My Sister, the Serial Killer

Ayoola summons me with these words — Korede, I killed him.

This is why I don’t read hyped up books. So much excitement and build up and no-one who mentioned the sheer disappointment of most of it but definitely the ending.

And that’s impressive for a story that’s only 200 pages and with a plot – see title – that could definitely provide a lot of thrills, philosophising and secondary story-lines.

Instead you get a repetitive, stagnant story filled with passive characters. There is very little motivation (why does she kill, why doesn’t she put a stop to it, why doesn’t she actively participate in her daughters’ lives), no-one seems to learn. Even the lack of different surroundings doesn’t provide anything to the story or even a sense of claustrophobia, only slightly more boredom.

The end – always a risky business – is sheer “Ma’am, I’m done with my assignment!” in hopes of being allowed to leave early.

And just like that it’s 200 pages of hoping for ‘so much more’ wasted.

My Sister, the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite, Doubleday 2017

Castlevania

22 x 30 min

castlevania posterI know it’s based on a game, but to me it felt – from time to time – like it could have been part of the same world that The Sandman Chronicles play out in. It’s bleak and gruesome but also beautiful in the Gothic way and the story telling comes first through spare, solid story lines that aren’t endlessly muddled with side plots.

Castlevania is about vampires, but not really. Or just kind of. It’s about a sad Dracula, vicious vampire women, monster hunters, magical monks (sort of?) all played out in a greyish and brownish Eastern Europe. Maybe. The castle moves around, after all.

If you want lore, mythology, beautiful animation, snarky yet terrifying vampires and their ilk plus quite a quick fix (those 22 episodes are three seasons), you should try it. If you don’t like gore in any way, and prefer your shows bright and bubbly – better you pass this one.

Castlevania, Netflix 2017

This Is How It Always Is

But first, Roo was born.

“This sounds like it’s going to hurt. I’m so excited!” Me, after almost two months of disappearing books.

There’s a lot of book clubs connected to this one, and the summary has definitely housewife-novel potential. A happy woman with a house full of boys only to realise – dum dum dum – that her youngest doesn’t want to be a boy. Maybe.

But instead you get what Ducks, Newburyport tried to be. The inner life of a frantic mum who tries and fails to keep all balls up in the air.
Because how do you take care of five children, your job and your husband even with ignoring your own needs and fears?

This Is How It Always Is sets you to thinking about gender and how we view it, how different societies look at the subject differently.

And it definitely shows what the life of a mother entails, how kids and their lives are on one’s mind all-the-time.

It left me staring into the distance after finishing it, considering everything.

This Is How It Always Is, Laurie Frankel, Flat Iron Books 2017

This is Going to Hurt

In 2010, after six years of training and a further six years on the wards, I resigned from my job as a junior doctor.

There’s very little joy to be found here, but heck – even the title tells you that. Besides that, it’s non-fiction and about the NHS (Britain’s national health). Even if you don’t know anything about that subject, the sum of these must ring a small alarm bell.

Adam Kay isn’t a doctor anymore, and these are his diary notes that have led up to that decision. Mostly it’s terribly politics and how hospitals deal with it, but patients don’t go scot-free either. This way even the awkward giggles feel bad because there’s lives at stake here and only those that can’t do anything about it, seem to care.

There are bits when Adam sounds a bit too full of himself, and maybe some more background would be nice, but this is a man’s personal story. Use it as motivation to do your own background research. If you’re sure that you want to know more about the state NHS is in, anyway.

This is Going to Hurt, Adam Kay, Picador 2017

Isoken

98 min.

Terwijl westerse filmmaatschappijen romcoms en romantische films maar blijven afschuiven op kleine feestdagen (Moedersdag, Valentijnsdag) met een klein budget en D-niveau acteurs, is er een plek waar de liefhebber van zachte, oppervlakkige, (absurd-)grappige romances nog terecht kan: Nigeria.

Isoken posterWant Isoken en The Wedding Party zijn niet de enige films in dit genre: misschien is het zelfs een subgenre: men moet trouwen maar oh jee [x] gebeurt! [x] kan hier vervangen worden door ruziënde families, bittere exen, rampzalige wedding planners of een combinatie van drie.

In het geval van Isoken is het De Liefde. Moet je gaan voor De Liefde of voor zekerheid? En in hoeverre moet je daarbij ook aan je familie denken (die is zéér belangrijk)?

Of het zelfspot van Nigeriaanse filmmakers is, of dit gewoon Nigeriaanse humor is, weet ik niet, maar al de slapstick-achtige situaties en karikaturale personages zorgen voor een lekker melig zooitje tussen de zoete momenten door.

Dus, kijk niet voor de veertiende keer Love Actually of Bridget Jones’ Diary maar zoek het eens zuidelijker.

Isoken, Tribe85 Productions 2017

Suburbicon

105 min.

