Category Archives: Crime

56th Discussion: Patricia Cornwell’s The Body Farm

Moderator: Aaron
Attendees: Alexius, Chason, Glenn, Javin, Jiaqi, Timmy

body farmOPENING

What did we dislike about the book? Everything about it.

Javin found the entire book “distracting” – from its style, to the proses and the subplots. The excessive subplots and red herrings also irked Timmy. Jiaqi thought the ending was too rushed and suggested that the book would have been more interesting if it talked of the motivation for the murder. Aaron deemed the book homophobic.

THEMES

Jiaqi felt that homosexuality and homosexuals were not dealt deeply with in the book, though he praised its fairly realistic portrayal. Javin found it erratic and the homosexuals were not painted in the most positive light. Aaron added on that no characters in the book were comfortable with homosexuals. Glenn opined that this may be a depiction of the author through the niece.

Conclusively, Jiaqi commented that the book was not written to portray understanding of the LGBT community.

Women were also not favourably portrayed; Aaron questioned whether this was done intentionally or otherwise. Jiaqi noted that there were zero positive relationships between women. Aaron found the relationship between Kay and Lucy to be “encouraging”, though later intuited the two as Cornwell’s personas (the Republican and the lesbian).

Despite this flaw, we noted that the female characters were written as strong, intelligent beings that were, unfortunately, often horny and lonely. This was likely attributed to the lack of strong male companions and thus, the males were often treated as sideshow sex toys. Glenn remarked that during the time the book was being written, society at large (and thus, its characters) was not ready for strong females. The lack of positive portrayal served as “social commentary” of those times.

We briefly discussed the bathroom scene which included Chanel, which Alexius deemed as a “brand endorser.” Jiaqi found it to be a sympathetic scene, whereas Aaron quipped that even though Kay solves crimes, she still has to remain feminine and an elitist, i.e. maintain that “class factor.”

The topic of food was also touched on; according to Aaron, it appeared a lot throughout the book. “Why so specific?” he asked. Alexius joked that Cornwell was trying to be the next Martha Stewart. Javin viewed it as another way of conveying the “atas-ness” of the book and its lead character/s.

Aaron brought up the quote (“It seems this is all about people loving people who don’t love them back”), which he found poignant and stuck a chord with him. Both Glenn and him perceived it as describing of unrequited love.

Timmy questioned the inclusion of Psalm 107 (“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep”) and its significance. Everyone agreed that it is about looking beyond the surface.

CHARACTERS

Glenn picked Lucy the niece as his favourite character as she seemed the most realistic out of everyone. Kay was Jiaqi and Timmy’s favourite for being a nice, complex human and a strong female. Both Javin and Aaron had no favourites, though the latter shared his favourite quote (as previously mentioned).

CONCLUSION

Overall, we enjoyed the book: it had a nice story for its time (Javin); it was an entertaining page turner with a strong female lead, which was rare (Jiaqi); and it had good pacing, with something coming up at every chapter (Chason). Despite its “backwards”, conservative mindset, Aaron found it likable. Timmy quipped that the book felt like an episode of CSI – “the Las Vegas version, not the Miami one.”

The only opposing view was from Alexius, who had DNR stamped all over the book and thus, paid more attention to his phone and apps rather than to the discussion.

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Filed under Class, Crime, Family, Food, Lesbian, Love, Patricia Cornwell, S/F, S/M, Technology, USA

48th Discussion: Mark Gatiss’s The Vesuvius Club

51PRDXDX23LBecause of the haze, we decided to cancel the meeting. But for those who have read the book, these are some questions to consider. Feel free to comment and discuss online.

1. The start of the novel is a rewriting of Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, signaled by some keywords such as “Behold! Your immortality!” What is the intention of Mark Gatiss to do so?

2. In the beginning, Lucifer tells Everard a story of Ida’s death but we find out later that Ida is alive. Why does Lucifer lie? What does it show about him?

3. What is up with the corny names, Lucifer Box, Everard Supple, Midsommer Knight, Charles Jackpot, Creataceous Unmann, Christopher Miracle, etc?

3. Themes

Bodies:

a. There are many disabled bodies in the novel: Ida’s limbs, Everard Supple’s glass eye, Mrs Knight’s face, Prof Quibble’s wheelchair. To what purpose do the disabilities serve?

b. There are only fat or slim bodies in the novels. How are fat bodies portrayed? And how are skinny bodies portrayed?

