Dresden Files

Ik lette nooit zo op de fasen van de maan.

Ik heb niets voor niets een hekel aan hard rijden.

In grote porties lijken de Dresden Files wel heel erg op elkaar. Zoals ik al eerder beschreef, de boeken zijn pulp. Dat valt alleen maar meer op wanneer je ze achter elkaar leest. Natuurlijk, er zijn verschillende monsters. Jim Butcher zorgt voor lekkere dialogen en gruwelijke situaties. Maar hoofdrolspeler Harry Dresden heeft net iets te vaak net iets te laat door wat er aan de hand is. Loopt net iets te vaak in de handen van de vijanden, geeft net iets te vaak een dikke knipoog naar de lezer. Dan wordt het duidelijk dat de auteur erg strak volgens een ABC-tje van schrijven werkt en is de pret er een (klein) beetje vanaf. Vermakelijk blijven ze dus, maar niet in ‘marathon’ vorm.

Wolvenjacht, Jim Butcher, De Vliegende Hollander 2009

Doodsnood, Jim Butcher, De Vliegende Hollander 2010

Stormnacht

Ik hoorde de postbode door de gang naderen.

De Dresden Files, die moet je lezen! Gigantisch leuke fantasy! Nou, vooruit dan maar. Ik sta altijd open voor suggestie. 

Stormnacht, het eerste boek van de Dresden Files, is een pulpromannetje: er gebeurt veel, er zijn wilde, vreemde karakters die makkelijk uit elkaar te houden zijn, er is zoveel plot dat er geen tijd is om adem te halen en er is een bevredigend einde, netjes opgerold in één hoofdstuk. Hap, slik, weg.

Harry Dresden is een magïer, een echte. Hij leeft alleen in een wereld (hedendaags Chicago) die niet in magie, demonen enzovoorts gelooft. Geld verdienen is dus pittig, maar gelukkig is er een politieagente die af en toe zijn hulp nodig heeft.
Natuurlijk verzamelen aan het begin van het boek meerdere zaken, zijn er mafia bedreigingen en loopt alles in de soep.

Stormnacht is een galopperend paard van een verhaal dat op de laatste bladzijdes verrassend kalm tot stilstand komt. Het is compleet, het is vermakelijk. Een prima pulp aanrader.

Stormnacht, Jim Butcher, De Vliegende Hollander 2009

We Are All Made Of Glue

The first time I met Wonder Boy, he pissed on me.

Marina Lewycka has a way with making the extraordinary human and vice versa. An old exotic woman with a fairy tale house turns out to be just someone living through all the things (war, lost love, age) life throws at her. A doormat housewife becomes a crusader for elderly rights. And none of this happens with any characters turning into caricatures.

The friendship between Georgie (doormat) ans mrs Shapiro (old woman) is the axis of this story. Through reduced prices, estate agents, a witch of a social worker and a handyman who swaps b’s with p’s and vice versa the reader gets a slice of life served up.

And throughout the entire story Lewycka balances a thin line. Just when there’s the risk of frustrations, anger or confusion (the character does what?), she swoops in and makes the characters (likeable) humans again.

Right now it feels like I could pick any of Lewycka’s books and be pleasantly surprised again. Which is never a bad feeling to have.

We Are All Made Of Glue, Marina Lewycka, Fig Tree 2009

A Beautiful Place To Die

Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper switched off the engine and looked out through the dirty windscreen.

Cop stories are always a bit risky in my opinion. Will there be plenty of world building, did the author dodge enough clichés to make it feel original. After all, it’s always a case that will or won’t be solved. And the protagonist is usually a bitter cop. There are plenty of clichés in A Beautiful Place To Die, but Malla Nunn knits them together with a layered plot.

A Beautiful Place To Die plays out in apartheid South Africa. A white police man is killed, another is put on the job. Because the victim is white, quick result is expected. When the detective realizes that there is much more going on than just a murder, and the National Security Branch starts meddling, things start rolling. Fast.

