Internment

I strain to listen for boots on the pavement.

Looking back after having finished this novel I realise how naive and privileged it is of me to have thought “well sometimes she’s exaggerating a bit”. Something about how we are doomed to repeat history if we don’t learn from it, etc.

In this case the lesson is ‘Do not imprison innocent people for the sole reason that their religion, skin colour and/or ancestral background is different from yours’. Shown in the Second World War, the States did it with Japanese Americans, and Samira Ahmed does it a few decades later with American Muslims. Because in Internment a president – very alike of the one the USA has right now – comes in power, and he’s much more effective in getting his racist ideas turned into actions. American Muslims are put into camps on American soil.

And just like before, there are plenty euphemisms going around. None can cover up that the camp is surrounded by barb wire, that every guard has a weapon and that any sign or sound of protest is violently taken down. Here comes my conclusion from the first paragraph in: isn’t this put down all a bit too extremely? I should know better. We all should.

It’s good that the novel is less than 300 pages, because there’s no escaping the terror the characters are put through. Not just the mental and physical torture; also the shock of seeing how fast people get used to it. Again, as we should know.

All this makes for a bitter pill that as many as possible of us should swallow.

Internment, Samira Ahmed, Little, Brown & Company 2019

Once & Future

Ari was hiding out in the Middle Ages.

This is a retelling of the King Arthur myth, but a lot more queer for everyone involved. It’s also a Young Adult novel, and Arthur in this case is a teenage girl (and this isn’t the only thing that’s flipped). Just in case you thought you couldn’t be surprised by that myth any more.

Capetta and McCarthy keep up the tempo, until they suddenly don’t. The evil overlords, dubious witch and wizard, the romances and family-relationships are so abruptly put on hold that I almost felt like I shouldn’t bother with the rest of the short novel. But before all that you get an entertainment park-like novel with a lot of roller-coasters and themed exhibitions.

This combined with the gender-flip, the amount of queer characters without it being turned into a fuss and/or characterisation, makes Once & Future appealing to both the fantasy/sci-fi crowd as those that will vacuum up everything related to the King Arthur myth.

Once & Future, Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy, Little, Brown, and Company 2019

The Lonely Hearts Hotel

On that day in 1914, a young girl banged on the door of the Hôpital de la Miséricorde in Montreal.

Boy, does this author love her metaphors like a dog likes a bone. Don’t use them as a drinking game, you will end up in the hospital. Even though it’s becoming quite noticeable after a while, I have to admit that they add to the fairy-tale like feeling this story already has. The development and rise of orphans in Great Depression North America, involving clowns and mobsters, maybe they deserve a metaphor every other sentence.

Main characters are Pierrot and Rose and share the chapters whenever they are together or apart. They’ve got very different views on life and what they want from it; making the fairy-tale like feeling disappear before it can give a (happy) end.

Besides that, there’s the surroundings this plays out in. Montreal with its alive snow, New York with the buildings full of possibilities and risks. It’s all written very visually, which neatly distracts from the small plot holes or just hiccups it provides. This story is pretty and enticing; everything else is subordinate to it.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O’Neill, Riverhead Books 2018

The Talented Ribkins

He only came back because Melvin said he would kill him if he didn’t pay off his debt by the end of the week.

Now how to talk about this one. There’s a fantastical element in this story (several, if you consider all the individuals involved), but I definitely wouldn’t call it a story from the fantasy genre. Maybe more magic realistic? Anyway, these talents can come in quite handy, but brought ruin to almost every owner – every member of the Ribkins family.

The Ribkins are a black family, with one generation starting out as activists (during the Civil Rights Movement) but seeming to have ended up in crime. Each of their stories rub against historical facts, which makes the people with extraordinary powers trope so much more realistic, and keeps the focus on those people, instead of what they do with their powers.

This is combined with a playground (Florida) that somehow manages to make all of it more surreal and real at the same time. Of course the main character needs to dig up money he hid around the state, of course their last name has a wonderful background. Ladee Hubbard bakes all of it together, and it tastes strange, but good.

The Talented Ribkins, Ladee Hubbard, Melville House 2017

Normal People

Marianne answers the door when Connell rings the bell.

I should have known that an impatient wait would only lead to disappointment, but I guess such repetitious mistakes make you human. This novel got plenty of accolades, but the summary didn’t particularly appeal me. After one review – one I didn’t even recognise the previous summaries read in – I changed my mind. Blow me away, Rooney.

There was no blowing away, only dragging down and wrestling through (negative) emotions. These two people, the main characters Connell and Marianne, are just …incomplete(?) and manage to simultaneously make it worse and better in the other. So much low self-esteem, depression, (mental) self-harm and words that should be said to improve things, but never are.

I finished this an hour ago and still feel that kind of daze of finishing a story that doesn’t let you come up for air. Of course, no story has to be completely happy, or even have happy moments, but every other word is doubted and dissected. The story involves only a few months, making me wish for these poor people involved for it to be decades because surely everyone deserves to have a mental breather.

And underneath all of it, I couldn’t find anything the author wanted to do with this story. Share suffering? Show us that there is no such thing as normal people? Or that no matter what kind of train wreck, people just can’t look away?

Normal People, Sally Rooney, Alfred A. Knopf 2018

Fire and Blood

The maesters of the Citadel who keep the histories of Westeros have used Aegon’s conquest as their touchstone for the past three hundred years.

Are you in need of more Westeros now the TV-show is so close to ending and the book series it might be based on might never finish? Do you love dragons and politics in your fantasy? Boy, do I’ve got a recommendation for you. For those that are looking for fantasy and just grabbed the newest book your library had on offer? Hm-mweh.

George R.R. Martin has always been a bit Tolkien-light when it comes to his descriptions over show-don’t-tell. Fire & Blood is Martin gathering all those descriptions he probably ever used to spend time on one Westeros family: Targaryen (yes, I know we can discuss if they’re a Westeros family). Remember from the Bible those family trees lists that went on forever? That’s Fire & Blood, just with more descriptions added of how people look and from time to time how people (brutally) died in one of the many fights and wars.

Is that a bad thing? That depends on what you want from this book. This isn’t an epic telling; it’s closer to an encyclopedia with some prose added (and repetitive at that; there really couldn’t have been more side steps to other countries and families instead of hearing how another sibling-pair marries each other?). Do you just want more of Martin’s Westeros (I did)? This will work for you, as long as you don’t read it too much in one go – mentioned repetitions will really start to show.  And those dragons? Well, they’re … pretty?

Fire & Blood, George R.R. Martin, Penguin Random House 2018

Witches of New York

In the dusky haze of evening a ruddy-cheeked newsboy strode along Fifth Avenue proclaiming the future.

Remember The Rules of Magic? I’ve got a similar book-from-the-nineties-feeling with this one. Or maybe it’s just the nineties that make me remember the nineties? This story doesn’t even play out in the nineties, so we might never know. On to witches!

This is New York in the nineteenth century, which certainly was part of the appeal for me as well, and luckily for me does Ami McKay spend time on giving the city room in her story as well. It’s enough of another world from the New York city we know (through media and fiction), that a magical element seems to fit almost right in.

The three main characters are quite charming as well, even though I would have enjoyed learning more about the older two. There’s also something to say about how the author decides to completely commit to magic instead of keeping the implication and illusion of it, but it doesn’t sour the story of the three women. All in all, like the book mentioned in the first paragraph – none of this is mind-blowing and groundbreaking – but it is sweet and easily enjoyable.

Witches of New York, Ami McKay, Alfred A. Knopf 2016