Shoplifters

121 min.

One of those films you miss the theater-run of, slightly forget about until they pop up somewhere and trigger the “Didn’t I want to see this?”-thought. Maybe I should start a To Be Watched list.

The shoplifters don’t just shoplift goods. This is a mild spoiler that won’t make sense until the end of the film. In the beginning of it, it’s just a poor family adopting a neglected toddler. Like in 10 Minutes it is shown that you can create your own family – this one is just built on much less sturdy foundations.

The funny thing is that for a long time little seems wrong with those foundations. Yes, some dodgy things happen and what are the exact relationships between everyone but by golly: at least they try t stay upright in a society that doesn’t even notice that it keeps kicking them down.

I’m also impressed by the acting and the thin balance between sharing and silence – it never gets annoying that we don’t know everything (yet). Except for that one story line; I must have missed the clues here. Or it was simply shoplifted from the story: everything and -one can clearly be.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

In the first minute following her death, Tequila Leila’s consciousness began to ebb, slowly and steadily, like a tide receding from the shore.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, Elif Shafak, Penguin Random House UK 2019

Wow. Meestal schrijf ik Engels-gelezen verhalen ook in het Engels op, maar deze keer (en mogelijk het tijdstip – laat opgebleven om het uit te lezen) voelt de taal ontoereikend. Wat een mooi boek, wat een mooi verhaal terwijl er zoveel lelijke gebeurtenissen zijn. Wat een hoeveeheid liefde: voor de hoofdpersoon, haar zelfgekozen familie en ook de stad Istanbul. Wat een plaatjes, ook van de gruwelijke dingen en nare situaties. Wat een alles.

Tequila Leila is dood. Vermoord. Behalve haar laatste tien minuten mogen we ook haar leven en haar beide families – bloed en liefde – ontmoeten. Een meisje dat opgroeit halverwege de twintigste eeuw in een klein dorpje, bijna in de knop gedingest voor ze kan bloeien, en dan nog Istanbul in. Waar ze leeft, overleeft, geeft. Het zou zonde zijn om meer te vertellen, alleen erover vertellen geeft mij al de neiging om het boek opnieuw te beginnen.

Het is een fragiel sprookje, een mozaïek van een levende stad (ook iets waar ik zo van houd, de stad als personage), een ode aan eigenheid. Bovenal zo mooi, zo goed, zo sprankelend prachtig.

The Salt Path

There’s a sound to breaking waves when they’re close, a sound like nothing else.

The Salt Path, Raynor Winn, Penguin Random House 2019

Is this man really, really really called Moth? I mean, there’s a lot to this story about an older couple going hiking after bankruptcy and illness hit them, but why won’t anyone tell me if it’s a nick name? No-one acknowledges it as being random or quirky, the reader just has to endure a grown man, not a particularly weird grown man, being called Moth all the time!

Okay, it’s out of my system.

The Salt Path must have been welcomed by the UK Tourism Board (I’m sure such a thing exists). Even though Winn writes about plenty of hardship (in detail), I still want to do the hiking path they did, and visit plenty of the villages they did. With a bit more comfort though, that’s true.

Because, as mentioned before, for Raynor and Moth it’s a move out of desperation, not a holiday. They lose their home and work, Moth loses his health and the hike is not so much as a conscious decision as it is running away.

So, besides those descriptions of the country and the path, are there also plenty of musings on work, the future, health and family. Winn shares what life has thrown at them (a lot!), and sometimes her musings get a bit too navel-gazing, but the circumstances… you’d probably cut her some slack.

All that turns this book into some kind of saga, the Odyssey but very, very British. Maybe that’s how we should just view the decision to call a man Moth as well.

The Immortalists

Varya is thirteen.

The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin, G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2018

I was ready to write this one off until the last couple of pages still got me. Which makes me grumpy, because a book shouldn’t score on just a couple of pages.

In The Immortalists four siblings learn their death date. All four lives are followed, as is the impact of this knowledge on them. Around the second sibling it starts to feel a bit cookie-cutter: character aggressively denies this reality, gets destructive, wants to outrun it and [spoiler] doesn’t manage to; one way or the other. But were they running towards what they feared while thinking they were doing everything to escape it? Chloe Benjamin doesn’t give you any hint in that direction, nor room to interpret the characters’ actions like that.

