Boxer Beetle

In idle moments I sometimes like to close my eyes and imagine Joseph Goebbels’ forty-third birthday party.

This book confused me. Luckily it had a lot to say about itself:

This is a novel for people with breeding.
Only people with the right genes and the wrong impulses will find its marriage of bold ideas and deplorable characters irresistible.
It’s a novel that engages the mind while satisfying those that crave the thrill of a chase. There are riots and sex. There is love and murder. There is Darwinism and Fascism, nightclubs, invented languages and the dangerous bravado of youth. And there are lots of beetles.
It is clever. It is distinctive. It is entertaining. We hope you are too.

Ned Beauman didn’t worry himself with using a clear layout that makes it easier for the reader to understand who’s point of view she’s following this time. And from time to time it is very weird and the reader might has to get used to the fact that she’s following fascists and that (if he/she isn’t one) opinions will clash. But on the other hand -yes it was entertaining and weird and bold and interesting. Read it if you want to read about a whole different world view, a way of life that existed not that long ago and/or Hitler beetles. Seriously.

Boxer Beetle, Ned Beauman, Sceptre 2010

The Slap

His eyes still shut, a dream dissolving and already impossible to recall, Hector’s hand sluggishly reached across the bed.

Acht getuigen vertellen over hoe ze een kennis een kind van een andere kennis zien slaan en hoe dat doorwerkt in hun leven. Het merendeel hiervan is volwassen en ouder, maar er zitten ook een kindloze vrijgezel en twee tieners bij.

De gedachte die al snel bij mij bovendreef was ‘Revolutionary Road in de eenentwintigste eeuw’. Net zoals in dat boek hebben alle passerende personages van The Slap veel (geld, gezin, vrienden), maar vreten achter de façades allerlei grote en kleine problemen zich door hun levens. Wanneer het ene personage sympathiek lijkt, stuurt Tsiolkas snel weer aan op een ontnuchterende situatie.
Dit is echter maar heel soms deprimerend. Vaker neemt het boek gewoon de plaats in van een uitgebreide karakterschets van de middenklasse van Australië (met schrijnend ‘gewoon’ racisme dat misschien nog het meeste steekt).

De oplossing/climax is dan ook dat die er niet is. Dit is het leven, dit zijn de mensen er is geen zwart of wit. En hopelijk zijn deze mensen niet op bestaande Australiërs gebaseerd, want fijne reclame voor het volk is het  niet.

The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas, Tuskor Rock 2010


Marie-Madeline lit the flame under the bowl.

In Haunted volgt de lezer de geest van een half demon die ook nog heks is. Zij -Eve- krijgt in het volgende leven een opdracht van het Lot: ze moet een monster vangen dat ontsnapt is uit haar persoonlijke hel. Dat gaat natuurlijk niet zo makkelijk en zo wordt de lezer meegenomen door verschillende werelden van leven-na-dood, een paar hellen en tussendoor naar de wereld van de levenden want daar is Eve’s dochter waar ze zo graag voor zorgt.

Mensen die Kelley Armstrong kennen, weten hoe gedetailleerd zij (paranormale) werelden kan scheppen. Er zijn engelen, demonen en half-demonen, thema-werelden voor de doden (Eve bezoekt eens een piratenwereld), allerlei spreuken en magie en ga zo maar door. Mensen die haar niet kennen, weten nu zo ongeveer wat ze kunnen verwachten. Toch wordt die hoeveelheid aan detail nooit verstikkend, blijft het verhaal duidelijk en is het geen moment moeilijk om doorheen te komen. Armstrong biedt fantasy pulp, maar in plaats van op de bekende manier met mannelijke helden en vrouwen met zwoegende boezems in kleine pakjes, kunnen de vrouwen hier zelf hun zaakjes beschermen en oplossen. En dat is vermakelijk.

Haunted is makkelijk inwisselbaar met haar andere werk. Zelfde sterke vrouw, zelfde wereld-hoppen en kleine wijze les in de laatste drie hoofdstukken. Een lekker tussendoortje.

Haunted, Kelley Armstrong, Orbit 2005

The Alternative Hero

You know how it is sometimes.

The Alternative Hero is a coming of age story of the thirty-three year old Clive Beresford. Clive has been an (almost) life long fan of the band The Thieving Magpies and effectively stopped developing (mentally) when they broke up after a disastrous show. He drinks too much, has a shitty job, few friends and no girlfriend. And he thinks he can change all that (or at least his way of looking at life) when he spots the lead singer of The Thieving Magpies. That man should be able to give him closure and with that, somehow, a goal in life.

