They must think I don’t have long left, because today they allow the vicar in.
Bitter Orange, Claire Fuller, Fig Tree 2018
I first saw Freya at my high school.
The Swap, Robyn Harding, Simon & Schuster 2020
New template, new way of posting? I read the second book to have something different from the first (because my previously planned book was also in a historic setting), turns out I got another portion of unreliable narrator and obsessive behaviour. Oh, well.
All protagonists are female, how often does the combination of unreliable narrator and obsession happens with male characters? Frances is close to forty, while Low and Jamie are a teen and a thirty-something. The set time period is different as well, but both books end in murder (or do they?).
The Bitter Orange covers up the thriller/mayhem part better, masquerading for a long time as a story of a woman as exciting as a dry black bean in technicolour surroundings. She has to evaluate gardens of a neglected mansion and finds people who have to do something similar, but don’t really do it. They make her think that she could be technicolour, instead.
The Swap on the other hand starts out with a clear manipulator; an ex-social media influencer for Pete’s sake. She twists everyone around her pinky finger, but some you don’t want around your pinky or other body parts…
Both stories have appealingly-written surroundings, dramatic characters and don’t attempt to make you root for them. It’s train wrecks waiting to happen, with an extra point to The Bitter Orange for a more subtle lead-up to the twist.
Neither are stories that will end up on your Best Of-list (probably), but they’re good for what they attempt to be.
Introduction to Sketch was held in Prebble Hall, a building Professor McIntosch called “Ballister’s dirtiest secret” during our first class.
The turn around on this novel is incredibly impressive. It took me three – four chapters to change my mind about abandoning it, it’s incredibly ugly and depressive and scary and I think I’m even angry after(/about?) finishing it. It’s also one of those books you just want to press upon everyone just to see if they had the same experience, if it can touch different people in the same way.
Its ugli- and darkness might be its winning element, it creating a story that dumps you outside of daily life and makes you wonder how you can ever participate again. It isn’t ugly like a Gillian Flynn-creation, no murder here. It’s the way in which women are even less shown in fiction: dark and bitter and scared and a myriad of bad decisions while being bottomless wells of imagination and creativity.
This book isn’t to be summarised; it would fall incredibly short while at the same time preparing you for something it isn’t. To me, it was confrontational about daring to create and to create all – not just the cute stuff. About family and friendship and identity in an USA that made never have felt more filthy.
It’s a blast, it’s a terror. Read it so we can discuss.
The Animators, Kayla Rae Whitaker, Random House 2016
You ask me to start at the beginning, Marin, my dear, but you do not know what you ask.
Yoohoo, traditional fantasy alert! Although.. our unlikely heroes this time are very unlikely and not all that heroic. Not yet anyway, but of course this is the first book in a series.
The Ninth Rain plays out in a pretty much post-apocalyptic world. There’s the memory of darkness and despair, but some are living through it more than others. There’s an ancient race that should have been the heroes but fell, there’s humans that – like humans do – just toil on. And then there’s a threat of things that might just come again.
Yes, there’s the burly male, the scared little young woman with more power than she can control and the eccentric bringing them all together, but they don’t fit their clichés exactly. Combine that with a luscious world building and it matters very little that this plot has been done before. You get that comforting ‘Down the fantastic rabbit hole’-feeling in return.
The Ninth Rain, Jen Williams, Headline 2017
13 x 60 min.
It’s no secret that I enjoy family epics, be they written or on screen. It’s a way in which writers (and actors) can show how much they now about character-creation, and if done well, can shove plot and world-building to the background. In the case of Queen Sugar, that isn’t done exactly – the cinematography of this show alone is making it worthwhile to watch.
In the beginning everything is clear. Three siblings come together because of a family emergency and disagree with each other on everything. Something happens, and they’re stuck together longer than desired. It’s the acting of everyone involved – down to the young boy – that makes you actively root for them to find each other again, and get what they desire.
Queen Sugar plays out in and around Louisiana, shown in such luscious colours that the few times in and around Los Angeles feel flat and fake. It’s clear that this state is another world, and some siblings fit in better than others.
It’s of little importance if they siblings learn that they work best when together and if they get what they want in the end (although I’ve learned that there’s four seasons, so who knows what will still happen?). Solely the looking and listening might be enough for you to enough this first season – which does fine on its own.
