Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal

When my mother was angry with me, which was often, she said, ‘The Devil lead us to the wrong crib.’

This was a surprise feminist story. And much more. Winterson admits that she can’t write chronologically, that her pen goes where her mind goes. So this is autobiographical, a story about growing into feminism, a story about adoption and a history shot: the frozen time of the sixties in a place that’s neither North nor South England. Don’t expect any laughs, because it’s a very sad story as well.

Jeanette Winterson is adopted by Ms. Winterson and her husband, a shadowy figure in the back that is never really part of anything. Ms. Winterson is an incredibly angry, joyless person who is waiting for the End of the World to happen. She is continuously disappointed by everything, disapproving and a dark cloud in Jeanette’s life. Even though you try to understand that this is a human being and there will be reasons for the way she is, it’s very easy to cast her as the horrible villain of this story.

Not that there are no other contenders for that spot. Society, the small town they live in and Jeanette herself, struggling with so many thoughts and feelings and always coming back to a point a not-adopted child simply couldn’t recognize as a problem. As a reader you’re ping-ponged between the heavy feelings of ‘why bother’, being unloved and never fitting in. It doesn’t make for a book you want to curl up with for a nice escape.

It makes a book that shows how incredibly important family is, how important the feeling of belonging and having connections are. To this day, Winterson is still working out how love fits into her life, how a healthy relationship should be. A lot of things are said by adoption, but this book gives you the first person view on it.

Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal, Jeanette Winterson, Cape 2011

Cat’s Cradle

Call me Jonah.

My boyfriend recommended this to me with “It’s really weird, but I think you’ll like it”. I didn’t find it that ‘really weird’. I don’t know what that says about me or the books I read.

Jonah (or whatever his name is) tries to write a book about the children of the Father of the Atomic Bomb. Those three are not your ordinary humans. Which is a good thing, because Jonah isn’t either.
Things happen, they travel to San Lorenzo, more things happen; as does the end of the world.

Cat’s Cradle was like a Where’s Waldo of metaphors and hints to real life during the time Vonnegut wrote it. Recognizing the commentary added a second layer to the novel. Usually I’m not such a big fan of working to Get The Message, but Vonnegut manages to communicate it without smacking you around the head with it. The embarrassing Americans? The “illegal” religion kept alive by the government? The fictional country of San Lorenzo? I wish I could have read this book for English, so I could dissect it until the final comma and discuss the whats and whos. Now I’ll have to find another way.

If I remember correctly I wasn’t sure about Kurt Vonnegut after reading  Slaughterhouse 5. If I liked his work or if I liked his ideas and how slim his novels were. I’m pretty sure I like his work.

Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut, Penguin Books 2008

The Song of Achilles

My father was a king and the son of kings.

Another book club book. The Song of Achilles is about the ‘heel-guy’ (although that particular weakness isn’t mentioned in this book) but not the arrogant surfer dude that people might remember from the movie Troy. Here we see Achilles grow up through the eyes of Patrocles, an exiled prince that grows up to be his best friend, human half and lover. Yes, the age old question of did they/didn’t they is firmly answered here.

Yet this book is as much as a story about the familiar story about Helena of Troy, the myths (there is an amazing centaur-mentor involved and the gods are never far away) and growing up as it is about two boys recognizing themselves in each other. Love sometimes barely covers the (desperate) feelings of Patrocles. Madeline Miller manages to show in small, sweet ways that it most certainly isn’t a one-way relationship, even though Achilles is very busy with his destiny of eternal fame and following death.

Everyone familiar with the story will know how it ends and I wouldn’t recommend it to people who think they can breeze through a piece of Old Grecian myth. Miller sneakily manages to get the characters under your skin and springs emotional traps. If you’re up for a relieving sob after a great, colourful and detailed story: go for it.

The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller, Bloomsbury 2011

Lord Sunday

Arthur fell.

After little over five years I had to say goodbye to this book series. And with a series like this one, it’s just one of the reasons to feel a small tugging at the heart strings.

