Piranesi

When the Moon rose in the Third Northern Hall I went to the Ninth Vestibule to witness the joining of three Tides.

Piranesi, Susanna Clarke, Bloomsbury 2020

Susanna Clarke took her time. Years and years ago I plunged into Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and continued to recommend it to everyone the following months. When no news followed about other books, I guessed that was it: the unicorn of a solo fantasy book you could enjoy in every direction.

I was an eager beaver when I heard about Piranesi. So eager that I noticed it was much smaller than the book that had took me along for a multidimensional rollercoaster-ride. Piranesi is a novella, in e-book not even hitting the 150 page mark. Well, beggars can’t be choosers etc., and a well-written novella is even more proof of a good author.

You’re kept in the dark for a long time; not just the narrator is unreliable, everyone seems to be. Where are we, what are we, when are we? The clue doesn’t necessary ruin the eerie feeling of the story, but it does make it much more depressing. And just like with Jemisin’s The City there’s some sense of this not being fiction at all, which doesn’t make for a better feeling when closing the book.

Long story short: I still like how Clarke can surprise and influence me and my mood.

Pieces of a Woman

128 min.

This is Vanessa Kirby’s film. Not only because Shia le B. doesn’t deserve any mention (the creep), but because – except for the actress playing her mother (Ellen Burstyn) – nothing and no-one comes close to her.

In Pieces of a Woman Kirby plays a woman that has a traumatic birth experience with lethal result. That isn’t who Martha is of course, but it’s the only role she’s allowed after. She doesn’t mourn correctly, doesn’t support her partner and family correctly, doesn’t scream for vengeance and fury correctly. Behind her eyes is both chaos and complete emptiness.

I guess this is one of those ‘actor-films’; it’s definitely a lower priority how the plot will play out than how Kirby will work her way through it.
Another gold star for how it never gets sentimental: mourning also exists out of rage and Pieces of a Woman shows plenty of that.

This might be my first film recommendation of the year.

Luster

The first time we have sex, we are both fully clothed, at our desks during working hours, bathed in blue computer light.

Luster: A Novel, Raven Leilani, Bond Street Books 2020

I don’t know if this is going to be a review about Luster or a confession.

Luster works hard, while simultaneously not doing shit to get the reader to feel something about its protagonist. Do we pity her, get angry at her, are grossed out by her? Can we blame her decisions or outlook on life when you see what she’s been dealt and the society she lives in?

It’s the kind of book I can’t get any grip on, an endless frustration that I can’t steer in any direction. I want a conclusion, no matter how unhappy. I want a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it’s a coming train. What I don’t want to be is infected by the manic, the passivity, the ugliness of it all.

This isn’t about bad relational decisions or how rudderless my generation is, it’s how Raven Leilani puts her hand on your neck and keeps forcing you to watch and think and experience.
Is that not something I enjoy? Am I a cookie-cutter reader?

Or is it simply that the confrontation is too big, the despair too overwhelming, and the possible life line too brittle?

I’m angry at this novel. I’m frustrated by the impact I allowed it to have on me and how I feel I have to defend myself. A happy ever after wouldn’t even have satisfied me at the end, I want to put this growth to bed so I can calm down again.

A confession it is, then.

Kärleck och anarki

8 x 30 min

Unlike the protagonist of my previous review, Sofie and Max have clear reasons to be maladjusted, rude weirdos. Most of the time. They also get much less flack from me for this because they’re funny and pretty attractive. Just being honest here.

Sofie is a married mother who’s brought in as a consultant at a publisher. Max is the IT-guy. They give each other weird assignments. The assignments escalate. So do feelings. So do their lives.
And it all plays out in Stockholm, so the escalations are all with subtitles.

This is romance, slice-of-life, coming-of-age without any Life Lesson beating you over the head of soundtrack telling you what to think. It’s quick (eight episodes), funny, sad and fresh.

Anarchy might be a big word, but it’s something different; in a good way.

The Thursday Murder Club

Well, let’s start with Elizabeth, shall we?

The Thursday Murder Club, Richard Osman, Viking 2020

This was fun! Of course, like as in every detective the characters learn things sooner than the reader does, but Osman managed to balance it in such a way that made me go “Okay, we’ll wait a chapter” instead of reading the final paragraph and trying to remember how many story lines were there and how they’re being tied up in twenty words.

In an old folks home, a group of seniors meet up on Thursday to try to solve cold case murders. When a murder happens close by, they decide to put their talents to a warm case.

As with any detective, the senior Sherlocks leave the local authorities (far) behind, but because the author writes with an almost audible wink it’s entertaining instead of annoying.

Is the murder solved? Moh, do we really care? Are the characters on display entertaining and maybe a little bit tugging at the heart-strings? Definitely.

The House in the Cerulean Sea

“Oh dear,” Linus Baker said, wiping the sweat from his brow.

