Everything I Never Told You

Lydia is dead.

This is one of those books that you just stare into the distance for a while after finishing it.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily make it easy to review. Because, the bare bones of it, it’s a very simple story. A daughter dies, a family completely unravels. It’s the time (seventies/eighties), the people (a mixed Asian-American family) and the family members (hurt, unwanted, invisible) that make the story.

Ng makes you want to reach out through the pages all the time, simultaneously hugging the family members and giving them a kick in the behind because seriously, how can one human being be so selfish, insecure, loving and hating? And honestly, can small town America stop making a freaking fuss about people that don’t have blond hair and blue eyes?

It’s her so very human touch to these characters that leave you uncomfortable yet appeased.

Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng, Blackfriars 2014 

The Outlander

It was night, and dogs came through the trees, unleashed and howling.

Some stories are at the same time tough and easy to categorize. This novel is in the early twentieth century, so it’s history. The main character learns through a lot of hardships about life and herself, so coming of age. And it shows how women (then) were little more than goods to be exchanged between family and husband. But pulled apart like this, it lacks the mystical, the almost fairy tale feeling to some of the parts of the story.

The main character (the widow) is running after killing her husband. Her brothers-in-law are behind her, the wilderness is in front of her and she is woefully unprepared for anything that will follow.

Because what follows is not just survival and being confronted with (past) mistakes, but strangers, emotions, domestics in unlikely places. Sometimes – when the widow gets too comfortable or too delirious – this drags a little, pulling the reader down in her rut. Yet with the light, otherworldly feeling both wilderness and civilization offers, there’s enough to keep reading.

The story lingers, and may not even be finished. But that’s between the widow and the reader.

The Outlander, Gil Adamson, Harper Collins 2008

Habibi

Wow.

I wanted to read this for a very long time and I’m so pleased that it was completely to my satisfaction. It was beautiful, exciting, educational. And with about 700 pages, really not ‘just a quick comic’.

But what is it about? Where to start. It’s about two people that society has rejected, about the creation of the Quran and the science that came with it, about being on the fray while living in dreams and myths.

From time to time, especially during the darker, more confusing moments, it reminded me of the Sandman Chronicles. In those, there’s beauty in darkness as well, situations that leave you feeling a little bit unhinged.

If you are looking for a beautifully drawn book that will affect you and tickle your mind, this is for you.

Habibi, Craig Thompson, Pantheon 2011

Villa Pacifica

Ute was not just well travelled, she was professionally well travelled.

Isabel Allende like indeed. Or Gabriel Garcia Marques, or any other author that bases magic realism in South America. Villa Pacifica is a sticky, sweaty, uncomfortable small story that builds up like a tropical storm.

Ute writes and edits travel guides. Her husband is with her this time, and they find a hidden away park, a community, a paradise. It’s luxurious and private in surroundings that are empty and poor, and it’s a retreat in every sense of the word. Ute’s husband – Jerry – immediately takes to it, becomes inspired by it and its people, but it takes a heavy toll on Ute. When the storm finally arrives (is it a real storm?), things fall apart messily and violently.

This wasn’t a story I could read in one go. From the start, it starts to itch and build up under your skin, everyone’s discomfort so very potent and present. It’s the feverish feeling of The Heart of Darkness combined with your growing disbelief that will keep you turning pages. It’s a winter read because you’re going to need the cold to cool off and get back to reality again, but don’t read it near dark: the jungle may still get too close then.

Villa Pacifica, Kapka Kassabova, Penguin Books 2010

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

The Circle

My God, Mae thought.

You have to come in really big and really original to terrify me with mythological creatures, murderers or aliens. But show me the ordinary human being willingly going off the tracks ..that’s the horror you scare me with. That’s the horror Dave Eggers offers in this novel.

Of course, in the beginning is everything awesome. Young Mae finally gets a job at this amazing, progressive company that is going to make the world a better place through the internet and social media. So they are surprisingly thorough about your online presence, and a bit demanding about sharing everything you do, but it’s only out of interest. Which other big company is interested in its personnel like that?

If you’re a hero long enough, you’ll be around to see yourself turn into a villain. There is goodwill. So much goodwill that it smothers, chokes, stalks and kills. Because what used to be optional, becomes mandatory. Secrets are bad, privacy is bad, continuous sharing is the only way to live. And plenty people agree to living it.

I don’t expect this to be a realistic image of the future, but it is definitely scary enough to avoid your feeds and time lines for a while.

The Circle, Dave Eggers, Hamish Hamilton 2013

Love, Love Me Do

It was like a clock going slowly tick … tick … tick … tick … tick … Baxter could hear it now and he could feel it ticking not just in his head but somehow too inside his stomach as he lay in the grey light of dawn, hot and sleepless in the narrow tousled bench bed at the back of the cramped caravan.

This was one of those books I keep noticing yet always putting back on the shelf. I should have kept this one shelved. Not because it was completely terrible, but definitely not satisfying. A book has to be more wild, exciting, stimulating than this one to have the reader agree with being not satisfied. Now there’s just the familiar ‘huh’ feeling of reading a last page before its time.

“Quirky” one review on the back calls it. I’d go with sad, so very sad. There’s a family in the sixties and the woman killed her dreams for her husband and children while he is a pathological liar with debts and mistresses. The reader follows “how five people get a second chance”, adding two random men instead of the very probably suffering daughter as well. Maybe because the sixties are so very much a men’s world.

The pathological liar is being hunted down for his sins, and things domino-down from there. It’s mildly satisfying, but knowing the character, there will be no lesson nor savior. Just sadness for those that have morals.

Love, Love Me Do, Mark Haysom, Piatkus 2014