Father Issues:

c. Both Bella Pok and Venus obviously adore their fathers very much and seek revenge for them. Father issues anyone?

gatiss-the_vesuvius_club_fcGender:

d. If we take Venus as a transwoman, how are the women portrayed, bearing in mind that Venus and Bella are the villains in the novel? Is it fair to say that women are either femme fatale or docile in the novel, showing a sexist mindset?

e. List some of the INNOCENT victims who die or suffer in the novel. How many are men and how many women?

Homosexuals:

f. What is the portrayal of homosexuals, Charles Jackpot and Lucifer Box, like?

Race:

g. What is the portrayal of Other races (other than whites)? Is it racist?

Transgender:

h. After Venus’s sex is revealed, whenever Venus is mentioned, the characters go, “Venus, that…. person,” instead of “that man” or “that woman.” This clearly shows the characters not knowing how to place Venus–male or female? But the characters also persistently use “he” as a pronoun on Venus. What does this demonstrate? Is this trans-phobic?

Class:

i. How does class issue come into play? Does it matter than Lucifer lives at Downing St?

Ecology:

j. Is there a metaphor about playing god when blowing up a volcano?

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Filed under Bisexuality, Class, Crime, Disability, Ecology, Italy, Love, Mark Gatiss, Queer, Race, Transgender, UK

35th Discussion: Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (21 Jun)

The book club is extremely fortunate to have one of the awesomest host, Raj, to provide us with Swedish snacks to go with the Swedish novel: Ikea meatballs, Swedish potato chips and a roe-pate baguette. Thanks, Raj!

We started by saying we all liked the book because it is a pageturner and realistic.

We talked much about Salander as a character. Javin noted that although she is not a “perfect victim” as described by her guardian Bjurman–she fights back against her aggressors–she is a victim of the society she lives in; she can fight a person but not against the system. Raj explicated that there is no reasoning behind Salander; she is all id. She does what she wants; she’s amoral. While Aaron suggests that she is unethical; invades on others’ privacy; hurts people as much as Martin hurting the girls–Salander is not that different from Martin–; protects herself at all cost, even by risking Bloomkvist who needs to seek treatment for his shock at the brink of death, the rest still felt that her ends justify the means and her unethicality is forgiven because she’s cool.

On the other hand, Bloomkvist, Raj stated, is charming and has a code of ethnical conduct. Aaron brought up that despite all his positive traits, he makes a lousy parent–parenthood as a main theme in the book–as his daughter shares similar traits with Harriet, and he notices them himself, and yet he doesn’t salvage the situation.

If Bloomkvist were a stand-in for the journalist-novelist, as Gavin said, then there is a certain chauvinism about the book: all women who sleeps with Bloomkvist/Larsson falls in love with him. His chauvinism is especially apparent when the women blur into each other: Cecelia looks like Anita who looks like Harriet who is like Bloomkvist’s daughter.

But chauvinism seem to co-exist with a strong feminist message: women rule. Salander saves Bloomkvist in the end and she takes control of the situation from Frode the lawyer while Harriet runs the company.

While the book is feminist, Bloomkvist, though liberal, seems to try but fail to accept gay people and as a result, there are some homophobic stereotypes. For one, the art director–of course the gay guy has to be a designer–is said to be an “exhibitionist gay celebrity” and described to be flighty and unable to hold his own. A second homophobic stereotype is that Salander’s bisexuality itself is in question: she only sleeps with women because men are jerks; but if she has to choose, she’d still choose a man as evident that she chooses Bloomkvist. The description of the novel on her bisexuality itself seems homophobic in the sense, Raj and Gavin stated, that it claims sex with men to be carnal acts while sex with women is emotional: this binary is of course a negative stereotype.

Another point that may support the homophobia argument is that although a wide range of sexual acts is depicted (such as Bloomkvist’s and Berger’s open relationship; and pedophiliac and incestuous Bloomkvist sleeping with Salander who, he notes, can be his daughter and has a prepubescent body), it is the homo sex/anal sex that is demonized. The strongest evidence comes from Martin-Bloomkvist almost-sex scene. The threat of homo sex between the men is associated with death. Another example is that Salander is raped anally and she seeks her revenge by raping her rapist anally. There are many ways which Larsson could have depicted her pain and suffering–there are many ways of S&M–but yet he chooses the kind of sex that is associated with gay men. The third example is when Salander insinuates that Bloomkvist will be raped in jail. All these images of homo sex are negative.