The Keys to the Kingdom are categorized as fantasy for children (12 and up). But, as with any good author, it’s barely noticeable that only kids are supposed to be attracted to these stories. With its rich world building, colourful details and sweet story line (our unlikely hero suffers from asthma and carries his elephant plushie everywhere), it will appeal to anyone with a taste for original fantasy.

After battling, puzzling and venturing through the worlds of six “Days” (all lords and ladies with their own plane), Arthur (true heir of the worlds’ Architect) has to victor over the most powerful ruler, Lord Sunday, while the world falls apart around them. Yes, that makes little sense.

This review is little more than an obvious hint to just try the seven books of this series. But pace yourself, before you finish too quickly and fall victim to Nothing.

The Keys to the Kingdom: Lord Sunday, Garth Nix, Scholastic Press 2010

Various Pets Alive And Dead

The whole world is deranged, though most people haven’t noticed it yet.

This was very entertaining. Marcus and Doro are people of the seventies, people of The Change with capitals T C. Their children ..not so much. Serge hides from his parents that he is a very successful (until the economical crisis of 2008 hits) banker, Clara is trying very hard to break free from being over-controlling and always in charge (it’s who she was in the commune, after all) while Oolie-Anna desperately wants to break free from her mother.

Various Pets Alive And Dead shows how permanent the marks left behind by your childhood are. Not just in case of the children, but for Marcus and Doro as well. Capitalism is evil, jealousy is ugly; yet she still wants to keep her own allotment and doesn’t want to hear about her husband’s free loving back in the day.

The book starts with everybody quite happy, but it quickly unravels. Kewycka manages to write down the ordinary in an absurd yet believable way. Every character is a real human being and yes, you may enjoy some schadenfreunde, but in the end you’ll be rooting for their happy ending. If Kewycka makes that happen ..that’s for the reader to discover.

Various Pets Alive And Dead, Marina Kewycka, Fig Tree 2012

Swordfish

99 min.

 

I can remember the three selling points for this film: Halle Berry’s breasts, John Travolta’s speech about Hollywood and the “Incredibly Smart Plot”. One of these things didn’t live up to expectation.

WarnerBros
WarnerBros

Swordfish is an entertaining film, if you can get past the badly acted parts (just showing that an Oscar doesn’t always necessary comes with great acting all the time). And the crooked plot about Travolta’s character revenging every terroristic act until the terrorists understand that they’re not allowed to touch The United States. It won’t be the first and definitely not the last action film to have a bizarre plot, after all.

Travolta seems to be the only one having fun with playing his character. Jackman is enjoyable as an criminal ex-hacker with a soft spot for his daughter, but doesn’t get really believable in anything he does. Halle Berry’s addition to the film is softly put unbalanced.

It’s very possible that time made the shine of this film shinier and it never was seen as Smart and Progressive and Amazing. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you go in expecting little.

Swordfish, WarnerBros 2001

The Well of Lost Plots

Making one’s home in an unpublished novel wasn’t without its compensations.

Thursday Next, part of Jurisfiction, moves into an unpublished novel to take some time off of her life, including the erasure of her husband.  She replaces a fictional character and lives with her pet dodo in a flying boat. If this sounds out of the ordinary to you, you must be unfamiliar with the Thursday Next books. Jasper Fforde creates books in which nursery rhyme characters are alive (except when they’re a victim of murder), and there is a world of fiction in which real people can exist and book-jump.

Of course the easy life of a fictional character (she even gets lines to say) doesn’t last long. Not only does she start small mayhem in the novel she lives in (one of the characters is desperate to make it better and stray from the plot line), but she also stumbles into a plot to take over the world of books.

I really like the worlds in Fforde’s books, but feel that he dropped the ball with this one. Just a little bit. He got stranded in too much detail about how the fictional world works, up to the committees, layers and several repeats of why the office was on the 26th floor because there were few author names that started with Q-Z. It makes the story drag, I rather had more scenes with Thursday’s pet dodo Pickwick. There always seems to be more space for the slightly absurd (there is also a nursery rhyme characters strike) anyway.

