Obernewtyn

In the days following the holocaust, which came to be known as the Great White, there was death and madness.

Finally some oldskool fantasy-ing. That’s not on the book of course, I just feel that you can only read so many unlikely-hero-in-medieval-inspired-settings stories before starting to compare them. At least contemporary and/or urban gives you a spot-the-similarities option.

Anyway, Obernewtyn. Recommended by a patriotic Australian who said that if I wanted more (fantasy) female authors in my life, that I couldn’t ignore Isobelle Carmody. Carmody started writing at a young age and this book shows that it’s not just for children, but also by a child. The sentences are simple, the hints and messages clear. It takes a while to get to the plot, but if you hang on there is an entertaining world to be found. With an unlikely hero.

In a post-apocalyptic world there are mutants, Misfits. You don’t want to be one, because the Council doesn’t like them. Main character Elspeth, already on the low side of society as an orphan, is discovered to be one, and shipped off to Obernewtyn, where the master is interested in curing them. Or so they say.

Nasty characters, strange friends, telepathic animals and hidden plans to take over make up the more colourful, appealing side of things. Combine that with an eighties cover and a traditional map, and you have your shot of easy-breezy-as-it-should-be fantasy for the month. If I’m going to stick around for the other six books of the series? Not sure yet. There is a To Read List to work through, after all.

Obernewtyn, Isobelle Carmody, Penguin Books 1987

Three Day Road

We walk through the snow, follow our trail out to the traplines by the willows. 

Usually I take my time between reading books by the same author, especially when the themes are similar. But if someone offers you the book you want to read.. why not? So Boyden and a story of the First Nations People, again.

This time it’s the Great War, World War One. The reader doesn’t only get the terrors of massacre and destruction, but also the alienated experience of being the other, only allowed around because it’s necessary. War is a beast that doesn’t mind who its fed on, after all.

It’s Nephew’s story, on and off the battlefields, before and after. It’s Auntie’s/Niska’s story, a woman alien within her own. Stories are what bind them, stories, beautiful and brutal, are what the reader gets.

The person told me that Boyden’s other work was better, was right. There’s no room for air or boredom in Three Day Road, repetition prevented by devolution and destruction of characters and land.

I’m really going to leave Boyden be for now, but I’m glad that I gave him a second chance.

Three Day Road, Joseph Boyden, Penguin Books 2005

Just In Case

The view is fine up here.

Dit was helemaal niet wat ik had verwacht. Er was geen kafttekst en geen bonnetje aan de binnenkant maar ach, het stond in de YA kast en de eerste pagina sprak best aan. Kom maar op dan, het kan alleen maar tegenvallen. En verrassen dus, op het onaangename af.

David maakt iets mee waardoor hij er van overtuigd raakt dat Het Lot het op hem gemunt heeft. Hij verandert zijn naam (Justin) en zijn kledingstijl in de hoop onder de radar te blijven. Een onzichtbare hond en instabiele relaties volgen. Voor een lange tijd laat Rosof het onduidelijk of Justin nu gek is, gelijk heeft, of mentaal aan het lijden is.

Wat wel frappant is, is hoe bijna heel zijn omgeving toelaat dat hij steeds verder ontravelt. Zijn ouders hebben een baby, dus dat hun oudste bij andere mensen slaapt en zijn naam heeft gewijzigd? Och. De ouders van een vriend waar hij blijft? Oh, ja hoor. Niemand die eens tijd investeert in die arme jongen. Behalve zijn jongere broertje, maar die wordt door niemand begrepen.

Het is ruwer en ongemakkelijker en verdrietiger dan verwacht van “maar een YA”, bijna thriller-achtig om sommige momenten. Voor de meer robuuste lezer.

Just In Case, Meg Rosoff, Penguin Books 2006

The Orenda

We had magic before the crows came.

My first (consciously experienced) Canadian author, very probably the first story I read about the First Nations People. Now that I’m in Canada I feel kind of obliged to know more about the history of the country, and what better way than to discover it through (fictional) stories?

The Orenda tells about ‘New France’ and its influence on the native people of the country in the seventeenth century. Also known as colonialism, European diseases wiping out populations and destroying land and communities. We view this happening through three story tellers: Snow Falls, a daughter from an enemy tribe, taken. Bird, an important man in his community and the one that adopts her to fill the place that the deaths of wife and children left. And Christophe, the Jesuit priest that so very desperately wants “those sauvages” to come to the light that’s God.

It’s not an easy story to read, and not just because as the reader you know only how much more destruction will follow. Boyden starts out very strong and appealing, but seems to get lost near the middle of the book. Situations start to feel repetitive, and, even though I understand that we have to learn about the scary fundamentalism of the white saviour, Christophe’s chapters start to drag like he’s lost in a desert.

The Orenda is loosely a part of a trilogy, and I have already been told that the other two are (much, much) better. In this case, there’s still enough interest to give an author another chance. And maybe The Orenda can be edited in the meantime.

 

The Orenda, Joseph Boyden, Penguin Groups 2013

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda

It’s a weirdly subtle conversation.

It’s always a risk to accept a recommendation from someone you don’t know their reading history of. But curiosity is a powerful thing.

Simon is gay and nobody knows, except for an e-mail contact. And except for Martin, who discovers the e-mails and starts to, awkwardly, sloppily, blackmail him.

