The Rules of Magic

Once upon a time, before the whole world changed, it was possible to run away from society, disguise who you were, and fit into polite society.

It’s the book that your mother loves. Or, like, the book the mothers love in movies about small, sleepy towns and antagonists that dream about a more exciting life but are told by those mothers that you shouldn’t want that because look what could happen. If someone would have told me that this book was written in the nineties, I would have believed it. It’s absolutely stale, and I don’t even mean this in a very negative way, but just because it feels like you’ve seen this movie a hundred times already. It’s comfortable, but never thrilling.

The Rules of Magic is the (“long awaited”) prequel to Practical Magic, which was a book before it was a movie with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock. Both are about a family of witches, The Rules is just a few decades earlier, so you get New York city of the sixties and seventies, which might be one of the things that make the story appealing. The Owens family is cursed to destroy those they love, so it’s moping about that, destroying (unwittingly) and avoiding anything remotely looking like love. Although it seems to only be about romantic love, else there wouldn’t have been a family at all.

Anyway, there’s nothing wrong about this book, it’s not just very exciting. I wasn’t eager to read on and stay up late, and it’s been a while since I had that with a book which might have made me more impatient.

The Rules of Magic, Alice Hoffman, Simon & Schuster 2017

Green Island

My mother Li Min’s labor pains began the night that the widow was beaten in front of the Tian-ma Teahouse.

I’m a sucker for family epics, “spanning decades”. Honestly, you can just get my attention with those two words. Add a not-western background (because honestly, aren’t we familiar enough already with those?) and I’m in. So that’s how I ended up with Green Island.

You follow the main character from birth to seniority, over two continents and through so much political unrest that it’s sometimes boggling to realise that these are real life events. How much do you know about the history of Taiwan, after all?

Shawna Yang Ryan leads you through the casual horrors different governments exercise while juxtaposing it with (immigrant) domestic life, making some chapters almost surrealistic. The narrator is always chafing in her surroundings, sometimes making her annoying, but the story continuously enticing.

Green Island, Shawna Yang Ryan, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

101 min.

Wat een vermakelijke idioterie. Dit is een voordeel van films over boeken: wanneer je klassiekers (en ik gebruik het woord losjes) wilt uitproberen, gaat dat met film vaak een stuk vlotter.

TRHPS posterIn het geval van The Rocky Horror Picture Show ben je in anderhalf uur klaar, plus misschien een half uurtje om te verwerken wat je gezien hebt, en of het wel een film te noemen is en niet een soort kunstinstallatie.

Want een lief, onschuldig stel krijgt autopech en komt terecht in een duister kasteel waarin iemand (iets?) tot leven wordt gebracht door een zingende travestiet (maar eigenlijk zingt iedereen wel regelmatig). Soms helpen die liederen met verduidelijking, maar het is vooral show voor Dr. Frank-N-Furter, en die steelt hij ook meerdere keren.

Voor een film uit 1975 zit er geen moment iets oubolligs of ouderwets bij, het is gewoon idiote lol waarbij je vooral niet te veel moet nadenken. Aan de ene kant wil ik meer weten van deze vreemde types, aan de andere kant ben ik vrij zeker dat je dan de vreemdsoortige magie ontmantelt. Die tag line is er voor een reden, tenslotte.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Twentieth Century Fox 1975

Salt Creek

Mama often talked of this house when I was a child, and of its squirrels with particular fondness.

For a book of less than 400 pages, this took me quite a long time to finish, mostly because the first 100 – 150 pages are so hard to get into/through. It’s one of those books that are readable when you found the flow of the story, but aren’t particularly called to it, have that feeling that you want to read it whenever you can.

I picked this because it tells about Australian colonists and their relationship to Aboriginals. This – plus the endless, time correct misogyny – makes it often an infuriating story.

The descriptions of life in the Coorong and the backbone of main character Hester balance this out often enough to keep you reading, but it still isn’t an easy, light story. Salt Creek offers a frustrating view on Christian missionaries, traditional ideas that still hurt women and racist views that have never left (since).

View it as an informative slice of life, not as accessible entertainment.

Salt Creek, Lucy Treloar, Picador 2015

The Luminaries

The twelve men congregated in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel gave the impression of a party accidentally met.

This is over 800 pages, I’m just going to share that before anything else. And the first 300 – 400 are basically just world building and giving you the background of the characters involved. If I wouldn’t know better (Tolkien isn’t a kiwi author), I’d say kiwi authors can’t write short and to the point.

The point here is a detective mystery. Some people show up dead in this nineteenth century gold miners town, some things go missing, some relationships are destroyed and made. Before the reader gets to the conclusion of this mystery, they might be worn down by all the endless details shared leading up to it.

If you start this novel knowing that a very long game is being run here, you might enjoy it in an almost encyclopedic way. I didn’t know before that there was a New Zealand gold rush, I enjoyed the descriptions of nineteenth century New Zealand and the immigrants living there. I can’t remember precisely how the mystery was solved, though.

The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton, Granta 2013

The Dressmaker

Travellers crossing the wheat-yellow plains to Dungatar would first notice a dark blot shimmering at the edge of the flatness.

I completely understand why they turned this into a movie. Because The Dressmaker is not just a contained (small Australian village) story, it’s so full of detail that the visuals are already all there. Characters are clear cut, there’s an enticing plot of highs and lows and wardrobe can go all out because there’s nothing this dressmaker can’t make.

Tilly goes back to this small village of her birth, but even though she changed, the opinions on her and her mother didn’t. When discovering thus, she doesn’t accept it for the second time, but goes about it in a creative way.

That might make things sound like a thriller, but the back text calls it a shrewd comedy, and isn’t wrong in that. It’s a compact story as well; finding and watching the movie might take you longer. Is it still hot enough outside to call this a summer read?

The Dressmaker, Rosalie Ham, Duffy & Snellgrove 2000

Half the World

He hesitated just an instant, but long enough for Thorn to club him in the balls with the rim of her shield.

It’s like a bodice ripper with barbarians. Usually I’m fine with what Joe Abercrombie has on offer; brutish fantasy with some comedic relief. Nothing highbrow or what you have to put your brain to work for but still, entertaining. Not so much this time.

The unlikely hero is a young woman that wants to fight, but she’s a woman so she’s laughed off and despised for being better than most. It is also repeatedly mentioned that she’s ugly and not-feminine. Anyway, she ends up as part of a trip around the world and both she and the (male) people around her learn that there’s more to her anger, violence and unappealing face.

This time even the world building just seems to be filler between the fight scenes and insult filled dialogues. I know that sequels are always viewed as to be a bit more challenging, but this was just a slog. If you want barbarian fantasy, try some of his other series.

Half the World, Joe Abercrombie, HarperCollins 2015