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
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
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
I was tethering the cows out by the pond when a boy came into our pasture saying that Father Cléophas himself want to see me tout suite in the morgue.
And even based on true events, although I have to admit that the note from the editor(s) and shared background information took away from the story, for me anyway. I could have not read them, of course.
The story here is how two slaves on Martinique are sent to another island to bring back the slaves the French Fathers think they own while the island is English now. Sounds like nothing could go wrong, right? Nothing fishy at all at sending two slaves to silently invite slaves to move islands.
Lucien and his brother Emile are the ones that are tasked with this, and Lucien is the one telling the story of these few days. He does so in a mix of English, French and Creole, which works well with their surroundings and situation.
The only gripe I have with the story only being about this one event, is that as the reader you feel slightly dropped into someone’s lives and left behind when you (probably) only want to learn more. Maybe Jane Harris should have gone with a bit more creative freedom there. But what she writes, she writes appealingly.
Sugar Money, Jane Harris, Faber & Faber 2017
It is nearly dawn, and the semi-darkness casts strange shadows along the footpath.
Do you need to use trigger warnings when the trauma shown is part of history? White Chrysanthemum is about (Korean) comfort women, used in the Second World War. If you don’t know what that means, it means rape.
White Chrysanthemums are flowers of mourning (for the Koreans), so don’t expect a clean escape as a reader either. This is a story of one of the many, both of the side of those left behind and those taken.
And yet, or maybe because of that, Mary Lynn Bracht manages to show such an appealing, visually attractive and easily to envision world and surroundings. Maybe to show that through it all, the environment will continue existing. Maybe to show that no matter how ugly the actions of humans, the world will keep turning. Maybe the author is just really good in descriptions.
The stories of Emi and Hana are worth your time. Not just to learn, but maybe also in a way – to mourn. That they were far from the last female victims of war crimes, even if it was less than hundred years ago.
White Chrysanthemum, Mary Lynn Bracht, Chatto & Windus 2018
They were saying that all appointments were canceled, indefinitely, that it was the end of everything, but why would they assume that?
Last time I read this author I wasn’t quite sure how to recommend the book, and this time it isn’t much different. There’s an appeal to his writing, but the story? Not just a collection of too human people (you start with the honeymoon phase and you end up wanting to throttle them), but mostly not much happens? So why would I still, pretty surely, recommend this novel?
Maybe because it offers an uncensored view of “normal” Americans outside one of the well known states. Small town in Massachusetts in the aftermath of 9/11, but soon moving their attention back to their small town politics and each other. Not even the rich outsider can change that (permanently).
I like family sagas, following the same people through time and (family) issues. Usually I try to pick less familiar surroundings than western society, but these people are so alienating in their paranoid and petty thoughts, that things turn out pretty exotic after all.
The Locals, Jonathan Dee, Random House 2017
A gentleman friend and I were dining at The Ritz last evening and he said that if I took a pencil and paper and put down all my thoughts it would make a book.
I didn’t know there was a book before there was a movie, but the title is such a solid part of entertainment (history) that when I saw the book in the library, I was sure it was related to the Marilyn Monroe’s movie. I was right.
I haven’t watched the movie (yet), but if it’s as much as cheeky fun as the book, I’ve cut my next movie night planned. The only thing you might have to get to used to is the grammar and spelling used. This is from another time after all, and Lorelei doesn’t sound like the kind of woman whom cares about language. So no, it’s not like there was never an editor involved. Heck, after a while it becomes almost as charming as Lorelei herself.
Anyway, we move through the USA and Europe in a time when two women could without a worry in the world, and plenty of men would rain gifts, money and attention on them, without (really) knowing them. Lorelei knows which one to play best, while Dorothy sometimes makes the silly mistake of getting a crush of them. London doesn’t do much to them, but Paris does, and French really isn’t that hard (is that the last time an American felt like that?)!
It’s a tiny ball of silly fun with a world so far away from our reality, that it might well be a fantasy novel.
Gentlemen prefer blondes, Anita Loos, Liveright 1925