The Far Field

I am thirty years old and that is nothing.

This library haul had a 75 percent success rate, with The Far Field being the concluding chapter (heh) of that rate.

And – as it sometimes is with good stories – with this one it’s hard to put into words what exactly is good about it. It’s not like the naive, spoiled protagonist is easy to love, nor are the other characters particularly likeable. The plot could well be called Eat Pray Love with poverty tourism, so honestly, Madhuri Vijay had the stacks against her.

But there’s so much humanity in these characters and their stories. The randomness of things, people and situations brought together and bringing the worst or the best out in each other. You could say that the protagonist leaves a trail of destruction behind, but does she even have that kind of power? What is there to destruct in a war zone?

This book is coming of age, a rapport of ordinary life in contested country, a confrontation with bias. It’s written in such an appealing way that sometimes the plot arrives second because you’re just enjoying the words.

It’s good.

The Far Field, Madhuri Vijay, Grove Press 2019

Frankissstein

Lake Geneva, 1816

Reality is water-soluble.

Now, what to think and say about this one? Unlike The Body in Question, I’m struggling because I’m thinking too much about this story. It’s bewildering, it’s scary, it’s also kind of soothing with showing you how humans and their ideas about identity, life and death have always been around and probably forever will be (in whatever shape).

This isn’t a retelling of Frankenstein, or maybe partly, or maybe only inspired by it. Mary Shelley gets a plot, so does Ry and Victor Stein. There’s layers and century-deep connections, but never in a Gotcha!-way.

Winterson surprised me with a memoir I liked (which doesn’t happen often, as recently mentioned), but I didn’t know what to expect with a novel of hers. After Frankissstein, I still don’t. I find it hard to believe that she could write something like this again, if it’s even a ‘this’.

I’d recommend this novel to everyone who allows themselves to be taken along for a ride. I’d also recommend it because I still don’t know how to place this story and would love to pick other people’s brains. While still in their heads, of course.

Frankissstein, Jeanette Winterson, Jonathan Cape London 2019

The Body in Question

“When that door opens, sign out.

Sometimes I feel like I subconsciously read in trends. Recently I seem to be on the “Oh, the ending is already here?”-kick. Definitely not a conscious decision: I don’t like those kind of stories.

This novel is pretty two-dimensional, anyway. Not necessary because of the characters or the plot, just the feel of it. Nothing touched me, it’s just there. Maybe that’s the right fit for the protagonist, maybe that’s why it has such an ending as well, but instead I felt like even the small investment I had was a waste of it.

Should I have gotten insights on the American law system? On how women can feel rudderless and make bad decisions? Or is the story just there to make the reader slightly uncomfortable and feeling defeated?

The body in question is probably not the one in the probable murder case the protagonist is in a jury for. Maybe it’s hers, maybe it’s her husband’s, maybe it’s her body of work? I don’t care enough to ponder it.

The Body in Question, Jill Ciment, Pantheon Books by Penguin Random House LLC 2019

Notes from a Young Black Chef

About seven and a half hours

I think I’m getting the hang of this audio book thing. It even made me thoroughly enjoy a memoir!

This is the first time I’ve heard of this man; this novel is part of the Black Lives Matter-category in one of my libraries. That’s one reason I decided on borrowing it, the other is his function: he’s a chef.

And he makes the dishes sound so good, the passion for food and cooking so clear that his career couldn’t have been otherwise. There’s struggle on his road to it (and that’s putting it nicely), but Onwuachi has such strength that it turns into a rags to riches to rags to riches to rags Hollywood-approved story instead of self-pitying lamenting. And the author shares how and why he continuously had the strength to do so.

The good thing about reading an unknown’s (to you) memoir is that you won’t be confronted with things you already know; the bad thing is that it can make you wonder why you’re spending your time on a stranger’s story. In this case, it felt like I was listening to a Black Western playing out in streets and kitchens, brought so enticingly that I regularly cycled a bit further to just keep listening.

