Blind Sight

Names are just what we all agree to call things.

Just like  Dark Dude a story about a teenage boy growing up, but in very different surroundings and time period. Luke has been raised by his New Age mother, religious grandmother and feminist, free-thinking sisters. When his – before unknown – father turns out to be a famous actor, inviting him to his life in Los Angeles, he’s introduced into a very different world with a very different state of mind.

His father is a capitalist, he’s not honest to everyone, eats meat and has no time for meditation. Through essays, Luke tries to get used to having a father, learn about how life is with a father in it and how it changes him. Is he a different person at home versus the apartment of his father? And how do you write an essay that will get you into university?

It takes a bit before Meg Howrey seems to have found a balance between telling and showing. Half way into the book it becomes a bitter sweet coming-of-age story with Luke doubting a lot, while at the same time enjoying everything and wondering if that’s allowed in such a strange situation. What threw me off most was the random changing from first to third person.

Even though there’s a lot of ‘Hollywood’ involved, Blind Sight never loses its realistic feeling, making you silently root for this lost kid.

Blind Sight, Meg Howrey, Vintage Books 2012

The Age of Miracles

We didn’t notice right away.

This is a terrifying story. This is humanity against the world and – even though most of us rather not think about it – the world “winning” without an effort.

Main character Julia’s transformation from child to teenager can be evenly lined up with the things Earth is going through. Some things are hard to notice, while others are clear, touch changes. And it can’t be stopped or turned back, no matter how hard you try.

As her world speeds up, the entire world starts slowing down. Days grow longer and longer and it’s adjust or die. Birds fall from the air, cults pop up left and right and trees and plants slowly die. Normal life is clung to until it’s clear that it doesn’t work any more, no matter how hard you try to lie to yourself.

The Age of Miracles is a heavy, depressing story about things lost. It gets underneath your skin and festers there with all to believable doom scenarios about the environment. Yet at the same time it’s a small, bittersweet story about growing up and losing your innocence.

The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker, Simon & Schuster 2012

Flip

Alex couldn’t have said what woke him that morning.

How do you get used to living in someone else’s body? Martyn Bedford manages to use a well-trodden trope (body swap) for a bittersweet coming of age story about two very different teenage boys.  And how you only know what you have when it’s gone.

Alex is a teen of the side-lines of his own life. He’s not actively bullied, but he’s not without abuse either. Not many friends, not many excitement. Until he wakes up in a strange bed, in a strange house, thousands of miles away from his own home. He’s not even in his own body any more, having slipped into the life of another teenage boy.

What follows is trying to adjust while trying to understand what happened, seeing what went wrong in his life and realizing that even something that looks better (popularity, money, girlfriends) can be empty or not all that desirable.

The “scientific” experience of everything doesn’t completely fit in with the themes of getting to know yourself and the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but it isn’t stretched in such a way that it becomes obnoxious. Flip is a sweet story that’s smarter than it might look from its summary.

Flip, Martyn Bedford, Walker Books 2011

Little Birds

Manuel and his wife were poor, and when they first looked for an apartment in Paris, they found only two dark rooms below the street level, giving on to a small stifling courtyard.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a Classic. And I don’t expect Anaïs Nin to be on the same high school to-read lists like Jane Austen or Mark Twain, but I’m certain she can be called a Classic (the capital is necessary). So, like with other Classics, I picked the slimmest novel of the author and ended up with Little Birds, a collection of (very) short stories.

Erotic stories. Published after her death, so sadly I’ll never know if she gave a damn about being different like that. Maybe people in the 1940s didn’t give a damn either, the preface of the Penguin Classics version doesn’t touch upon any of it. But besides that, does this author deserve the title of Classic?

That’s not easily said after reading just one piece of work, but Little Birds definitely has a certain appeal. The writing is accessible, there is a certain easy rhythm in the short stories that can almost be put to music. And, very important to erotica, there are barely any (horrible) metaphors for genitals.

And maybe most important: Little Birds made me curious about more Anaïs Nin.

Little Birds, Anaïs Nin, W. H. Allen & Co. 1979

How To Talk To A Windower

Russ is stoned.

29 years old, a stepson but not really, a pregnant twin sister that left her husband, a dysfunctional family (mum drinks too much, dad had a stroke) and a dead wife. A dead wife that’s with him the entire way, weighing down every try to living.

Oh, this hurt. This grated, got under the skin. Douglas does (for a long time) absolutely nothing to escape the horrible pain of being left behind. Anything can trigger the realization that his wife is dead and only tears and alcohol can help him through. His wife’s gone and so is he.

But, it being a year later, the world slowly tries to reel him back in. Family, affairs, his agent and the stepson that officially hasn’t has any ties to him. It’s sink or swim while Doug can only work up the energy to float.

Jonathan Tropper keeps it clinical and clean and heart wrenching at the same time. The reader is the bystander, cringing through another sad show and immediately feeling bad because poor, poor man. A man who is obnoxious (stupid macho things!), heart breaking, painfully honest.

How To Talk To A Windower is a pamphlet for love lost, (not) dealing with it and trying to live again.

How To Talk To A Widower, Jonathan Tropper, Orion Books 2007

Black Swan Green

Do not set foot in my office.

How do you review a book in which “just” life happens? Teenage life, to up the ante?

