. I found this book intelligent interesting if not gripping, and I it made me so curious about the mysterious manuscript that I wanted to know what strange secret was buried within it. Again, I can’t say more about the book without spoiling it. I managed to get all the way to the end before I discovered that there really is a Voynich Manuscript, which I suppose is proof of the author’s skill that I was prepared to believe that this fabulous and mysterious book was a product of his imagination.