The Lonely Polygamist

To put it as simply as possible: this is the story of a polygamist who has an affair.

Oh, but this is anything but a simple story.  I finished it a little less than two days ago and I still feel something ache when I think about it. This book didn’t leave me behind happy at all. I don’t agree with its happy ending. I pitied but couldn’t sympathize with (barely) any of the characters .. it took a bit of a toll on me, I suppose.

As the first sentence hints: this is a story about a polygamist, a man with four wives and twenty-eight children. But it’s not only about Golden Richards, it’s about his whole sorry family and sorry they are. One of his sons, one of his wives and -in a way- the house itself bleed their feelings of loss, frustration and loneliness into the main story. They can’t belong because there are simply too many others and too little of the father to give everyone equal opportunity. And Golden himself feels like an outsider in his own family. His back story shows that he has never made a decision about anything, there were and are always others to do that for him. Until he falls in love with an other woman and: lets himself. Even cherishes the thought of acting on it.

‘Wry’ would be my word for The Lonely Polygamist. There is no relief from the maelstrom that is the family Richards and I gobbled up the small pieces of joy that sparsely feature. It made me angry with polygamist families and the named religion they follow, but in the end there was only pity for so many unhappy people. Especially because they were unhappy by my standards (never share a man, don’t put yourself in second place, be loved unconditionally).

I fully recommend this book, if you read books to experience thoughts and feelings outside your own spectrum. Don’t read it for a laugh or a How To on polygamy.  It’s a very human story, of humans and their (self-)inflicted boundaries.

The Lonely Polygamist, Brady Udall, Cape 2010

The history of history: a novel of Berlin

The oceans rose and the clouds washed over the sky; the tide of humanity came revolving in love and betrayal, in sky scrapers and ruins, through walls breached and children conjured, and soon it was the year 2002.

Oh.  This book starts with a woman who misses from her memory  a recent period of her life . Next thing that happens is that -to her eyes- every building in Berlin has turned to flesh. After that, it gets steadily more weird.

At first, that frustrated me. I plodded through the hallucinations, dialogues with Magda Goebbels and visits to a blind Nazi doctor.  Until I realized that this insanity is her reality and I decided that I would simply piggyback along. This brought me to the bodyguard of Hitler, a ghost of a Jewish woman that killed her children in prevention of the camps and a hawk-woman.

The parts about World War II are the most interesting, but like the parts about main character Margaret, don’t satisfy any question. Towards the end of the book, the author poses a question: ‘Would it tax the imagination to propose that Margaret was sane?’. Yes, it would, very much so and I don’t have any urge or sympathy to do so. I sighed a frustrated breath of release when I finished this book.

The history of history: a novel of Berlin,  Ida Hattemer-Higgins, Faber and Faber 2011

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 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.