Net zoals bij boeken, ben ik bij films altijd een beetje huiverig wanneer ze claimen een comedy te zijn, of nog erger: satire of “donkere komedie”. Hmhm, maar gaat je dat ook lukken zonder racistische en seksistische grappen?

suburbicon filmDat lukt Suburbicon wel. Ik kan Matt Damon niet echt uitstaan, maar ik heb een zwak voor het cliché ‘Het is helemaal niet zo idyllisch in dit idyllische plaatsje’ dus ik klikte ‘m toch maar aan op Netflix.

Het niet-zo-idyllische is tweezijdig: buitenwijk in de jaren zestig verandert in racistisch monster wanneer een zwarte familie er komt wonen, terwijl achter de nette gordijntjes van de buren wat onfrisse dingen gebeuren. Hypocrisie ten top, en regisseur George Clooney wrijft dat er flink in.

De aankleding is heel fijn, dat alle hoofdpersonen schaamteloos naar zijn ook. Je wordt niet afgeleid door tientallen bijplotjes en er is weinig ruimte om je af te vragen hoe lang de film nog duurt.

Is het allemaal subtiel? Verre van, maar wel vermakelijk.

Suburbicon, Paramount Pictures 2017

 

Colossal

110 min.

The feeling when a film is part of several genres and therefore part of none at all, or maybe something new. Colossal largely went under (my) radar, except for maybe a wayward comparison to Pacific Rim: both have huge monsters in Asian surroundings. Colossal is no Pacific Rim.

film poster ColossalThis huge monster is connected to Gloria and starts showing up when she returns to the place she grew up in. Life isn’t great, the place she grew up in isn’t great, and the few people surrounding her aren’t either. Or are they? And how is the monster created, and how is it connected to her? Is it even part of this reality?

This summary might make it sound weirder than it seems, but what makes all this eerie is that it isn’t weird. Or well — it is, of course, but nothing in the cinematography or dialogue shows you that the film and the characters are in on the joke. This is a story about a barely functioning woman, and Anne Hathaway does it well without barely ever going overboard.

You can find Colossal on Netflix.

Colossal, Neon 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo

On our wedding day I was forty-six, she was eighteen.

Don’t judge a book by its title. Or maybe don’t expect to know what is going to happen by a book’s title. I thought Lincoln – like the American president. I thought Bardo – a kind of Buddhist limbo, add those and you get something eerie, cool, spooky about mourning, the afterlife and discussing religion.

Instead I got a collection of (fictional) citations and quotations about Abraham Lincoln, his dead son and a lot of people I’ve never heard of before.

It took some time to adjust.

Both Lincolns are very little part of this story. It is about the Bardo and how people of all walks of life experience it while avoiding the reality of having died. As mentioned before – this doesn’t happen in continuous prose, you seem to be paging through an encyclopedia of Americans that have died in the time before Abraham Lincoln. Why? Because some of them look out for Willie Lincoln, and are impressed that Abraham continues to visit his son and mourn him.

So it’s not a story about the American president, it’s a little bit about mourning, it’s a too little bit about what the Bardo is, how it works and what it looks like, and the rest of it is – I guess – about the skills of one George Saunders in bringing a lot of character sheets together and passing them off as novel.

2020 isn’t a great year for books, just yet.

Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders, Bloomsbury 2017

The Marrow Thieves

Mitch was smiling so big his back teeth shone in the soft light of the solar-powered lamp we’d scavenged from someone’s shed.

I don’t like post-apocalyptic stories; they make me very nervous. With the way the people in power are ignoring environmental and societal issues, it’s – for me – not that hard to believe that sooner than later we’ll be scavenging food and fighting for survival. It’s not something I enjoy thinking about, so why did I still start The Marrow Thieves?

Because of the author and the point of the view of the story: indigenous people. I always try to read more by indigenous writers, books using indigenous stories (although that’s a whole other (potentially sticky) kettle of fish), and this one made it sound more sci-fi-ish than “the world has gone to the crapper and humans are terrible”. We all make mistakes, sometimes.

Cherie Dimaline keeping the story short (less than 200 pages) and the characters very recognisable and deserving of your support prevents you from leaving this story feeling absolute despair. Yes, humans are terrible. Also yes: humans have family, hope and determination.

I still hope we don’t need those in a post-apocalyptic setting.

The Marrow Thieves, Cherie Dimaline, Cormorant Books 2017

Paradise Lodge

The job at Paradise Lodge was Miranda Longlady’s idea.

‘Teenager in seventies’ England gets a job at a seniors home and learns things about life, herself and others’ must have been a curious plot to pitch, but Nina Stibbe manages to land it with a homely, gentle feeling to the story and everyone involved. Even Matron.

Lizzie Vogel is a bit of an onion; she’s got layers. Starting off this job with ‘better shampoo’ as a personal motivation, she quickly starts to see that both seniors and the people providing for them as individuals as well. Her work at the home is more exciting and interesting than school, there’s a cute guy who’s someone else’s boyfriend, and her mother isn’t all that stable through all this; all of which causes issues in a domino kind of cascade.

That might make Paradise Lodge sound severe and dire, but even though there are deaths, it’s all on the lighter side of things. Teenage problems, without being teenage disasters. Lizzie really is an onion: she goes with many things.

Paradise Lodge, Nina Stibbe, Penguin Books 2017