Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Dear Dr Jones
We have been referred to you by Peter Sullivan at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (Directorate for Middle East and North Africa).

This book managed to offer a pretty absurd idea and make you unironically support it full-heartedly. The main characters aren’t heroes, the setting isn’t world-shattering (written down in gorgeous detail though). Salmon Fishing in the Yemen shows that an absurd story doesn’t need fanfare and fireworks to leave an impression behind.

A civil servant with a life story that would make anyone fall asleep ends up in a project that needs to allow the people of the Yemen to salmon fish. The PR from the Prime Minister (it starts in England) thinks this is a great opportunity for some good, innocent publicity concerning the Middle East. The Sheik funding the project is the Islamic version of Buddha, full of smiles, calm and motivational speaking and of course there is a (sort of) love interest.

The government probably shouldn’t have gotten involved. Not to share too much of the story, but getting salmons to survive in a dessert is somehow not even the absurdest part of the entire story. Media gets involved, big egos get involved, damage-control fails and the salmon? Even the salmon are a problem.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a delight.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Paul Torday, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2007

True Grit

110 min.

I think I liked this one a little bit more than The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Not just because it was shorter but it was a little bit less ..bearing on you. Where The Assassination wants you to be clear that there is no such thing as heroes, wrong or right, stalking is never good and so on – it pushes more to form an opinion. True Grit is a lot more … ‘simply there’.

Paramount Pictures 2010
Paramount Pictures 2010

That’s not because there happens less. Here are also shoot outs, needless deaths and gorgeous surroundings. And main character Mattie Ross (a thirteen year old girl whom decides to hunt down her father’s killer) is much stronger and level-headed than Robert Ford. Mattie knows her business, is smart and unimpressed by adults (fooling around). There are only very few shots in which she’s denigrated to plot device, a sudden question asked in a too childish voice to help the clueless viewers along. Which really isn’t necessary in my opinion, especially because with Jeff Bridges’ accent (the Marshall that helps her) you wouldn’t understand the answer anyway. His Marshall really needs subtitles from time to time.

True Grit is a little bit lighter, mostly due to its characters (as its surroundings are covered in the bleakness that seems to come with westerns). The Marshall is the gruff with the golden heart, LaBoeuf is flamboyant but honest, the bad guys are stinky rats and Mattie could be a role model for a lot of children, boys and girls alike. The good thing about Hailee Steinfeld’s acting is that you never get the ‘Ugh, child-actor’ feeling. Mattie’s snappy remarks fit her, as do her sudden tears.

Western isn’t a genre I’m well-versed in (before these two films only having watched The Quick and The Dead) and I don’t know if it completely fits me. I do know that I want to see more of Mattie’s story. Luckily there’s a comic for that.

True Grit, Paramount Pictures 2010

Hero

I never thought I’d have a story worth telling, at least not one about me.

Another amazing YA. Without a love triangle, a special snowflake or vampires. Hilarious, lovely and nearly perfect (in its genre/kind/and so on. No such thing as The One Perfect Book in my world).

Thom Creed is the son of Hal Creed, used-to-be superhero but now, after a horrible disaster, a social pariah. Thom is kind of ordinary, until several things happen at the same time. He owns up to himself that he has superpowers, a thing his father hates, so he has to keep them a secret. The Superhero League wants him to try out for their club. During a basketball match an opponent outs him as gay, which makes society turn against him. He needs to save the world and his invisible mother (literally) pops up after years of being absent. It’s a lot to handle.

But Moore manages it very well. After you close the book after 500+ pages, there are only two or three plot lines that you have to roll up by yourself, everything else is neatly tied up. Before that there’s love, loss, redemption, teenager problems and playful parodying of everything superhero.

I want a sequel, I want a film, I want people to read it and enjoy it as I did.

Hero, Perry Moore, Hyperion 2007

Cat’s Cradle

Call me Jonah.

My boyfriend recommended this to me with “It’s really weird, but I think you’ll like it”. I didn’t find it that ‘really weird’. I don’t know what that says about me or the books I read.

