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

Gods Without Men

In the time when the animals were men, Coyote was living in a certain place.

The flap text gave me the idea that this novel would be about and around the same place, the characters connected in some, yet undisclosed, way.
Instead this book was a collection of short stories about and around the same place, through time and with most of the characters connected in a random way. It took me a while to adjust to that difference. Especially because I’m not a fan of collected stories.

The one big plus Gods Without Men has (there are others, including making the ordinary creepy and interesting) is the way it offers visuals and accompanying atmosphere. I was there in that desolate, forgotten-by-the-world place in the desert, felt how heavy its surroundings pressed on the characters.
Another plus are the characters, all trying to escape a side from their selves they want to forget, loose, reshape.

It was not an easy read, almost 400 pages taking 10 days. There is little joy on it, and yet the story lingers when you close the book, the characters giving you room to look at your own life and ideas.

Gods Without Men, Hari Kunzru, Hamilton 2011

Mudbound

Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep.

This is a tough one. Not because this novel is badly written or has a boring story, far from the opposite. This is a tough one because some of the situations in it made me very uncomfortable.

Mudbound tells the story of different characters. The family that moves into a cotton farm, the people that work for them and serve them and the bystanders from the nearest village. As all of this happens in 1946 Mississippi, so you might already understand that there are no balanced relationships here. The woman needs to serve her family first, the  man needs to take care of the farm and protect what is his from ‘those’ people, while the members from ‘those’ people desperately try to break free from the box society pushes them into.
It made me slightly nauseous to read how careless slurs and threats are thrown around, how someone, only based on their skin colour , can turn into a free for all for entertainment and anger and shame.

And yet Mudbound is more than a confrontation with racism. It is an image of a vastly different time not that long ago, of a family that is drifting and pulled apart by its surroundings. And there is a raw, uncomfortable beauty to the way that had been written.

Mudbound, Hillary Jordan, Heinemann 2008

The Poisonwood Bible

Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.

Several decades of five lives that live through emigration to the Belgian Congo, puberty and growing up, love, loss and independence of both country and family. It’s a big and small story at the same time, with characters you can take with you into your daily life.

A missionary family goes to ‘Dark Africa’ to save souls and show the Christian way. Only the father wants to be there, while the mother and four daughters try to adjust in different ways or not at all. The Belgian Congo is a gorgeous and dangerous and completely different world than Georgia, United States, but they simply didn’t choose it.

The Poisonwood Bible is history, social commentary and a family story. It takes you in easily and is hard to put down. With five points of view it’s easy to pick a favourite or find relief when you don’t like someone’s story.

I recommend this book because it’s very honest. It shows the disappointment of discovering that Christianity and Western society aren’t all-knowing, the gorgeousness but also brutality of Africa and how one situation can turn different people to completely different paths.

The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver, HarperFlamingo 2008

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The story I am about to share with you takes place in 1931, under the roofs of Paris.

This book is gorgeous. That can be largely attributed to the amazing pencil drawings in it, lifting the story to a different level.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret: a novel in words and pictures is the book where the film Hugo was based on. I didn’t watch the film, so I could take the story in without any expectations.

And it was a pleasure. This novel is lighthearted, colourful, detailed like quality clockwork and sweet. Looking at the cover was enough to make me smile and I’m just the littlest bits of sad for finishing it so quickly (there are a lot of page filling pictures and drawings).

Read it, look at it, enjoy it. Nothing more needs to be said.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret: a novel in words and pictures, Brian Selznick, Scholastic 2008

The Prague Cemetery

A passerby on that grey morning in March 1897, crossing, at is own risk and peril, place Maubert or the Maub, as it was known in criminal circles (formerly a centre of university life in the Middle Ages when students flocked there from the Faculty of Arts in Vicus Stramineus  or rue du Fouarre, and later a place of execution for apostles of free though such as Étienne Dolet), would have found himself in one of the few spots in Paris spared from Baron Hausmann’s devastations, amidst a tangle of malodorous alleys, sliced in two by the course of the Bièvre which still emerged here, flowing out from the bowels of the metropolis, where it had long been confided, before emptying feverish, gasping and verminous into the nearby Seine.

For years, my boyfriend told me I would really like Eco’s The Name of the Rose. And the review of The Prague Cemetery I read in my favourite news paper was very positive. So I thought with those powers combined, I was in for a lovely book-reading-experience.

Boy, was that a disappointment. The plot in one sentence is that a forger in the nineteenth century makes up a letter and changes history with it. Sounds cool, right? But maybe Eco didn’t think that would be enough or he always likes it confusing, I don’t know. Because quickly there comes a gap between Narrator and protagonist, are some syndromes of MPS added and personality twists and the time line stops being chronological and BAM you’re lost.

Even if you’d like a puzzle instead of a story, there is the fact that the protagonist hates everything. Jews, French people, Germans, Americans, rich people, poor people, religious people, there is only bitterness in his life.

It took me 114 pages to -sort of- get into this story and the remaining 300 to regret not giving up on it. And now I really fear The Name of the Rose.

The Prague Cemetery, Umberto Eco, Bombiani 2010

Slaughterhouse-5

All this happened, more or less.

Two people close to me told me they weren’t sure this was a book I was going to like. One of them said I shouldn’t count the ‘So it goes’. The text on the back warned me for potential philosophic babble.
This all accounted to me expecting an not-understandable mass of deliriously written paragraphs without a (satisfying) end. I braced myself.

For me – and I realize that I might be looking at this story in just one dimension – Slaughterhouse-5 wasn’t a mess. In fact, it was pretty coherent and I enjoyed several parts of it.

Protagonist Billy Pilgrim survives World War 2 and a plane crash, travels through time, is abducted by aliens and is -by a lot of people- seen as an idiot. The reader follows his travel and his thoughts and as Pilgrim isn’t much impressed with either, nor is the reader.

What I like most, or can appreciate about this book, is that you can take several things from it. Is it but a fantasy in the mind of the ‘I’ person? Is Vonnegut ‘I’ or Pilgrim? Is this nothing more but a War Is Bad message with a lot of pomp? Do you believe Billy Pilgrim or is he sorriest sod alive? Is this even a book? If the reader wants to, it can create different puzzles from the same pieces.

I recommend this novel. It isn’t too crazy, too plain, too fantastical or too boring. It’s a nice puzzle, for the reader to decide what to take away from it.

Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut, Dell 1991 (repr.)