War Horse

146 min.

Ook wel bekend als: Echt niet Black Beauty voor mannen.

DreamWorks

War Horse is het verhaal van het paard Joey, van veulen tot pensioen. Zijn eerste menselijke vriend is Albert, die hem alles leert waardoor hij zo’n goed ‘oorlogspaard’ wordt. Want de Eerste Wereldoorlog komt er aan en Joey wordt verkocht. Daarna volgt de kijker aan de hand van het paard (dat wordt gestolen, doorgegeven, bedreigd) het verloop van de oorlog. En die is keihard.

Het is een film van Steven Spielberg, dus af en toe krijgt de kijker te nadrukkelijk door de strot heen geduwd dat het een Dramatisch of Lief moment is. Ook zijn de passerende karakters niet uit zulk hout gesneden dat hun lot een indruk achter laat.
Daarnaast is het onderwerp genoeg om een indruk achter te laten. Spielberg laat de oorlog op zijn lelijkst zien. Deserterende kinderen worden doodgeschoten, paarden worden tot sterven aan toe afgebeund, gezinnen worden uit elkaar getrokken. Het is genoeg om een fikse hekel aan de mensheid te ontwikkelen. Gelukkig is er een bijna happy ending waarna je verdwaasd en misschien een beetje down de bioscoop kunt verdwalen.

Zou ik deze film aanraden? Nee. Afraden ook niet, echter. Het is een film voor als je het boek hebt gelezen, voor als je de oorlog interessant vindt, voor als je van paarden houdt (maar kijk dan wel op verschillende momenten weg). Verder is het een ongebalanceerd sprookje dat op de verkeerde momenten de camera te lang stil laat hangen.

War Horse, DreamWorks 2011 (nu in de bioscoop)

The secrets of Jin-Shei

It had been the hottest summer in living memory.

The secrets of Jin-Shei takes place in a colorful world (fictional medieval Asian country) and has several equally colorful characters. And yet I felt obliged to read this book, instead of diving into it and wallowing into its details and colors like Scrooge Duck in his money.

Jin-Shei binds a couple of women on a deep level, with friendship, love and responsibilities. The first couple of hundred pages tell the reader about these Jin-Shei sisters and their lives before the bad guy shows up. But the bad guy is more of an idea than a person, and therefore several of the characters are ‘bad’ from time to time as well. After this introduction the story speeds up, throws life and death at the reader and I simply couldn’t care about any thing. Even while writing this review, I find it tough to keep focus and remember what it was about this book.

So what’s wrong about The secrets of Jin-Shei? The book isn’t tough to read, there’s diversity but not too much to make it puzzling and hard to follow and it gives the reader pretty pictures in detail and ‘historical’ facts. Jin-Shei and me simply didn’t click. It can happen with books as well as with people. This makes it harder to decide on recommending it of course, but I’ll say: go on, read it. This book has a lot to offer.

 The secrets of Jin-Shei, Alma Alexander, Harper Collins 2004

The Desert Spear

It was the night before new moon, during the darkest hours when even that bare sliver had set.

Like a fresh breath of Technicolor air after The Pregnant Widow. The Desert Spear made me a very happy fantasy fan.

TDS is part of a trilogy (aptly named Demon Trilogy) but can be read as stand alone as well. That’s already quite the feat in this genre full of unnecessary follow ups and ‘let’s pull this book apart into three books’, but that’s a not-related frustrating issue.  TDS tells the story of a world where the night isn’t safe. Because every night, all kind of demons (wooden, rock, wind and so on) will rise from the grounds and attack everything that isn’t warded. Humankind knows some of those wards, but not all of them. And of course there is a faith that says the demons are a God’s punishment that can only be stopped by a Deliverer.

In this book, there are two of those. One of them who really could be it, an ordinary guy from the North, who by others is made into a hero, even though he doesn’t want it.  And the other, a wünderkind from the South with a mighty army behind him and who has given himself the title. And they used to be friends.
A lot happens in The Desert Spear and telling would only be over sharing. But this book  manages to create a world, a bad guy, and two less than annoying ‘heroes’ while  entertaining you along the way as well. After reading the first book (The Painted Man) I wasn’t sure if there would be a follow up and I did a little dance when I saw this book in the library. It hasn’t disappointed me a bit, even throwing me off (as a crazy book lady, I like to be surprised) when it came to romance and plot lines.

It is fantasy though, remember that. If you’re completely averse to that, don’t bother. But if you want to try some, TDS or its predecessor are a great starting  place.