Notes from a Young Black Chef, Kwame Onwuachi, Penguin Random House Group 2019

De mannen van Maria

We gingen om te baren, verscheept op bestelling van de heren ginds, zeven meisjes die vaak niet eens waren gekust.

Het verhaal van hoe ik aan dit boek ben gekomen is bijna net zo’n bevalling als alle reizen binnen dit boek – en het speelt zich af in de zeventiende eeuw ten tijde van de VOC. Dus nee, niet bepaald soepeltjes en vlot.

Was het de moeite waard? Nu lijkt het net alsof ik alle Nederlandse auteurs over één kam scheer, maar ook dit boek gaf mij weer het Hasse Simonsdochter-gevoel. Avontuur, en er zijn niet genoeg avontuurboeken voor volwassenen zonder dat er gelijk met kennis wordt gepatst of er meerdere wijze Levenslessen doorheen zijn gevlochten.

De mannen van Maria laat dat allemaal lekker links liggen. Natuurlijk, er is ongetwijfeld veel research gegaan in het verhaal van Maria van Aelst, de VOC, Batavia en de andere koloniën, maar het valt niet op. Het is allemaal een soepeltjes weggewerkt onderdeel van het verhaal: het opgroeien van een vrouw die in deze tijd op de Forbes-cover zou staan en wereldwijd bekend zou staan als self-made influencer.

Het verhaal moet even opwarmen, meerdere wegwerpopmerkingen á la “maar dat is niet belangrijk”/”dat is niet mijn verhaal”/”daar kan ik niets over zeggen” storen in het creëren van het plaatje van een niet al zo nette VOC-geschiedenis. Maar net zoals Maria zichzelf steeds verder ontwikkelt, vindt het verhaal haar weg ook op den duur.

De mannen van Maria, Anneloes Timmerije, Querido 2019

Nothing to See Here

In the late spring of 1995, just a few weeks after I’d turned twenty-eight, I got a letter from my friend Madison Roberts.

I don’t mind unlikable protagonists, but in this case I very much wondered if the dislike was from knowing that a male author was writing a female character, that this female character just was too spineless, or that I just can’t handle aggressive passivity. Maybe all of the above. This, combined with the shortness of this novel, made my final amount of stars (the ones I don’t use) end up much lower than I expected when I read the summary of Nothing to See Here.

What is that summary, you ask? Well – screw up is asked to nanny two children that start burning at random moments. Bodies turning into flames without the kids hurting in any way. She is asked this by an old acquaintance she herself calls a friend and it all has to be on the down-low because the children are a politician’s.

This could have turned into scientific sci-fi, something with (a whiff off) magic realism or have this fire turn into something metaphorical, and make the entire story a commentary on class and the gap between haves and have-nots. Instead, there’s just ..situations. If Kevin Wilson solely wanted to communicate how sabotaging poverty and being directionless is, he succeeded. If he wanted me curious about his characters and the world they move around in – not so much.

Nothing to see here, Kevin Wilson, Ecco 2019

Pastorale

Oscar liet de woorden van de leraar los – hij wist alles al.

Ja, tsja, ja, wat is dit nu precies? Ook al zitten er een paar eeuwen tussen, deed Pastorale mij soms aan Hasse Simonsdochter denken. Misschien dezelfde omgeving plus dat typische ‘Ha, lekker Nederlands’-gevoel? Het is in ieder geval niet dat er veel meer overeenkomsten zijn.

In Pastorale gaat het om een kleine gereformeerde gemeenschap waar in/tegenaan Molukkers gedumpt zijn ten tijde van KNIL. Het woord segregatie valt maar een paar keer, maar alle acties spreken duidelijk genoeg: zowel de Molukse Nederlandsers als de inboorlingen beschouwen het als een tijdelijke situatie.

