Ghosts & Lightning

-Ma’s gone.

Is Ireland the most plain yet mythological country in Europe? Are the people very different because they grow up believing all kind of (fairy) tales, in such a very western society? Is it a thing based in class, more faith in the wee folk from those that need their help? Either way, Denny needs to go back home after the death of his mother.

Denny was in Wales, trying to get into university, trying to make a better life for himself. Because home is a house with his alcoholic sister and violent brother, drug addicted friends and a black hole of a life that can only suck him down again.

It’s always easier to give in than to fight. Denny tries, floats, tries a little bit less and lets life take over again. It’s like a Dickensian fairy tale, feeling contemporary and from the deep past at the same time. It’s grubby and vibrant, an easy read that leaves you just slightly hopeful about the power one has over its own life.

Ghosts & Lightning, Trevor Byrne, Canongate 2009

Jamrach’s Menagerie

I was born twice.

Jamrach’s Menagerie tells the story of Jaffy Brown, a street urchin living at the end of the nineteenth century. His life turns into an adventure when he is eaten by a tiger, meets the people and animals of Jamrach’s Menagerie but most importantly: when he goes to sea to catch a dragon in the far south.

I didn’t get this from the Children/Young Adult division, but it could easily fit there along other ‘boy adventures’. The reader follows Jaffy from nine years old to adulthood, but his view on the world, adventures and misadventures, never changes. He’s good with animals, so he can hang out with every one of them in the Menagerie. He’s allowed to come along with the quest for a dragon (because that would make the Menagerie even better) and only doubts the danger of it for a moment.

It takes Jamrach’s Menagerie a while to get up to speed. I really felt like I needed to push myself through the first eighty pages, but after that it’s situation after accident after adventure and there isn’t even time left to breathe or doze off.  It’s a colourful story with extensive descriptions on the countries they visit, animals they see and people they meet. It shows how dangerous travel by ship can be and how resilient humankind. From time to time it reminded me of Pirates of the Caribbean, and it’s up there in unpretentious fun (but with more blood and gore).

 Jamrach’s Menagerie, Carol Birch, Canongate 2011

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