In this semi-autobiographical bildungsroman (Wikipedia’s words, not mine) the reader looks over the shoulder and into the mind of Jason Taylor, a child in the early eighties. At first he’s a floater, not a hero but not a loser either. Things happen and he sinks to the bottom of the food chain. Bullying wasn’t more or less cruel in past years, it still destroys a life.

I really like David Mitchell’s work, how complicated and intricate the story lines are. With some authors it’s risky of them to move from adult to YA/teenager stories, but with Black Swan Green it never feels like Mitchell keeps his foot on the brake or dumbed down his style. There is a feeling of magic realism to all of it, without any hint of the supernatural. The stories of the ordinary, viewed through a new lens.

Black Swan Green, David Mitchell, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd 2006

The Bone Season

I like to imagine there were more of us in the beginning.

Oh, wow. I love to be swept of my feet like this. A compelling story, a less-than-perfect (and genuine unlikely) heroine and thrilling world-building. I know I harp on about that a lot, but a story having a sound foundation can change annoyed disbelief in flabbergasted positive surprise.

The Bone Season doesn’t worry with ‘In a galaxy far, far away’ or lengthy prologues to show the reader what’s going on. It jumps right in, things go wrong quick and the protagonist – already in a tight spot as criminal scum of the earth – ends up as a slave. And all that because she’s clairvoyant and this is a world that sees those kind of people as an epidemic threatening real humans. And because of several other things, including alien god-like creations, but that would be a bit of a spoiler.

Another pluses are the lack of romance pressed upon the characters, nothing that shows that this was written as a first book of a series (meaning: no plot lines being cut up for no other reason than ‘To be continued’) and that the book is just a very enjoyable, quick read.

The Bone Season, Samantha Shannon, Bloomsbury 2013

The Kills

John Jacob Ford’s morning began at 3:03 with a call from Paul Geezler, Advisor to the Division Chief, Europe, for HOSCO International.

Maybe ‘epic’ is the right word for this. With 1000 pages spanning continents, characters, genres and different kinds of media, it certainly aims high. It’s a shame about the sloppy editing from time to time, creating mistakes like missing words or typos. Yet in a way ..it adds to the thrill. The meta feeling of reading a book about a book while being part of every level of the story. Like Richard House had to put it down in a hurry, running around like the people in The Kills.

So what is the story? What are the four stories, combined in this one, huge, creation? It’s about the Middle East, intervening and building there. It’s about a multinational company that doesn’t seem to do anything else besides making sure that the right men and material arrive at the necessary spot, wherever it is. It’s about a man who sheds identities like dandruff but seems to be unsure about who he was originally. It’s about a thriller that was fictional, but gets a real life following, resulting in a mess with prostitutes and tourists. It’s about desert roads that are only being build to launder money, it’s about cats that are being killed. It’s about a lot.

As with every series, there are better and lesser books. In the first two books the connections are very clear, the backgrounds and surroundings similar. Book 3 goes completely off that grind (I still don’t know its place)  and book 4 doesn’t neatly tie up every plot line either. And yet, it’s an easy accessible world. To read feels to passively participate, even though there are very little clues to cling to. Take you time for The Kills. It might as well turn out to be an exciting adventure.

The Kills: Books 1 – 4, Richard House, Picador 2013

Something Rotten

‘Jurisfiction is the name given to the policy agency inside books.

After the messy disappointment of The Well of the Lost Plots, Jasper Fforde is back to deliver. Absurd, smart, silly and amusingly confusing. It’s full on Thursday Next.

Hamlet is walking around in the new world. So is the Minotaur, under the name of Norman Johnson. A politician tries to start a war with the Danes and everything Danish, Thursday has a son (Friday) with an eradicated husband and a croquet game needs to be won to save the world. There are also Neanderthals, evil mega corporations and chimeras, sometimes with a human arm. And don’t forget the jumps between fiction and real life, like the jurisfiction agent that happens to be a huge hedgehog.

To some this will sound as too hysterical, too crowded to have room for a plot. The first is a matter of opinion, the second definitely isn’t true. Thursday is juggling 3 – 5 cases and real life problems at the same time, and almost all of them get tied up neatly.

Tickled and relieved I can conclude that Fforde didn’t lose it after all.

Something Rotten, Jasper Fforde, Hodder and Sloughton Ltd 2004

The Wall

We sprint for the ball, shoulder to shoulder, our backpacks thumping from side to side.

How children learn that the enemy is still human and that the ones allied to you can be the enemies. With Palestina versus Israel on the background.

As the title says, the story is a modern fable. Tunnels to another world, discovering that things you knew aren’t really what they are. An unlikely friendship and an evil stepfather. It’s written in a light, airy way that gives room for the story to put its weight on the reader’s shoulders. Because even though this is fiction (the author underlines that fact in the acknowledgements), this could well be happening on any side of the Wall down there in the Middle East.

I don’t know if The Wall: a modern fable will suddenly change someone’s mind on the subject, but it’s very successful in showing the hopelessness of it all. How human everyone involved is, even though it would be easier to view one side as the monsters and the other as the victims. It might leave the reader with a slightly bitter feeling: how can things down there ever change when confrontation is the only way to change minds? But it also shows that there are other kinds of confrontation than violent ones, and maybe that’s the one part that might lead to a happy ending.

The Wall: a modern fable, William Sutcliffe, Bloomsbury 2013