The reader reads about Simon’s thoughts, daily lives and his e-mails with Blue. He’s a very put together teen, with insights that sometimes made me wonder if teenagers can come up with them. On the other hand there are plenty of fears and doubts and cock ups that will probably cause you secondhand embarrassment (because of how recognizable it is).

It’s nothing mind blowing, and for someone that gets some subjects very right (privilege, trans* people), there is the same time a bothersome misogyny that the author could have prevented. YA that’s best for teenagers, who still have to learn.

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli, Penguin Books 2015

Villa Pacifica

Ute was not just well travelled, she was professionally well travelled.

Isabel Allende like indeed. Or Gabriel Garcia Marques, or any other author that bases magic realism in South America. Villa Pacifica is a sticky, sweaty, uncomfortable small story that builds up like a tropical storm.

Ute writes and edits travel guides. Her husband is with her this time, and they find a hidden away park, a community, a paradise. It’s luxurious and private in surroundings that are empty and poor, and it’s a retreat in every sense of the word. Ute’s husband – Jerry – immediately takes to it, becomes inspired by it and its people, but it takes a heavy toll on Ute. When the storm finally arrives (is it a real storm?), things fall apart messily and violently.

This wasn’t a story I could read in one go. From the start, it starts to itch and build up under your skin, everyone’s discomfort so very potent and present. It’s the feverish feeling of The Heart of Darkness combined with your growing disbelief that will keep you turning pages. It’s a winter read because you’re going to need the cold to cool off and get back to reality again, but don’t read it near dark: the jungle may still get too close then.

Villa Pacifica, Kapka Kassabova, Penguin Books 2010

The Age of Innocence

On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.

Het was weer eens tijd voor een klassieker. En omdat ik graag vrouwen in de literatuur steun (en het toneelstuk kende door een Gossip Girl aflevering), viel mijn oog op deze.

Zoals veel “oude” verhalen, gaat het helemaal over high society, low society en society. Wie doet wat en waarom en hoe durven ze het om zo’n schaamte te zijn voor hun familie/familienaam/omgeving. Wat misschien wel een twist is dat de hoofdpersoon deze keer een man is, in plaats van een jongedame.

Een oude bekende verlaat haar man en komt vanuit Europa terug naar New York. De hoofdpersoon is enthralled, maar al verloofd. En Ellen is tenslotte toch nog getrouwd, want scheiden is niet netjes. Terwijl we in een tijd leven waarin we nog met nadruk boeken met mannelijke emoties ‘manlit’ noemen, was Edith Wharton haar tijd ver vooruit. Elke twijfel over prestige, imago en samenleving komen langs.

En ze verrast ook met de verloop van het verhaal, waardoor in een zee van ‘Zo was het leven in eeuw [X]’, The Age of Innocence er toch echt uitspringt.

The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton, Penguin Books 1920

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically.

Voor de lijst met klassieken. Lady’s Chatterley’s Lover was zo shockerend voor zijn tijd dat er rechtzaken over waren. Er werd niet alleen seks in beschreven (buiten een huwelijk), maar ook nog uit haar perspectief en dan genoot ze er nog van ook. Oei.

Het verhaal is simpel. Een jongedame (Constance) trouwt met een lord na een redelijk frivool leven. Voor ze aan haar zaken kan beginnen als lady of the house (damesachtig zijn, kinderen baren), krijgt haar man een ongeluk waardoor hij verlamd raakt. Met een achtergrond van casual contacten realiseert Constance zich dat het landgoed en haar man steeds meer in een gevangenis veranderen die haar noden niet kunnen bevredigen. Gelukkig is daar Oliver, de opzichter.

D.H. Lawrence toont een zo’n gedetailleerde wereld dat zijn karakters er bijna in weg vallen. Ik wil liever naar zijn Venetië dan Constance of Oliver ontmoeten. Constance’s lot is sneu, maar ik was niet echt met haar begaan en moest zelf enige moeite doen om het einde te herinneren.

In deze editie waren rechtspapieren toegevoegd, waardoor de laatste pagina’s voor de kaft toch nog een beetje pittig werden. Lady’s Chatterley’s Lover is bijna een bladerboek om sfeer mee op te snuiven. Groots en meeslepend wordt het niet.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence, Penguin Books 1960

Paper Towns

The way I see it, every person gets a miracle.

Another YA novel that doesn’t need fantasy elements to stay upright or trigger any emotions (usually frustration). Basically a YA novel from before the time that Young Adult was synonymous to covers with mopey witch teens and love-triangles involving vampires and/or mermaids.

Paper Towns is about plain teenagers who suffer from unrequited love, feel lost and directionless and try hard because they feel like they have to, instead of because they want to. Protagonist Quentin is an inbetweener – not a loser, nor a winner. Some friends, but not a lot. Not exactly sure what he wants in life and rather floats than battles currents. Margo Roth Spiegelman is everything that he isn’t, adventurous and popular. She’s also his neighbour,  possibly love of his life and after one shared night full of adventure, she disappears.

At first Quentin tries to continue with his life, she’ll come back and he’s just a neighbour to her anyway. But then he starts finding hints and something takes him. He has to find Margo. What follows is an endearing trip through known and unknown surroundings. Quentin discovers that everyone has a different version and he becomes less sure if he wants to find Margo’s version of Margo.

Especially that – the who are we when we’re alone, who are we surrounded by others –  lifted this book from road trip to coming of age, getting to see the familiar from strange angles and handling disappointment. The people in these books are real humans, and that’s refreshing and frustrating at the same time.

Paper Towns, John Green, Penguin Group 2008

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