Jonah (or whatever his name is) tries to write a book about the children of the Father of the Atomic Bomb. Those three are not your ordinary humans. Which is a good thing, because Jonah isn’t either.
Things happen, they travel to San Lorenzo, more things happen; as does the end of the world.

Cat’s Cradle was like a Where’s Waldo of metaphors and hints to real life during the time Vonnegut wrote it. Recognizing the commentary added a second layer to the novel. Usually I’m not such a big fan of working to Get The Message, but Vonnegut manages to communicate it without smacking you around the head with it. The embarrassing Americans? The “illegal” religion kept alive by the government? The fictional country of San Lorenzo? I wish I could have read this book for English, so I could dissect it until the final comma and discuss the whats and whos. Now I’ll have to find another way.

If I remember correctly I wasn’t sure about Kurt Vonnegut after reading  Slaughterhouse 5. If I liked his work or if I liked his ideas and how slim his novels were. I’m pretty sure I like his work.

Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut, Penguin Books 2008

The Song of Achilles

My father was a king and the son of kings.

Another book club book. The Song of Achilles is about the ‘heel-guy’ (although that particular weakness isn’t mentioned in this book) but not the arrogant surfer dude that people might remember from the movie Troy. Here we see Achilles grow up through the eyes of Patrocles, an exiled prince that grows up to be his best friend, human half and lover. Yes, the age old question of did they/didn’t they is firmly answered here.

Yet this book is as much as a story about the familiar story about Helena of Troy, the myths (there is an amazing centaur-mentor involved and the gods are never far away) and growing up as it is about two boys recognizing themselves in each other. Love sometimes barely covers the (desperate) feelings of Patrocles. Madeline Miller manages to show in small, sweet ways that it most certainly isn’t a one-way relationship, even though Achilles is very busy with his destiny of eternal fame and following death.

Everyone familiar with the story will know how it ends and I wouldn’t recommend it to people who think they can breeze through a piece of Old Grecian myth. Miller sneakily manages to get the characters under your skin and springs emotional traps. If you’re up for a relieving sob after a great, colourful and detailed story: go for it.

The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller, Bloomsbury 2011

Lord Sunday

Arthur fell.

After little over five years I had to say goodbye to this book series. And with a series like this one, it’s just one of the reasons to feel a small tugging at the heart strings.

The Keys to the Kingdom are categorized as fantasy for children (12 and up). But, as with any good author, it’s barely noticeable that only kids are supposed to be attracted to these stories. With its rich world building, colourful details and sweet story line (our unlikely hero suffers from asthma and carries his elephant plushie everywhere), it will appeal to anyone with a taste for original fantasy.

After battling, puzzling and venturing through the worlds of six “Days” (all lords and ladies with their own plane), Arthur (true heir of the worlds’ Architect) has to victor over the most powerful ruler, Lord Sunday, while the world falls apart around them. Yes, that makes little sense.

This review is little more than an obvious hint to just try the seven books of this series. But pace yourself, before you finish too quickly and fall victim to Nothing.

The Keys to the Kingdom: Lord Sunday, Garth Nix, Scholastic Press 2010

Various Pets Alive And Dead

The whole world is deranged, though most people haven’t noticed it yet.

This was very entertaining. Marcus and Doro are people of the seventies, people of The Change with capitals T C. Their children ..not so much. Serge hides from his parents that he is a very successful (until the economical crisis of 2008 hits) banker, Clara is trying very hard to break free from being over-controlling and always in charge (it’s who she was in the commune, after all) while Oolie-Anna desperately wants to break free from her mother.

Various Pets Alive And Dead shows how permanent the marks left behind by your childhood are. Not just in case of the children, but for Marcus and Doro as well. Capitalism is evil, jealousy is ugly; yet she still wants to keep her own allotment and doesn’t want to hear about her husband’s free loving back in the day.

The book starts with everybody quite happy, but it quickly unravels. Kewycka manages to write down the ordinary in an absurd yet believable way. Every character is a real human being and yes, you may enjoy some schadenfreunde, but in the end you’ll be rooting for their happy ending. If Kewycka makes that happen ..that’s for the reader to discover.

Various Pets Alive And Dead, Marina Kewycka, Fig Tree 2012