The Slap

His eyes still shut, a dream dissolving and already impossible to recall, Hector’s hand sluggishly reached across the bed.

Acht getuigen vertellen over hoe ze een kennis een kind van een andere kennis zien slaan en hoe dat doorwerkt in hun leven. Het merendeel hiervan is volwassen en ouder, maar er zitten ook een kindloze vrijgezel en twee tieners bij.

De gedachte die al snel bij mij bovendreef was ‘Revolutionary Road in de eenentwintigste eeuw’. Net zoals in dat boek hebben alle passerende personages van The Slap veel (geld, gezin, vrienden), maar vreten achter de façades allerlei grote en kleine problemen zich door hun levens. Wanneer het ene personage sympathiek lijkt, stuurt Tsiolkas snel weer aan op een ontnuchterende situatie.
Dit is echter maar heel soms deprimerend. Vaker neemt het boek gewoon de plaats in van een uitgebreide karakterschets van de middenklasse van Australië (met schrijnend ‘gewoon’ racisme dat misschien nog het meeste steekt).

De oplossing/climax is dan ook dat die er niet is. Dit is het leven, dit zijn de mensen er is geen zwart of wit. En hopelijk zijn deze mensen niet op bestaande Australiërs gebaseerd, want fijne reclame voor het volk is het  niet.

The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas, Tuskor Rock 2010

The Lonely Polygamist

To put it as simply as possible: this is the story of a polygamist who has an affair.

Oh, but this is anything but a simple story.  I finished it a little less than two days ago and I still feel something ache when I think about it. This book didn’t leave me behind happy at all. I don’t agree with its happy ending. I pitied but couldn’t sympathize with (barely) any of the characters .. it took a bit of a toll on me, I suppose.

As the first sentence hints: this is a story about a polygamist, a man with four wives and twenty-eight children. But it’s not only about Golden Richards, it’s about his whole sorry family and sorry they are. One of his sons, one of his wives and -in a way- the house itself bleed their feelings of loss, frustration and loneliness into the main story. They can’t belong because there are simply too many others and too little of the father to give everyone equal opportunity. And Golden himself feels like an outsider in his own family. His back story shows that he has never made a decision about anything, there were and are always others to do that for him. Until he falls in love with an other woman and: lets himself. Even cherishes the thought of acting on it.

‘Wry’ would be my word for The Lonely Polygamist. There is no relief from the maelstrom that is the family Richards and I gobbled up the small pieces of joy that sparsely feature. It made me angry with polygamist families and the named religion they follow, but in the end there was only pity for so many unhappy people. Especially because they were unhappy by my standards (never share a man, don’t put yourself in second place, be loved unconditionally).

I fully recommend this book, if you read books to experience thoughts and feelings outside your own spectrum. Don’t read it for a laugh or a How To on polygamy.  It’s a very human story, of humans and their (self-)inflicted boundaries.

The Lonely Polygamist, Brady Udall, Cape 2010

A visit from the Goon Squad

It began the usual way, in the bath room of the Lassimo Hotel.

A visit from the Goon Squad begint met Bennie en zijn assistente Sasha. Hun verhalen zijn al interessant, maar de auteur vond dat schijnbaar niet genoeg. In de verdere hoofdstukken volgt een kleurrijke verzameling aan mensen die ooit in het leven van Bennie en/of Sasha de revue zijn gepasseerd. De kinderen van de kennis van Bennie, de man waar Sasha haar eerste crush op had.
Dit heeft zeker zijn charme, want elk van de karakters heeft een verhaal dat de aandacht van de lezer vast houdt, maar op deze manier weet ook niemand hoe het voor de karakters afloopt. Je dipt (in sommige gevallen heel) even in een flinke hoeveelheid levens, alsof je op een terrasje zit en een uur mee mag luisteren naar iedereen in de buurt.

Desondanks stelt dit boek na het realiseren van deze opzet geen moment teleur. De muziekindustrie passeert, verschillende locaties binnen en buiten Amerika worden sfeervol opgezet en de verhalen van de karakters zijn, hoe absurd soms ook, nergens karikaturaal.  De schrijfstijl is luchtig en er is een goede kans dat de lezer klaar is met dit boek voor hij/zij het doorheeft. Gewoon even lezen en meedobberen met de vreemde levens dus.

A visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan, Knopf 2010

The Desert Spear

It was the night before new moon, during the darkest hours when even that bare sliver had set.