This book is stuffed with (pop) musical references, real and imaginary bands and persons passing by. Every chapter has a recommended listening, lyrics and texts from (fake) fanzines pop in and Clive simply can’t separate his life from his music.
Like in any coming of age story,  loads of stupid, sad and frustrating things happen, some wise lessons are pushed into the margins and The One Big Lesson isn’t so big and pretty easy to grab. The Alternative Hero reads like a scrap book of a music lover and in some chapters it looks like that as well. Sometimes the reader will probably have the urge to grab Clive’s shoulders and shake some sense into him, but the majority of the time he isn’t a bad guy, he just lost his direction.
And a has-been popstar helps him rediscover it.

Lovers of England, (English) music and coming of age stories, grab The Alternative Hero and enjoy the ride.

The Alternative Hero, Tim Thornton, Cape 2009

The Illuminator

John Wycliff put down his pen and rubbed his tired eyes.

The Illuminator tells the story of several characters living in the fourteenth century in (South) England. It is the time of two popes, the Church keeping their knowledge close to their hearts (because no way that a simple farmer can understand God’s Word) while others protest more and more loudly that everyone could and should be their own priest.
The main character is Kathryn, who as a widow and noble is pushed from every side to show her alliance and -if it isn’t too much of a bother- get married again soon because a woman being the owner of a manor and lands? Na-ah.

Sometimes the characters are placed a bit aside to tell the story about 14th century England and the huge gap between ordinary people and the Church and the country’s government. But never in an annoying way, instead reminding me of my elementary school History books that always started with a fictional story in a historical background.
Which is exactly what this is.

It is an easy to read story that half way in turns into more and more drama. I thought I was pretty good in predicting where plot lines would go, but The Illuminator threw me off for ninety percent of the time. For fans of Philippa Gregory: not in a happy ending way.
For everyone else who can handle death, illnesses, inequality and The Church taking everything without returning anything, I’d recommend this book. You might even learn from it.

The Illuminator, Brenda Rickman Vantrease, St. Martin’s Press 2005

The Lonely Polygamist

To put it as simply as possible: this is the story of a polygamist who has an affair.

Oh, but this is anything but a simple story.  I finished it a little less than two days ago and I still feel something ache when I think about it. This book didn’t leave me behind happy at all. I don’t agree with its happy ending. I pitied but couldn’t sympathize with (barely) any of the characters .. it took a bit of a toll on me, I suppose.

As the first sentence hints: this is a story about a polygamist, a man with four wives and twenty-eight children. But it’s not only about Golden Richards, it’s about his whole sorry family and sorry they are. One of his sons, one of his wives and -in a way- the house itself bleed their feelings of loss, frustration and loneliness into the main story. They can’t belong because there are simply too many others and too little of the father to give everyone equal opportunity. And Golden himself feels like an outsider in his own family. His back story shows that he has never made a decision about anything, there were and are always others to do that for him. Until he falls in love with an other woman and: lets himself. Even cherishes the thought of acting on it.

‘Wry’ would be my word for The Lonely Polygamist. There is no relief from the maelstrom that is the family Richards and I gobbled up the small pieces of joy that sparsely feature. It made me angry with polygamist families and the named religion they follow, but in the end there was only pity for so many unhappy people. Especially because they were unhappy by my standards (never share a man, don’t put yourself in second place, be loved unconditionally).

I fully recommend this book, if you read books to experience thoughts and feelings outside your own spectrum. Don’t read it for a laugh or a How To on polygamy.  It’s a very human story, of humans and their (self-)inflicted boundaries.

The Lonely Polygamist, Brady Udall, Cape 2010

Clicking her heels

Saturday, early morning, and twenty-four-year-old Amy Marsh was running through her checklist, trying to keep a lid on her mounting excitement.

Man denkt dat schoenverslaafde vriendin vreemdgaat en verkoopt daarom al haar schoenen op eBay. Vriendin reist vervolgens de wereld over om haar schoenen terug te krijgen. Het is tenslotte chicklit.

De reis hangt aan elkaar van onwaarschijnlijkheden en plaatsvervangende schaamte. Sta vooral niet stil bij logica en de realiteit. Daarentegen zijn de karakters allemaal redelijk makkelijk leuk te vinden, de kleding en locaties gedetailleerd beschreven maar niet tot het irritant wordt en kan de lezer gelukzalig zuchten bij het einde.

Meer is er ook niet te vertellen.  In de categorie van chicklits: zeker een zeven.

Clicking her heels, Lucy Hepburn, Avon 2007