Despite that, we still saw the novel as a powerful one as it brings new things to the detective genre: a Nazi history that is little known of Sweden (Isaac’s point); a journalistic style (Javin); and a Girl, Interrupted character as a detective (Raj).

As a closing thought, we mulled over the change of the Swedish title Men Who Hate Women to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Aaron thought the change in title signals the change from a sociological investigative novel into a novel of individuality, perhaps catering to North American readers. Isaac said that the image of the dragon is masculine, which contrasts with “girl,” breaking down stereotypes. Dragon tattoo, Raj claimed, has a mythic power, just like Salander, but the change of title has also to do with marketing: who wants to buy a book with the title MWHW?  The Swedish, naturally.

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Filed under Bisexuality, Class, Crime, Family, Love, Queer, S/M, Stieg Larsson, Sweden

10th Discussion: Mehmet Murat Somer’s The Gigolo Murder (17 June 2010)

1. The general mood for this discussion was sluggish probably because after a hard day’s work and dinner at Maxwell.

2. Yisa kicked off the discussion asking if transvestites would be offended reading the book. We talked about how the book doesn’t differentiate between transsexuals, transgenders and transvestites.

3. Appending to Yisa’s question, Aaron asked if this book is offensive to women (misogynist), as the murderer has to be a beautiful woman who is “over-reaching” for power and money. That is, why does a woman who wants power have to be punished? Aaron claimed that the wise, old Nimet, Faruk’s wife, acts an excuse for the author to say that “Hey! see, I have a good woman character too, so you can’t accuse me of misogyny.” But Nimet plays the virtuous, domestic, supportive wife, giving an example of how women should behave in an Islamic society. Isaac liked the book too much and disagreed with Aaron.

4. Aaron asked if the book sensationalizes Turkey. Yisa replied that this certainly isn’t a tourist guidebook. But Aaron insisted that there are all kinds of sex in the book, making the book sensational and in a part, the author contradicts himself as he said that the nameless narrator isn’t interested in boys yet s/he has an orgy with some schoolboys in uniform. This led to a discussion on paedophilia and how one character in the book argues that while girls can become wives and mothers at 13, why is it that when he has sex with a 14 y/o boy, people call him a pederast?

5. Disability: Pugnacious Aaron thought that it was nice to include a disabled character (Kemal), why does Kemal have to pay for sex? Why isn’t he capable of looking for ONS himself? Why doesn’t the nameless narrator sleep with him? Does the narrator despise him? Why must Kemal engage in SM, and like to be whipped, as if he were ashamed of his own disability?

6. FAT: Aaron asked why is the nameless narrator’s fat good friend, Ponpon, asexual? Timmy said that there is another character who is fat and has sex. Like-to-win Aaron said, But that character is curvy and curvy is not fat. Why is it that for all the subversive elements in the book, Aaron asked, the book is oddly conservative regarding women, fat people and the disabled? Yisa said he doesn’t care what the author is saying about fat people, women and disabled. Isaac was increasingly irritated at Aaron’s finicky political-rectitude.

7. Subversive because the narrator doesn’t have a “core” gender self, so the book is not essentializing.

8. Narrative Style: (a) Aaron asked how come the author didn’t allow the narrator to progress by allow the narrator to shed tears in the end? Isaac said maybe the author isn’t very good. (b) Yisa disliked the emo beginning of the book but Aaron said that it was stated in the book that no other books or movies have depressive people and that’s what the author wants to portray, although Aaron also thinks that the author doesn’t read enough because there are books with depressive people.

9. Gay Bashing: Yisa deciphered what the gay bashing incident is about.

10. Happy Ending: We all agreed that the book is really deeper than it seems but we had to get our alcohol early. When we were at DYMK, the uncle said that we were skiving, closing the library so early.

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Filed under Crime, Disability, Mehmet Murat Somer, Queer, Transgender, Transsexualism, Transvestism, Turkey