Any thoughts about fate, goals in life, final destination you have to come up with on your own because the novel only provides character sketches of the people suffering.

As said before: except for the last pages, they delivered an emotional sucker punch. Could have done so a tad sooner, to turn this into a recommendation.

The Bestseller

One day God decided he would visit the earth.

The Bestseller, Olivia Goldsmith, Diversion Books 1996

Olivia Goldsmith is also the author of First Wives Club, if you were wondering why the name is vaguely familiar.

With The Bestseller she wrote another ‘The Upper Circles Can Have Issues Too’ and it’s delicious (you know I have a soft spot for that). It also made me never ever want to attempt getting anything remotely related to a novel published. Because oof. And this is publishing in the nineties.

In this novel the reader follows the stories of different authors. New ones, old ones, unwilling ones, suffering ones etc. While you get a slice of their (sad) life, you also get plenty of insight into the publishing business. It’s not good. It’s not about stories, creativity and adding something to culture: it’s about money, the bottom line, and PR.

It’s 1400 pages as an ebook and I flew through it in less than three days (okay, I had days off, but still). It’s entertaining, aggravating dramady in which very few people look good. After a few duds, this was all the fluff I needed.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House

Lala comes home and Wilma is waiting, having returned early from visiting Carson at the hospital.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, Cherie Jones, Harper Collins 2021

I liked this one, but I didn’t like this one. It’s a story far away from me; both geographically and in experience, so that’s good – that’s a reason I read. But for once I wish that those kind of stories were happier, lighter, more fun.

In How the One-Armed Sister (etc.) there’s not a lot of fun. A line of women view themselves and/or their daughters as cursed and life seems to agree with that view. There’s relational abuse, stealing, death – and very little light at the end of the tunnel. Jones shares beautiful imagery of the island, the houses, the sheds, making the (emotional) violence only starker.

Of course, these stories need to be told, deserve to be told, and so on. To me it sometimes just feels that writing from a woman of colour has to be synonymous to suffering. I know there are romances and fantasy by people of colour, but why are the family sagas so often so tough? Is this the only way of life or the only thing that publishers will support?

Both ideas left me uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean that this novel isn’t worth your discomfort.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

105 min.

Wat heb ik toch een rothekel aan de term ‘dark comedy’. Het kan twee kanten opgaan: je lacht uit ongemak want oei kunnen we daar wel grappen over maken of er is geen enkele lach; alleen wat absurde elementen die het hele verhaal sneuer maken. Dat is hier het geval.

Kumiko is een 29-jarige kantoorsufferd die graag schatten zoekt. Naar aanleiding van een video van Fargo is ze er van overtuigd dat ze in Minnesota een grote geldschat kan vinden en doet haar best om daar te komen. Soit, we liegen onszelf allemaal wel eens voor om dagelijkse frustraties te ontkennen en ontwijken, maar nergens wordt hier duidelijk wat de onderliggende motivaties zijn. Is Kumiko simpel? Begraaft ze haar eigen schatten om die te vinden? Is haar hele queeste een fantasie (dat zou een geldige reden kunnen zijn voor alleen maar de hulpvaardige mensen die ze tegenkomt)?

Mijn frustratie hier is dat het net iets meer had kunnen zijn: een drama over iemand die klem zit tussen maatschappelijke eisen en dagdromen, of een comedy over iemand die actief, bewust weigert juist mee te doen. In plaats daar van zijn er alleen maar vragen en wat zorgen voor dat meisje, ook al is het in leeftijd een volwassene.

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.

Capharnaüm

124 min.

I watched this entire film with focused energy and still don’t know why this is the title. It’s not the only thing lacking: the summary says this is about a street kid suing his parents for being born. It really is about Zain and his lack of control over things, plus his attempts to change that.

He tries to save his sister, he tries to save a left-behind toddler, he tries to save himself a bit. The streets of Yemen provide little, but Zain tries to take all of it.

It’s hard to believe that this is fiction, that it’s only actors that were put through this. Especially the boy playing Zain pulls story-lines off that would have been scoffed or laughed at with a lesser actor.

After, you’ll be glad that this time it was fiction. It just won’t make it easier to acknowledge that this way of living is reality for plenty of people.

And the court case? Or the title? Meh, I can do without.