Like a fresh breath of Technicolor air after The Pregnant Widow. The Desert Spear made me a very happy fantasy fan.

TDS is part of a trilogy (aptly named Demon Trilogy) but can be read as stand alone as well. That’s already quite the feat in this genre full of unnecessary follow ups and ‘let’s pull this book apart into three books’, but that’s a not-related frustrating issue.  TDS tells the story of a world where the night isn’t safe. Because every night, all kind of demons (wooden, rock, wind and so on) will rise from the grounds and attack everything that isn’t warded. Humankind knows some of those wards, but not all of them. And of course there is a faith that says the demons are a God’s punishment that can only be stopped by a Deliverer.

In this book, there are two of those. One of them who really could be it, an ordinary guy from the North, who by others is made into a hero, even though he doesn’t want it.  And the other, a wünderkind from the South with a mighty army behind him and who has given himself the title. And they used to be friends.
A lot happens in The Desert Spear and telling would only be over sharing. But this book  manages to create a world, a bad guy, and two less than annoying ‘heroes’ while  entertaining you along the way as well. After reading the first book (The Painted Man) I wasn’t sure if there would be a follow up and I did a little dance when I saw this book in the library. It hasn’t disappointed me a bit, even throwing me off (as a crazy book lady, I like to be surprised) when it came to romance and plot lines.

It is fantasy though, remember that. If you’re completely averse to that, don’t bother. But if you want to try some, TDS or its predecessor are a great starting  place.

The Desert Spear, Peter V. Brett, Harper Voyage 2010

The Pregnant Widow

They had driven into town from the castle; and Keith Nearing walked the streets of Montale, Italy, from car to bar at dusk, flanked by two twenty-year-old blondes, Lily and Scheherazade …

You know that alternative themed party that your friends (and the Internet) have been raving about, while to you it only looked like a students’ common room with cheap alcohol and high ‘philosophical’ conversations? This book is that party and I didn’t get why it was so cool.

You’d think it would be fun for a reviewer to review a book you didn’t like. Just use every kind of  it sucked known to man and you’re done. But that’s not reviewing, nor giving a proper opinion (arguments, remember?).
So, here goes my try.
The Pregnant Widow is 465 pages of obnoxious twenty (and up) year olds who can only think of sex and (British) novels, women who are called cock a lot, using words and adding their dictionary definitions and not much else. There is no insight into any of the characters, no jokes, cynicism or even details of their surroundings. It’s only self-pity and uninspired meetings written in such a way that make you wonder how an author can fill so many pages with so little. I dragged myself by my hair through this book, through this day-to-day holiday life of a mentally-bloated kid.

Other reviews speak about the book as a memoir of the start of feminism, the end of youth and dark humor.  Maybe I expected too much, maybe I didn’t dig deep enough. For me, it simply was a disappointment. Next time I want to read whining about people not sleeping with you, I’ll visit any teenage message board. It’s much less long-winded.

The Pregnant Widow, Martin Amis, Cape 2010

Beatrice & Virgil

Henry’s second novel, written, like his first, under a pen name, had done well.

The most recent Yann Martell. Finding a snappy pop culture reference and/or worn out cliché that can cover this book will probably cost me more time than reading the book itself did.

Beatrice and Virgil are not only characters from Dante’s The Divine Comedy, but since Martell’s novel, also a donkey and a monkey. They are characters in a play that the protagonist, sort-of-ex writer Henry, chances upon. The play and accompanying letters lead him to a taxidermist and -for Henry- a complete unknown world. At first Henry is charmed and can appreciate this road to an exciting life, although the taxidermist and play-writer is a bit of a weirdo. But slowly signs crop up that the taxidermist isn’t a weirdo in a nice, socially-accepted way and Henry has to re-evaluate his enthusiasm.

While the previous book I reviewed was clearly from the category of Easy To Review, this book catapults me into Think About It. Beatrice & Virgil is (deceivingly) colorful, bright, detailed (Martell puts you inside the taxidermy store), aching and uncomfortable.  There are no chapters and little space to come up for air. The faster you read it, the more time you spend on it, the more it pulls you in and eats you up until it drops the climax in your lap. Do with it as you will, but here it is.

Read this book? Yes. You are brought into someone else’s life, into someone else’s experience without plodding through hundreds of pages or needing all of your concentration. Book some time and brain space for it? Definitely.

Beatrice & Virgil, Yann Martel, Canongate 2010