Nunn shows how idiotic and crippling all the apartheid laws are, how humans are still human, even when some consider others less. She shows that there is a difference between personal life and social appearance but mostly just – with easy looking sketches – creates real characters. Possibly more exciting than this entire whodunnit case.

A Beautiful Place To Die, Malla Nunn, Picador 2009

solace of the road

I breezed down the line of cars, so cool you’d never know I was looking for a way to board the boat.

This story shows that you don’t need ten thousand words and great gestures to tell an emotional story. The smallness, the futility of it all makes Holly’s story in solace of the road possibly linger longer than a big show would have.

Holly is in a house for unwanted children. She’s been out for a few times, but there never was a click with the adoptive family. There are few adults she trusts, she misses her mother and the past they share and is stuck in a rut. Things happen and she decides to take her life in her own hands. With a blond wig on she isn’t small, deserted Holly any more, she’s cool, crazy Solace. Who’s going to travel from England back to Ireland, back to her mother.

Siobhan Dowd shows with small details what’s life like if you feel like you’re the only one in the world who cares about you, how someone can rewrite their own history and how devastating it can be to discover something outside that story. And all this without any pity, without any Life Lessons in the spotlight. It just happens. Holly has to come through. And you’re left behind, wondering if she will.

solace of the road, Siobhan Dowd, David Fickling Books 2009

The Book of Night Women

People think blood red, but blood don’t got no colour.

People who say that we live in a post-racial society are talking bullshit. People who say that (Western) society can only become race-issue free when we forget everything that happened in the past, need to make an obligatory reading of this. This is a past that should never be forgotten. How we live with it should be the discussion, not how we should ignore/shove it away.

Onwards. The Book Of Night Women tells the story of Lilith, through her eyes. Her mother was a teen slave that got raped by her master. Lilith works in the house of a plant on Jamaica. She’s treated differently by the other slaves because she’s a house slave over the field slaves, but more importantly: she has “white” eyes. Lilith is a half breed, too dark for the white people, too white for the other slaves.

The slaves are considered as something less than animals, somewhere between a faulty piece of equipment and a moral-less, emotionless creation. If you whip, kick or burn one to death, you buy another one. You take their children, because they can’t raise them themselves properly. And there’s no end to it.

All this lies heavy on the heart, but never gets so depressing that it puts you off reading on. The surroundings Marlon James shows could star in a travel guide, the characters are extraordinary without making the mistake of making them the Exotic Ones.

I recommend it.

The Book of Night Women, Marlon James, Riverhead Books 2009

Up In A Tree In The Park At Night With A Hedgehog

‘What’s wrong?’

Well, that was absurd. The title and its cover were possibly the most fun of the experience.

Main character Benton Kirby does nothing more in life than drift through it.  He looks back at his life and countless mistakes, doesn’t really take any responsibility for it nor seems to feel particularly bad about it. He’s just there and other things just happen to him. Not his fault, what can he do. The more exciting things (a brother is mentioned, whom drives Death around in his cab or the suicidal pets of Benton’s girlfriend) barely get any attention. It’s navel staring with morally (very) grey glasses.

Some of his experiences are enjoyable silly. Absurd isn’t always a negative thing and hey, not every book needs to blow you away. The writing was easy to take in and with it being such a thin book you’ll be done quickly, no matter what your reading speed is. What just bugged me most is Benton’s “Not my fault” attitude. There is no learning curve, things don’t come back to bite him in the behind in any (satisfactory) matter ..he just stumbles on. When he gets to the titular hedgehog, I feel bad for the animal.

This could have been a collection of absurd sketches. With a little more (chronological) back bone it could have been funny. Now it was just ..’there’.

Up In A Tree In The Park At Night With A Hedgehog, P. Robert Smith, Vintage Books 2009

Wolf Hall

‘So now get up.’

