Where the Crawdads Sing

Marsh is not swamp.

Subconsciously I picked out two books about protagonists who are –  by their surroundings – viewed as dangerously different. This one plays out in the (recent) past, but both Kya and Evan suffer from living in a small town.

Kya’s family is very, very poor, living in the marshes (or on the edge of it) and there’s not enough happiness around for anyone. Her family members leave her, and she falls back onto her familiar surroundings instead of the judgmental villagers.

This goes on for years, and might have gone on longer – Kya turning into something of a Tarzan, except with gulls and other birds – if a murder mystery wasn’t added to the equation. And what happens when disaster strikes? People look at the stranger.

This isn’t as greasy and damp as Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but Owens does create a colourful, sometimes feverish world in which every human is a misfit – except for Kya. Yes, there could be more background about certain things, and the murder mystery is tied up not completely satisfying, but it’s a book with a feeling. And quite a few ornithology lessons.

Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens, G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2018

The dangerous art of blending in

I should have guessed something was up when I was walking home.

Somehow I expected a softer story: the title, the subject (teenager doesn’t dare to come out), the surroundings (a small American town). But the author doesn’t hold his punches, like the mother of the protagonist doesn’t. I know that’s considered a spoiler, but I feel like that subject should come with a warning.

Evan’s life isn’t an easy one. His mother views him as lazy and evil, and his father almost never steps in when she gets aggressive. He doesn’t dare to come out to anyone, and all his energy goes to keeping all his different worlds (home, church, school, friends) apart.

Things change when his good friend starts to change, and when someone from Bible-camp shows up. Collision happens, and Evan can’t stop it.

The language used is clean and honest. Sometimes the tone feels a little bit too much like that from an after school program, but one has to remember that first of all these are a teenager’s feelings, and second of all, this is all too often someone’s reality. Besides that, you just want better. And possibly push his mother into the Grand Canyon.

The dangerous art of blending in, Angelo Surmelis, HarperCollins 2018

Ali’s Wedding

110 min.

Did I watch this before, or is the story just too familiar? Which would be sad, because why are multiple people in the twenty-first century still telling their children which career and which life partner to pick?

Alis Wedding imdbThis story is based on real life events, with the author playing the male lead – and I guess originator of the confusion created by lying. First he lies about getting into medicine (he doesn’t), then ends up engaged to someone he doesn’t want to be engaged to, and then there’s the temporary marriage to someone else. Oh, and being banned from the USA for a play, but that might have been the result of the man’s honesty.

All this might make it sound like a comedy of errors, but underneath always runs the line of being stuck between cultures. Ali’s Iraqi in Australia, and no matter how much his father knows about many things; he doesn’t understand that his son doesn’t want to become a doctor and doesn’t want an arranged marriage. He’s not the only one suffering, and the film gives a bit of room to others to show so.

This time, there’s a happy ending (in a way), but this film might serve as a reminder that there’s plenty people stuck, and that some things can’t be solved by musicals in mosques (honestly, does that happen? The more you know).

Ali’s Wedding, Netflix 2017

 

 

Amal Unbound

I watched from the window as the boys tumbled out of the brick schoolhouse across the field from us.

This story sometimes feels a bit too much like those introductions to subjects in school books, but is enticing enough to not be bothered by that.

It’s a short story as well: I checked twice if I didn’t happen to download just the first book, or even an incomplete version (I’m so sorry library, it’s me that has the mistrust, not you that deserve it). In 166 pages Amal’s story is told.

She is a young teenager that lives in a small Pakistani village and dreams of becoming a teacher. Her entire life is turned upside down when she says no to a (blackmailing) landlord, moving her from future potential teacher to indentured servant.

This story is inspired by Malala Yousafzai, and as mentioned before, sometimes it shows. Through hardship this young girl learns things and acquires a new view of the world. For that second part (unless you come from a small Pakistani village as well), you should have a look at the novella.

Amal Unbound, Aisha Saeed, Penguin Books 2018

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

116 min.

Holy shit, those 116 minutes are stuffed to the brink with an amusement park for your eyes. I don’t think 3D has ever been more fitting (I never finished Avatar), nor has the use of and swapping between different styles looked so seamless. Damn, do believe the hype.

Marvel SonyBecause it’s another Marvel, isn’t it? Especially, another Spider-Man, isn’t? Like there aren’t enough movies about the guy? Especially especially because they always use the same guy (Peter Parker), even though there are so many Spider-People to pick from.

Guess what this movie does.

Of course everyone knows the story of Spider-Man, so they turn it into a joke (a slightly too long one, but I’ll excuse it). There’s parallel dimensions and just a few life lessons and fun and so many visual stunners. My eyes honestly had to get used to all the attention, detail and movements. And the soundtrack! I believe that the last time I left a superhero-showing this pumped and satisfied to be Black Panther. Come to think of it, is there a Black Panther-Verse?

With the one slightly too long ongoing joke being the only minor fault I can find, I’d definitely recommend you to go watch this. And yes, in 3D as well.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Sony 2018

Run, Hide, Repeat

I was running along the Upper Blandford Road this morning, watching the little islands emerge from the morning mist, when I came upon a fisherman stacking lobster traps by his shed.

Truth again turns out to be stranger than fiction in this story that might make you repeatedly check if it really isn’t a dramatised/fictionalised version of events. That also means that pretty much everything I will put down here could be considered as spoilers, but at the same time you could look up the author and possibly learn the entire story without ever opening the book. Hm.