Queen Sugar, OWN 2016
Our relationship was over before it began.
I’ve read another memoir. Maybe it reads easier when you don’t know the person writing it, or the recent ones just were written entertainingly and well. I’m guessing the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Michael Ausiello is an entertainment writer, and this story is about how his partner dies. With a title like this there’s little surprise to the ending of his story, but Ausiello manages to write it in such a way that you start to doubt that title – the man knows what works to keep your reader compelled, after all. So there’s chapters about the highs and lows of their relationship, the beginnings and (almost) break ups. He writes himself down while his partner is plucked from the heavens, even when he’s being quite terrible.
It’s a story very close to someone; and to recognise that these people are(/were) really alive makes it sometimes terribly uncomfortable. Should the reader be around of another round of bad news or self-doubt? Is it not too close, to follow someone’s mourning on this level?
Because Spoiler Alert is about love and loss and other four letter words, but also very much about Michael Ausiello.
Spoiler Alert: the Hero Dies; a memoir of love, loss and other four letter words, Michael Ausiello, Atria Books 2017
I am thirty years old and that is nothing.
This library haul had a 75 percent success rate, with The Far Field being the concluding chapter (heh) of that rate.
And – as it sometimes is with good stories – with this one it’s hard to put into words what exactly is good about it. It’s not like the naive, spoiled protagonist is easy to love, nor are the other characters particularly likeable. The plot could well be called Eat Pray Love with poverty tourism, so honestly, Madhuri Vijay had the stacks against her.
But there’s so much humanity in these characters and their stories. The randomness of things, people and situations brought together and bringing the worst or the best out in each other. You could say that the protagonist leaves a trail of destruction behind, but does she even have that kind of power? What is there to destruct in a war zone?
This book is coming of age, a rapport of ordinary life in contested country, a confrontation with bias. It’s written in such an appealing way that sometimes the plot arrives second because you’re just enjoying the words.
The Far Field, Madhuri Vijay, Grove Press 2019
Er is helemaal niks met de hapsnap-films die je vermaken zolang ze duren en je vervolgens bent vergeten voor de aftiteling voorbij is. There’s a time and a place, enzo. Maar soms is een film die je een paar uur later nog laat fronzen of giechelen ook wel heel fijn.
Het mooie van deze film is dat elke paar minuten iets onthuld wordt waardoor je (zenuwachtig) moet lachen, maar het stopt zodra je het gaat verwachten. Wat is er hier dan wel aan de hand, en waarom weigert de film het makkelijk uit te leggen?
Emma Blank is een naar mens dat stervende is, en in haar huis door haar personeel wordt bediend (soort van). Het zijn de regelmatige onthullingen waardoor de film geen family epic blijkt maar meer een ..absurde samenscholing van clichés die in zo’n verhaal voorkomen? Misschien?
De karakters maken het er ook niet makkelijker op, afwisselend in irritant en meelijwekkend. Ook dat draagt bij aan het gevoel van vervreemding, hoor je bij een verhaal niet op z’n minst één iemand willen steunen?
En zo zit ik alweer te glimlachen door deze verzameling vreemde, nare vogels.
De laatste dagen van Emma Blank, Graniet Film 2009
It wasn’t until my second year of university that I started to think about black British history.
I guess August was for non-fiction, or that This Lovely City just put me in the mindset to learn more about black British history. Because of course, of course – in some way you know that the islands aren’t an utopia for black and brown people, but how much of black history is focused on the USA (effectively making it possible for Europeans to dodge any responsibility?)? Turns out – when it comes to my knowledge – a lot.
Don’t write this title off as a history book now (why would you write off any book because it has history, you don’t love history?), because as anything involving people; history is just one part of it. As Eddo-Lodge explains it probably better than I do: intersectionality is a thing, and you can’t discuss a human issue without looking at the place where it intersects.
So, this book is about history, about feminism, about the media and white privilege. It’s about health and education, and every other part of human life. In clearly cut chapters, in clear language, Eddo-Lodge doesn’t only answer the title’s question, but also explains to you why you should take responsibility regarding it.
And just like that, I’ve got my first book for my students to read (from).
Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, Reni Eddo-Lodge, Bloomsbury 2017