Daarnaast is er Louise. Zij gelooft niet meer. Ze is terug thuis, maar een compleet buitenstaander. Hoe ze daar mee omgaat, en vindt dat ze daarmee om moet gaat, wisselt nog al.

Oscar zweeft tussen dat alles door, of is hij juist zo passief dat zijn complete zijn bewegingloos is? Hij komt in contact met de Molukse inwoners en leert er meer dan hij op school voorgeschoteld krijgt.

Nergens wordt nadrukkelijk genoemd in welke tijd dit speelt, en omdat dit kleine dorp al zo stil in de geschiedenis ligt, wordt het verhaal en haar karakters nog een tikje meer vervreemdend. Dit is een geschiedenisboek, maar net alsof het de geschiedenis van een andere versie van Nederland geeft.

Dus, wat is het? Je tijd waard.

Pastorale, Stephan Enter, Uitgeverij van Oorschot 2019

Niemand vertelt je hier ooit wat

Ze gaan me opereren vandaag.

Het was een situatie waarin vijf sterren een realiteit waren, en die situatie maak ik niet vaak mee als veel-lezende zeur en extra kritisch persoon op Nederlandse auteurs. Maar verdorie: Erik Nieuwenhuis was mijn intense hekel aan open eindes vergeten. Lap, het boek had zelfs langer gemogen wat mij betreft!

Spoiler. Misschien is het niet eens een echt open einde, het verhaal kan best als afgesloten beschouwd worden. Maar er gebeuren vreemde dingen in het verzorgtehuis waarvan Michiel zich niet eens kan herinneren hoe hij er is gekomen en waarom hij er is. En er wordt steeds meer lucht gepompt in de ballon van ‘WAT DAN?’ maar de ballon ontploft maar niet.

Mensen die wel beter los kunnen laten, of het niet erg vinden om zelf de gaten in te vullen, zullen zeker genieten van het lachwekkende want langzaam in unheimlich verandert.

Is dit nu al het tweede Nederlandse boek dit jaar waar ik positief over ben?

Niemand vertelt je hier ooit wat, Erik Nieuwenhuis, Brooklyn 2019

Russian Doll

8 x 26 min.

In the case of some shows you feel bad about not experiencing at the same time others did it. With some, the experience is just enhanced by going “Ooooh sh-!” to someone else.

Russian Doll posterAnd there’s plenty of moments like that in this TV-show about a woman who just keeps dying and doesn’t know why and can’t get out of this Groundhog day-situation. It being a woman played and written by Natasha Lyonne (you might remember her from Orange is the New Black) this groundhog is more like Final Destination when it comes to dying creatively.

With less than thirty minutes of runtime and eight episodes there’s not enough room for this element to get old: there’s just enough glimmers of clues to feel like you’re onto something just a bit before Nadia does.

The one con is that there’s going to be a second season: this could have been resolved, even in a possibly unsatisfying way in the last two episodes – easily. Now there’s the risk of things becoming stale.

Although Nadia’s back-to-life soundtrack might just be good enough to prevent that.

Russian Doll, Netflix 2019

Wanda Sykes: Not Normal

66 min.

I’m not a fan of comedians and their shows. Usually it’s too long, and there’s too much secondhand embarrassment to balance out the funny parts. I rejected several of the recommended shows on Netflix: some I couldn’t even handle for ten minutes. But I was cleaning up my list, this was the last remaining one – okay, I’ll try it.

Wanda SykesThe last comedian show I watched on Netflix was Hannah Gadsby’s. There’s barely no comparing here, which is good for both parties involved.

Wanda Sykes is about American politics and her personal life as a wife, a mother and a woman going through menopause. It’s stone cold sober with a large amount of questions: not very strange considering the subjects.

My biggest relief was that she doesn’t do the thing most male comedians do: wait for laughter. Sykes doesn’t go out with the aim of Being Hilarious – it’s her story telling and her subjects that make you snort.

And talking about length? I only checked how much time I had left once.

Wanda Sykes: Not Normal, Netflix 2019