Just skip to the other Thursday Next books.

The Well of Lost Plots, Jasper Fforde, Penguin Books 2003

Brave New World

A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories.

One for my Why Are They Called Classics And Are They Worthy Of The Name list. I read 1984 quite a while ago and thought that would do when it came to covering books from the (distant) past about the (distant) future. But as always it was my library that changed things; Brave New World (with the added Brave New World Revisited) was in plain view and here we are. I liked the story telling, the story scared and disgusted me. Which is -I hope- not new to anyone who reads it.

In Brave New World we see life in the 26th century on planet Earth. There is no such thing as love, families or traditional education; it has been replaced by reproductive technology and sleep-learning. Society is divided into different castes: Alphas on top (bred most successfully), Epsilons at the bottom (little more than factory workers with no identity to speak of). This world is introduced to us through the eyes of Bernard Marx, an Alpha but a stunted one. Because of this he feels an outsider, but he realizes what being a real outsider is when he takes home a Savage and his mother.
Because not every place on planet Earth has been civilized like the western world. No, there are small spaces, reserves, where the savages live. Humans who still believe in gods, monogamy and family. Of course the “civilized world” is blown away by this Savage (he quickly loses his name). So is the Savage by “civilization”, but not in the way the people expected it.

The ugly thing about this story is that a lot of it is believable. Ideas that are possible to grow in people’s minds. What if we make humans only loyal to capitalism and consumerism and nothing else? What if we take away all flaws and dump the humans when they’re not “necessary” anymore?  I’m not saying that I expect Brave New World to be reality by the end of this century, but I do believe that there are people out there thinking it. The people that don’t think about it and will fight for the right of being an individual just need to stay the majority.

I think Brave New World is worth of the title Classic.

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, HarperCollins 1932

A Catered Affair

My mother opened the front door, kissed me hello, rearranged my fringe and pincered an imaginary piece of lint off my jacket without missing a beat in her phone conversation.

I liked this chick lit. For the first one-third of the novel it isn’t exactly sure with which man she’ll end up, the side-characters are funny without being bizarre characters (I’d like to read a story about Grace and Scarlett) and instead of endless descriptions of outfits, it’s about food. Much better.

Tallulah is being dumped at the altar. She thought her fiancé had finally grown over his commitment-fear, but of course he didn’t (how else would you get a plot-starting problem). Tallulah (Tally) drowns herself in alcohol, propositions her caterer and tries to rebuild her life without Josh. Her grandmother tries to set her up with numerous dates, her already in-your-face mother gets worse and her sister Scarlett tries to get pregnant. A lot is going on.
A previous love of her life shows up, the caterer turns out to be a great friend ..what will happen, what will happen.

A Catered Affair follows the well-trodden paths of chick lit, but Sue Margolis has an enjoyable, self-mocking tone that prevents the story from turning cavity-inducing sweet. It was all I needed after the horror of Afraid.

A Catered Affair, Sue Margolis, American Library 2011

Afraid

The hunter’s moon, a shade of orange so dark it appeared to be filled with blood, hung fat and low over the mirror surface of Big Lake McDonald.

This is certainly a book that lives up to its title. I stopped reading it after seven at night because I was afraid of the high amount of nightmare fuel I was offering my subconscious.

Afraid tells the story of an invasion on a small town in Wisconsin, inaptly named Safe Haven. At first it seems like a cruel military accident gone wrong, men made into monsters and dropped on American soil instead of the Axis of Evil where they “should” be. But the randomness doesn’t fit and it turns out there is a reason why Safe Haven is slowly annihilated.

The thing that scares me most about Afraid are the humans. Humans who think they can tinker with other people to make them flawless. Humans who don’t care about how much death and disaster they leave behind. Humans that take great joy from hurting and maiming. I like to believe that we have enough moral stability to say that we won’t have robocops any time soon, but this book definitely showed the scariest side of such a future.

Afraid, Jack Kilborn, Headline 2008