The Desert Spear, Peter V. Brett, Harper Voyage 2010

The Pregnant Widow

They had driven into town from the castle; and Keith Nearing walked the streets of Montale, Italy, from car to bar at dusk, flanked by two twenty-year-old blondes, Lily and Scheherazade …

You know that alternative themed party that your friends (and the Internet) have been raving about, while to you it only looked like a students’ common room with cheap alcohol and high ‘philosophical’ conversations? This book is that party and I didn’t get why it was so cool.

You’d think it would be fun for a reviewer to review a book you didn’t like. Just use every kind of  it sucked known to man and you’re done. But that’s not reviewing, nor giving a proper opinion (arguments, remember?).
So, here goes my try.
The Pregnant Widow is 465 pages of obnoxious twenty (and up) year olds who can only think of sex and (British) novels, women who are called cock a lot, using words and adding their dictionary definitions and not much else. There is no insight into any of the characters, no jokes, cynicism or even details of their surroundings. It’s only self-pity and uninspired meetings written in such a way that make you wonder how an author can fill so many pages with so little. I dragged myself by my hair through this book, through this day-to-day holiday life of a mentally-bloated kid.

Other reviews speak about the book as a memoir of the start of feminism, the end of youth and dark humor.  Maybe I expected too much, maybe I didn’t dig deep enough. For me, it simply was a disappointment. Next time I want to read whining about people not sleeping with you, I’ll visit any teenage message board. It’s much less long-winded.

The Pregnant Widow, Martin Amis, Cape 2010

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

127 min.

Film. Not only hard to review because you are bombarded for (at least) two hours by imagery, plot and characters and need to get a bird’s view before you can get a (small) grip, but also (especially with films watched in cinema) tougher to re-watch, re-evaluate to make the film simmer.

Studio Canal/Working Title

And yet, here we go.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (TTSS) tells the story of British Intelligence in the seventies. One of the big shots thinks that there is a mole in his team of big shots. And one of them, mister Smiley (played by the ever charming, even though he never smiles in this entire film, Gary Oldman) is told to discover who the mole is. That’s the long and short of it, because to go into more detail, introduce more people and lay down more plot lines, would break down the experience of watching the film. Yes, in the case of TTSS you can spoil a feeling, a hunch and most definitely an atmosphere.

When you go to the cinema, you expect a film that came out this or the previous year. And of course TTSS is from last year, but the locations, cars, way of dress and everything else gives you the feeling that it’s Sunday afternoon and you landed yourself in an obscure seventies TV-detective. It’s the famous faces (Oldman, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and many more) that tell you that it really is a recent film and not a dip into the cinema archives.

The film also  has the speed of a visit to an archive. Don’t expect snappy one-liners, explosions, hunts, pretty women and sexy shots. The characters talk. They explain a bit and you can decide to set your brain to work or wait for the explanation at the end. The only fast thing in this film is the accusations and sneers flying around between the big shots.

So with TTSS we have a colorless film that is all about its characters. It will need you to sit up a bit and listen  and you will come up with a small question mark on your face. Did you just spend two hours listening to old white men talking? Did you even care about who the mole was?
And yet .. I recommend it. Because not every film needs to be bright and in your face with yelling its message. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is pretty in an not pretty way. A nice Earl Grey tea for the eyes.

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

Sanctus: Revelation or devastation?

A flash of light filled his skull as it struck the rock floor.

Simon Toyne’s Sanctus was categorized by the library as detective/thriller. It could also be categorized in the Indiana Jones/National Treasure category, to get the first pop culture reference out of the way. In this book we have secret sects, evil monks, Siamese twins, something referring to immortality and yes – we cross half the world in less than 500 pages.

Toyne manages to introduce a lot of characters, maybe even too many. By the end of the book I still only cared about three of them and his plain description of every character (red/dark/black wind jacket, long hair) doesn’t make it easier to recognize in whose chapter we are this time. Besides that there are some scenes that wouldn’t go through National Treasure’s kid-friendly ratings, using detailed wound descriptions and a fleshed-out visit to the morgue.

Am I looking for problems here? Just a bit. Because besides these two points, Sanctus is entertaining, throws some lovely conspiracies around, gives you small surprises and not to be forgotten: is very accessible to read. So grab it from your library (or Amazon, if detective/adventure/travel is completely your reading kink) and enjoy. And try hard to remember how it exactly went a week after you finished it, because this is a story that won’t stay with you for long.

Sanctus: Revelation or devastation?, Simon Toyne,  Harper 2011