This wasn’t a novel, this was a ambitious biography about every breath Thomas Cromwell took, every move he made. Yes, that makes Hilary Mantel extremely devoted and A+ for her research (how much of it was research and how much fiction?) but it doesn’t make a readable book.

This story is of the rags to riches kind. He seems to have a sixth sense for where he needs to be, who he needs to talk to and what decision to support. That’s impressive. After another and another success story it starts to get a bit boring. Yes, he’s the right time right place right connection man. Singlehandedly keeping the kingdom in one piece. Fine.

The kingdom is the one of Henry VIII, not the greatest ruler, too busy with trying to get rid of one woman (Katherine of Arragon) and marry another (Anne Boleyn). His kingdom is ruled by advisors and councils and slowly by Thomas Cromwell. If I hadn’t been browbeaten by musings over paints and favourite meals, I might have had energy left to be impressed.

Now it only gave me a bitter determination to finish this book and forever be done with it. I don’t know what I missed what made others rave about Wolf Hall, but I was glad to leave it behind.

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel, Fourth Estate 2009

Welcome

110 min.

Illegalen die over een landsgrens proberen te komen is niets nieuws. Dat ze daarbij gewond raken, (mentaal en fysiek) misbruikt worden en sterven, ook niet. Het is iets dat een vast element in de krant is; als het aantal tenminste groot genoeg is. Het zijn geen mensen meer, maar nummers.

In Welcome kun je zien hoe letterlijk je dat kunt nemen: de mensen die worden gesnapt, krijgen een nummer op hun hand  gekalkt. Dan zijn ze tenminste terug te vinden voor hun rechtzaak.

Mars Distribution
Mars Distribution

De film wordt opgehangen aan het verhaal van de 17-jarige Bilal. Hij komt uit Irak en wilt naar Engeland toe, omdat zijn vriendin daar woont en een vriend hem aan een baan daar kan helpen. Bilal doet verschillende pogingen tot hij het idee krijgt dat hij het Kanaal over kan zwemmen. Een Franse zwemleraar leert hem -tegelijkertijd met de kijker- kennen en zo krijgen we te zien dat dit een persoon is, met wanhopige dromen en hartstochtelijke zucht naar een beter leven.

Het schuurt een beetje, die realisatie. Hoe kunnen wij ons dagelijks leven crisis noemen als je een verhaal volgt van je eigen land ontvluchten, geen enkele steun hebben en een licht aan het einde van de tunnel zien dat misschien altijd buiten bereik zal blijven? Toch is Welcome geen tranentrekker met een wijzend vingertje. De gelatenheid van heel de situatie laat juist een diepere indruk achter.

Welcome, Mars Distribution 2009

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

The phone call came late one August afternoon as my older sister Gracie and I sat out on the back porch shucking the sweet corn into the big tin buckets.

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet won me over because its looks. It’s a big green book full of illustrations and scribbles in the margins. That the blurb on the back said it was like Little Miss Sunshine in a book, mixed in with some other comparisons, was just a plus.

T.S. Spivet (Tecumseh Sparrow) is a smart twelve year old boy who likes to make maps. Of everything. Where all the MacDonalds in Ohio are, but also the insides of a beetle. His mother is a scientist, his father owns the ranch they live in the middle of nowhere and there’s an older sister who’s miserable because they live in the middle of nowhere. T.S. has a teacher who’s very enthusiastic about his mapping skills and -without informing T.S.- sent them away for an award. The above mentioned phone call turns out to be The Smithsonian who doesn’t know T.S. is a twelve-year old and rewarded him with the award. And oh, if he can come over to do a speech.

And that T.S. does. He starts off on a trip by freight train to get to Washington. What follows is an ode to (mid-)America and a lot of thoughts from a smart twelve year old. Whenever it gets close to annoying (I ignored some of the scribbles in the margins first time round), Larsen manages to turn things around and keep it cute. A lesson in growing up and taking responsibilities.

It’s a charming little story that turns big because of its surroundings. Do read it.

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, Reif Larsen, Harvel Secker 2009