During a big part of her childhood, Pauline, her mother and her brother are on the run. She’s told why in her early twenties, but that doesn’t exactly put a halt to the running. There’s two large twists (do you call it twists when it happens in real life?) in this story, and Dakin writes with the right amount of insecurity (is it me, is this really happening?) to – as a reader – keep doubting things as well, even when rationale starts popping up.

This way it continues to feel like a slightly laughable and surreal story, instead of paint-by-numbers memoir of someone growing up in seventies Canada. The Mounties don’t even show up until the end.

So, you could read this one for several reasons. If you like memoirs, if you like truth-is-stranger-than-fiction, if you like a detective element without any detectives involved, if you want a slice of life view of seventies Canada.

Run, Hide, Repeat: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood, Pauline Dakin, Viking 2017

The Dark Tower

Pere Don Callahan had once been the Catholic Priest of a town – ‘Salem’s Lot had been its name – that no longer existed on any map.

I did it, I finished it – all seven of them. I’ve changed sides and am one of Those that Read Them now (applicably for many other book (series) of course). I’m done, and I feel slightly run over.

I don’t often review series, especially following books, because I feel like you won’t start a series if it’s only the third (etc.) installment that interests you, nor that it’s easy to discuss plot lines without spoiling those still starting. But it’s been five minutes since I’ve finished the last book and I need to get things off my lower ribs (it’s always my lower ribs over my chest).

For a large part of the last novel, I felt impatience and frustration. Because honestly, how much more world-building is necessary, how many pus-filled pimples on villains need to be described. I was still a bit uneasy about the meta twist of things (Stephen King getting involved), and basically felt almost as tired as Ronald to just get to that damn tower.

I’m glad I stuck with it. No novel is supposed to be stale, and even though you could view some decisions as made for shock value, you might realise that the ending motivates all those decisions made. And what an ending.

So this isn’t really a review for a series, it’s for the ending(s) of one.

The Dark Tower, Stephen King, Hodder & Stoughton 2004

Night Film

Everyone has a Cordova story, whether they like it or not.

Marisha Pessl loves her similes. Every subject and person gets a description added, no wonder that the book is so thick. After a while it gets noticeable, and – in my case – a bit annoying.

The first strike was having a male main character. I read female authors because they usually write female characters, and that thusly I don’t have to worry about a man mishandling/manhandling a woman and her life. Now I still have to read about the grumpy and socially disgraced male detective (oh wait, he’s a journalist).

Scott has a bucketload of issues, with casual sexism possibly the most annoying one. His side characters have the potential to be interesting, but never really get to be on the stage as a person.  Strike two.

The story in itself is pretty amusing, though. There’s a reclusive director with a cult-like following, a thin line between realistic horror and magical, all in a lush noir-light background. If there aren’t any movie/TV-plans yet, I can see them happening. Plenty of the similes can be dropped, the main plot is easily streamlined and there will be less time to navel-gaze for Scott. Everybody wins.

Night Film, Marisha Pessl, Random House 2013

Welcome to Lagos

Evening swept through the Delta: half an hour of mauve before the sky bruised to black.

I read books situated in South America and Asia and Africa to remember that Western culture and/or society isn’t the only one on this planet. With Welcome to Lagos I sometimes felt like I was ready a satire of how people think about African cultures. Surely it isn’t really like that? But when a (semi-)local is writing about it, you might take their word for it. And see that some known things about African countries aren’t exaggerated.

In this story the reader follows people from different walks of life that come together in Lagos. And Lagos is a creature, not just a city. The country of Nigeria is a beast, and the different people living in it are sometimes prey, sometimes predator. I’m not just talking about literal, military violence, but about poverty and corruption as well. And yet, these people find each other and connect in some way.

It’s a story about people functioning (in some way) in a country that isn’t even half way there on the road to whatever. As an ignorant white person I was surprised by the casual poverty and people abusing it, by the reach of the corrupted in power. As mentioned before – is it really that bad?

It’s with credit to the author that it doesn’t turn into one long complaint about the city and its civilians. Welcome to Lagos feels like something you could read for Anthropology class: to make sure you see the people not the system.

Welcome to Lagos, Chibundu Onuzo, Faber & Faber 2017

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

117 min.

I don’t really know what this movie wanted to be. Is it about Lisbeth and how trauma makes for dysfunctional people? A hacker thriller? Family saga? Complaint about evil authorities?  Because it might have been all of that, but the movie as it was, didn’t even manage to dip below the surface of any of it.

The-Girl-in-the-Spiders-WebThis is my first Lisbeth Salander-experience, so I can’t say how it works in comparison with the books or the other movies. I know a bit about the character, but only saw the flaws people have written about. She’s one-dimensional, and even when emotions are finally shown, it’s the soundtrack and close ups that show the importance of it. And why is she half naked so much?

This time a job of hers goes wrong, making her hunted by authorities and hardened criminals and maybe also by someone from her past as well. Lisbeth only seems to work with men, and except for ‘the American’ they’re all white as well. Will her name be cleared and the criminals get what they deserve? Will we care?

If Sony wanted to use this as an introduction, there should have been more introductions. If they want to James Bond this thing (who cares who plays Lisbeth), they should have trusted the character and not add extra fibs to round her out (and fail).

It’s just not all that, and a bit too long as well.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Sony 2018