“Hold still and stop fighting me,” his father said, and slapped him hard enough to leave a mark.
Maybe I’m just a little bit too demanding. There’s little wrong with this story, it ticks plenty of boxes and it’s a fun, light read. It just didn’t sweep me off my feet, being a tad too traditional in tropes and plots. The world-building, though. Libraries!
This is a world in which books and librarians are viewed quite differently from ours. It’s Big Brother through books, originals should only be owned by the Great Library and everyone’s got a journal which is basically your testament (to be added to the same library after your passing). In this world, it’s an honour to be part of the Great Library, so guess where the unlikely (“”) hero shows up.
He’s part of a group of aspirant librarians, but during his time in Alexandria he discovers that not everything is as rosy as it should be. Conspiracies and plots and maybe the good guys are really the bad guys and vice versa, adventure!
With a few twitches, all that could have been less fantasy-by-numbers, but of course there’s a sequel: maybe everything leading up to that will flourish in the second book. If you’re fine with fine, gritty world-building and another male protagonist, this story will do you very well.
Ink and Bone: the Great Library, Rachel Caine, Penguin Group 2015
I was running along the Upper Blandford Road this morning, watching the little islands emerge from the morning mist, when I came upon a fisherman stacking lobster traps by his shed.
Truth again turns out to be stranger than fiction in this story that might make you repeatedly check if it really isn’t a dramatised/fictionalised version of events. That also means that pretty much everything I will put down here could be considered as spoilers, but at the same time you could look up the author and possibly learn the entire story without ever opening the book. Hm.
During a big part of her childhood, Pauline, her mother and her brother are on the run. She’s told why in her early twenties, but that doesn’t exactly put a halt to the running. There’s two large twists (do you call it twists when it happens in real life?) in this story, and Dakin writes with the right amount of insecurity (is it me, is this really happening?) to – as a reader – keep doubting things as well, even when rationale starts popping up.
This way it continues to feel like a slightly laughable and surreal story, instead of paint-by-numbers memoir of someone growing up in seventies Canada. The Mounties don’t even show up until the end.
So, you could read this one for several reasons. If you like memoirs, if you like truth-is-stranger-than-fiction, if you like a detective element without any detectives involved, if you want a slice of life view of seventies Canada.
Run, Hide, Repeat: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood, Pauline Dakin, Viking 2017
Whenever I woke up, night or day, I’d shuffle through the bright marble foyer of my building and go up the block and around the corner where there was a bodega that never closed.
This novel is an one woman on the ledge balancing act. The ledge here being ‘Is she terribly annoying or horribly sad?’. If it would have been a male protagonist, I would have given up on the book, but it’s not very often that women are allowed to be all of the above.
So what’s going on? The main character decides to sleep a year away, aided by a bucket load of medicine freely provided from possibly the worst psychiatrist in recent history. She seemingly has it all (money, looks), but none of it seem to satisfy or fill her in any way. There’s an ugly relationship with a so called friend, a permanent neglect from a man, orphan-hood. Basically, there’s no positivity and very little light in this life.
So, why read it? Because women can be absolute trash/go through periods of being absolute trash as well, and it’s not shown often enough. Because it’s an almost surreal trip through someone’s mind, and when there’s someone around living through worse things than you do, it definitely lights up your situation. Because it’s just kind of weird in an enthralling way, and that doesn’t happen (to me) often enough.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh, Penguin Press 2018
Pere Don Callahan had once been the Catholic Priest of a town – ‘Salem’s Lot had been its name – that no longer existed on any map.
I did it, I finished it – all seven of them. I’ve changed sides and am one of Those that Read Them now (applicably for many other book (series) of course). I’m done, and I feel slightly run over.
I don’t often review series, especially following books, because I feel like you won’t start a series if it’s only the third (etc.) installment that interests you, nor that it’s easy to discuss plot lines without spoiling those still starting. But it’s been five minutes since I’ve finished the last book and I need to get things off my lower ribs (it’s always my lower ribs over my chest).
For a large part of the last novel, I felt impatience and frustration. Because honestly, how much more world-building is necessary, how many pus-filled pimples on villains need to be described. I was still a bit uneasy about the meta twist of things (Stephen King getting involved), and basically felt almost as tired as Ronald to just get to that damn tower.
I’m glad I stuck with it. No novel is supposed to be stale, and even though you could view some decisions as made for shock value, you might realise that the ending motivates all those decisions made. And what an ending.
So this isn’t really a review for a series, it’s for the ending(s) of one.
The Dark Tower, Stephen King, Hodder & Stoughton 2004
Everyone has a Cordova story, whether they like it or not.
Marisha Pessl loves her similes. Every subject and person gets a description added, no wonder that the book is so thick. After a while it gets noticeable, and – in my case – a bit annoying.
The first strike was having a male main character. I read female authors because they usually write female characters, and that thusly I don’t have to worry about a man mishandling/manhandling a woman and her life. Now I still have to read about the grumpy and socially disgraced male detective (oh wait, he’s a journalist).
Scott has a bucketload of issues, with casual sexism possibly the most annoying one. His side characters have the potential to be interesting, but never really get to be on the stage as a person. Strike two.
The story in itself is pretty amusing, though. There’s a reclusive director with a cult-like following, a thin line between realistic horror and magical, all in a lush noir-light background. If there aren’t any movie/TV-plans yet, I can see them happening. Plenty of the similes can be dropped, the main plot is easily streamlined and there will be less time to navel-gaze for Scott. Everybody wins.
Night Film, Marisha Pessl, Random House 2013
Chain Night happens once a week on Thursdays.
I changed my mind about this novel pretty much every other chapter. Probably because I expected one person’s story and got several, with almost all of those not being interesting to me. I don’t care about the male prisoner when the book is marketed as being about a woman in a female prison.
Anyway. Every chapter is a facet of the story, some just muddier than others. It is about Romy, a female prisoner. It doesn’t just show her story, but the circumstances that got her there and life in prison. And neither of those things are pretty.
With every chapter there is a slight shift in style, which could be a compliment to the author, but again adds to the feeling of ‘Am I here for this?’. Quickly, the story turns out to be another version of life in prison: you slog through and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner, Scribner 2018
Evening swept through the Delta: half an hour of mauve before the sky bruised to black.
I read books situated in South America and Asia and Africa to remember that Western culture and/or society isn’t the only one on this planet. With Welcome to Lagos I sometimes felt like I was ready a satire of how people think about African cultures. Surely it isn’t really like that? But when a (semi-)local is writing about it, you might take their word for it. And see that some known things about African countries aren’t exaggerated.
In this story the reader follows people from different walks of life that come together in Lagos. And Lagos is a creature, not just a city. The country of Nigeria is a beast, and the different people living in it are sometimes prey, sometimes predator. I’m not just talking about literal, military violence, but about poverty and corruption as well. And yet, these people find each other and connect in some way.
It’s a story about people functioning (in some way) in a country that isn’t even half way there on the road to whatever. As an ignorant white person I was surprised by the casual poverty and people abusing it, by the reach of the corrupted in power. As mentioned before – is it really that bad?
It’s with credit to the author that it doesn’t turn into one long complaint about the city and its civilians. Welcome to Lagos feels like something you could read for Anthropology class: to make sure you see the people not the system.
Welcome to Lagos, Chibundu Onuzo, Faber & Faber 2017