Gods Without Men

In the time when the animals were men, Coyote was living in a certain place.

The flap text gave me the idea that this novel would be about and around the same place, the characters connected in some, yet undisclosed, way.
Instead this book was a collection of short stories about and around the same place, through time and with most of the characters connected in a random way. It took me a while to adjust to that difference. Especially because I’m not a fan of collected stories.

The one big plus Gods Without Men has (there are others, including making the ordinary creepy and interesting) is the way it offers visuals and accompanying atmosphere. I was there in that desolate, forgotten-by-the-world place in the desert, felt how heavy its surroundings pressed on the characters.
Another plus are the characters, all trying to escape a side from their selves they want to forget, loose, reshape.

It was not an easy read, almost 400 pages taking 10 days. There is little joy on it, and yet the story lingers when you close the book, the characters giving you room to look at your own life and ideas.

Gods Without Men, Hari Kunzru, Hamilton 2011

Mudbound

Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep.

This is a tough one. Not because this novel is badly written or has a boring story, far from the opposite. This is a tough one because some of the situations in it made me very uncomfortable.

Mudbound tells the story of different characters. The family that moves into a cotton farm, the people that work for them and serve them and the bystanders from the nearest village. As all of this happens in 1946 Mississippi, so you might already understand that there are no balanced relationships here. The woman needs to serve her family first, the  man needs to take care of the farm and protect what is his from ‘those’ people, while the members from ‘those’ people desperately try to break free from the box society pushes them into.
It made me slightly nauseous to read how careless slurs and threats are thrown around, how someone, only based on their skin colour , can turn into a free for all for entertainment and anger and shame.

And yet Mudbound is more than a confrontation with racism. It is an image of a vastly different time not that long ago, of a family that is drifting and pulled apart by its surroundings. And there is a raw, uncomfortable beauty to the way that had been written.

Mudbound, Hillary Jordan, Heinemann 2008

Runemarks

Seven o’clock on a Monday morning, five hundred years after the End of the World, and goblins had been at the cellar again.

Joan Harris is the writer of -much loved by me- Chocolat. I didn’t know she wrote ‘YA’ and only realized later that I recognized the style, because I read her adult stuff.
Because just as with her novels (for grownups), Runemarks is an easy, entertaining read and I can’t really imagine why it would only be for young adults.

Main character Maddy carries a runemark in a world where everything that reeks of magic, other worlds or not-humans is frowned upon or -in some places- killed upon. This makes her an outsider, alone until she meets another outsider who starts teaching her about her abilities. Those start to become necessary when the inquisitors of this world start a witch-hunt and daily life in a small village turns into running with (demi-)gods and goblins. There is also a new End of the World involved.

First of all, I love myths being used to spice a story up. Secondly, Maddy is a cool, smart badass without turning into an unbelievable teenager. She uses her brain, yet still makes mistakes from time to time. Thirdly, you race through this story because it’s written so ..light, but it still sticks with you after finishing it.

So ignore the ‘YA’ tag (if you’re afraid of those), and enjoy Maddy kicking the asses of Odin and his family  (and some scary religious fundamentalists).

Runemarks, Joan Harris, Doubleday 2007

The Borgias

Een kostuumdrama op de zaterdagavond op een Nederlandse publieke zender, het is niet een heel onbekend beeld. Maar The Borgias biedt een paus met een minnares, dreigende oorlogen, implicaties van incest en veel bloot. 

In de serie volgt de kijker de wereld van de Borgia familie, de vader een zestiende eeuwse paus die met chantage en omkoop aan zijn functie komt, ookal heeft hij vrouw en kinderen. Die gebruikt hij zonder scrupules om zijn positie vast te houden (en naar zijn idee omdat het het beste voor Rome is).

The Borgias geeft een mooi beeld; kleding en decor en architectuur is tot in de puntjes verzorgd. Maar meer dan dat is het ook niet. De momenten van dreiging, verdriet en verraad kabbelen aan één stuk door en na de zoveelste blote borst is dat ook niet bijzonder meer. Zelfs de acteurs lijken er niet heel veel zin in te hebben. En toch blijf ik kijken, met een half oog. Want het is mooi, als behang voor een luie zaterdagavond.

The Borgias, zaterdagavond (wisselende tijden) op NL2

The Poisonwood Bible

Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.

Several decades of five lives that live through emigration to the Belgian Congo, puberty and growing up, love, loss and independence of both country and family. It’s a big and small story at the same time, with characters you can take with you into your daily life.

A missionary family goes to ‘Dark Africa’ to save souls and show the Christian way. Only the father wants to be there, while the mother and four daughters try to adjust in different ways or not at all. The Belgian Congo is a gorgeous and dangerous and completely different world than Georgia, United States, but they simply didn’t choose it.

The Poisonwood Bible is history, social commentary and a family story. It takes you in easily and is hard to put down. With five points of view it’s easy to pick a favourite or find relief when you don’t like someone’s story.

I recommend this book because it’s very honest. It shows the disappointment of discovering that Christianity and Western society aren’t all-knowing, the gorgeousness but also brutality of Africa and how one situation can turn different people to completely different paths.

The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver, HarperFlamingo 2008

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The story I am about to share with you takes place in 1931, under the roofs of Paris.

This book is gorgeous. That can be largely attributed to the amazing pencil drawings in it, lifting the story to a different level.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret: a novel in words and pictures is the book where the film Hugo was based on. I didn’t watch the film, so I could take the story in without any expectations.

And it was a pleasure. This novel is lighthearted, colourful, detailed like quality clockwork and sweet. Looking at the cover was enough to make me smile and I’m just the littlest bits of sad for finishing it so quickly (there are a lot of page filling pictures and drawings).

Read it, look at it, enjoy it. Nothing more needs to be said.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret: a novel in words and pictures, Brian Selznick, Scholastic 2008

The Prague Cemetery

A passerby on that grey morning in March 1897, crossing, at is own risk and peril, place Maubert or the Maub, as it was known in criminal circles (formerly a centre of university life in the Middle Ages when students flocked there from the Faculty of Arts in Vicus Stramineus  or rue du Fouarre, and later a place of execution for apostles of free though such as Étienne Dolet), would have found himself in one of the few spots in Paris spared from Baron Hausmann’s devastations, amidst a tangle of malodorous alleys, sliced in two by the course of the Bièvre which still emerged here, flowing out from the bowels of the metropolis, where it had long been confided, before emptying feverish, gasping and verminous into the nearby Seine.

For years, my boyfriend told me I would really like Eco’s The Name of the Rose. And the review of The Prague Cemetery I read in my favourite news paper was very positive. So I thought with those powers combined, I was in for a lovely book-reading-experience.

Boy, was that a disappointment. The plot in one sentence is that a forger in the nineteenth century makes up a letter and changes history with it. Sounds cool, right? But maybe Eco didn’t think that would be enough or he always likes it confusing, I don’t know. Because quickly there comes a gap between Narrator and protagonist, are some syndromes of MPS added and personality twists and the time line stops being chronological and BAM you’re lost.

Even if you’d like a puzzle instead of a story, there is the fact that the protagonist hates everything. Jews, French people, Germans, Americans, rich people, poor people, religious people, there is only bitterness in his life.

It took me 114 pages to -sort of- get into this story and the remaining 300 to regret not giving up on it. And now I really fear The Name of the Rose.

The Prague Cemetery, Umberto Eco, Bombiani 2010