The House in the Cerulean Sea, TJ Klune, Tor 2020

This was just the sweetness needed. It felt like a story that could be animated as part of another story. It’s an origin story, the entire plot a huge cliché (man goes through things, discovers that there are joys in life to be had), but it’s all done so nicely, without ever veering into the saccharine.

Also, there’s monsters.

I mean – children with abilities. Hidden away in an orphanage on an island at the end of the world and our protagonist has to make sure they are treated well. It’s what he does for a living (if you can call it living). This time he even has to keep an extra eye on the headmaster because he likes to colour outside the lines (gasp!).

TJ Klune makes it all fresh, funny and adorable because of their descriptions, characters and little jokes. You might see the ending coming closely after the beginning, but it’s such a nice ride.

The City We Became

I sing the city.

The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin, Orbit 2020

I keep giving N.K. Jemisin chances, to sound delightfully dramatic. Like they care. I mostly care because on paper (heh) she’s got everything I desire, but the click continued to miss. This time the click was loud. A bit delayed, but loud all the same.

In The City We Became there’s cities that come alive and people that are cities, multiple dimensions (a bit like an onion, but maybe more like a pastry), human beings (bigotry) being the scariest enemy and oh sh- is that a Cthulhu reference?

It’s like Jemisin inhaled all that I love (close to reality, eerie as hell, new ideas with familiar roots) and coughed up this creation written so well that I was worried about this not being fiction at all. I don’t want her to be the person showing us behind the matrix.

Only downside? “This first part of a trilogy”.

Beschavingen

Er was een vrouw, de dochter van Ketil Platneus, die Aud de Diepzinnige heette en koningin was geweest.

Beschavingen, Laurent Binet, Meulenhoff 2020

Ik ben een grote fan van ‘wat-als’-verhalen, en Binet’s vorige was mij ook zeer positief blij gebleven, maar in dit geval leverden beiden niet wat ik verwachtte: een boek dat je niet opzij kunt leggen.

Deze keer gaat het om kolonisatie en dan vooral van Midden- en Zuid-Amerika. Wat als Europeanen dat niet was gelukt, en de Inka’s deze kant op waren gekomen? Een flinke ‘wat-als’, en op deze manier eens de bekende geschiedenis bekijken: prima ja graag.

Het eerste dat mij stoorde was de aanwezigheid van de auteur, die heb ik er nooit graag bij. Daarna zwalkte de toon soms naar geschiedenisdocent in plaats van roman; encyclopendieën lezen nu eenmaal minder lekker weg.

Tot slot, al is dit zeer persoonlijk, vind ik het jammer dat er maar een klein tijdbestek is ingezet. Hoe had dit impact op gouden eeuwen, de VOC, Noord-Amerika en andere continenten? Wanneer ging het mis, als het mis zou gaan?

Dit voelde vooral als een opzetje dat Michael Bay of Mel Gibson gaat gebruiken voor een verfilming in weinig meer dan naam zodat er veel bloed kan vloeien. Amalfi (Italië) zal ze vast verwelkomen voor mooie plaatjes.

Mexican Gothic

The parties at the Tuñóns’ house always ended unquestionably late, and since the hosts enjoyed costume parties in particular, it was not unusual to see Chinas Poblanas with their folkloric skirts and ribbons in their hair arrive in the company of a harlequin or a cowboy.

Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Del Rey 2020

It’s always tricky to read a hyped book, I’ve mentioned this before. Is it a hype because people jumped on the band wagon, or does it really deserve all praise?

I wanted to say that I don’t know with this one, but I think I do. The promo laid it on thick that for once this wasn’t a Latin-American author writing magic-realism and that her scares were genuine. Magic-horror, terror, gothicness! I, far from a fan of horror, was curious because of the denial. I understand – no-one wants to be cornered as a one-trick-pony, but why not promote the story if it was So Different Than Any Other?

Maybe because it isn’t. Noémi moves to a scary, old house far away from civilisation to help a cousin that sent her a nerve-wrecking letter. Is it abuse, is it gas lighting or is it [add drums here] something else?

I won’t answer that question, but will say that Moreno-Garcia takes her time for a build-up only to throw everything at you in the last fifty pages.

It’s a nice roller-coaster ride, but nothing we haven’t experienced before.

Conservation of Shadows

It is not true that the dead cannot be folded.

Conservation of Shadows, Yoon Ha Lee, Prime Books 2020

Now that’s what I call fantasy. Or scifi. Maybe both. Either way, there is fantasy and there is science (fiction) and it’s mind boggling, eerie and beautiful (not just for linguistic and/or math enthusiasts either). Eat that, tropes.

Conservation of Shadows is a collection of (short) stories previously published by the author. It’s about colonialism, wars, music, writing, reincarnation or maybe only death.

Especially the first five – six stories tickled my imagination, but even when you get used to Lee’s style and subject choice the originality stays with you.

My only complaints are that some stories deserve entire novels and that – for an e-book – it’s almost too much, too dense. Experience this relic from a future time through paper, I’d advice.