Utopia Avenue

Dean hurries past the Phoenix Theatre, dodges a blind man in dark glasses, steps onto Charing Cross road to overtake a slow-moving woman and pram, leaps a grimy puddle and swerves into Denmark Street where he skids on a sheet of black ice.

Utopia Avenue, David Mitchell, Sceptre 2020

I really think that David Mitchell is my favourite male author. While Utopia Avenue wasn’t my favourite (“yes, you did your homework when it comes to how music is created, I don’t really care”), it was still a book I spent my nights on opposed to the usual screen time.

It felt like it was a character study. Of people (in the music business) during a certain era in history, but also of the era itself. The USA and England can be compared to Cinderella and one of her siblings: young, fresh and exciting versus jealous drudgery.

Jasper de Zoet (as far as I know the first time Mitchell refers to characters from other novels) delivers the eerie, magical realistic touch to the story. Is he mentally unwell – and if so, in what way? – or is there more between hell and earth? I felt like it both lifted up and brought down the story. Any more would provide spoilers, and of course Mitchell manages to interweave it thusly that anything else wouldn’t have worked.

It’s a book like an opera: if those come with drug abuse, celebrity house parties and detailed descriptions of jam sessions. After having written this, I feel like reading it for a second time. Make of that what you will.

Rules of Civility

On the night of October 4th, 1966, Val and I, both in late middle age, attended the opening of Many Are Called at the Museum of Modern Art – the first exhibit of portraits taken by Walker Evans in the late 1930s on the New York City subways with a hidden camera.

Rules of Civility, Amor Towles, Sceptre 2011

As with my previous review, this novel can be summarised in one sentence. The characters however, can not.

Young woman in NYC 1940s moves up through class-levels while learning things about society and what she wants.

Just like in his following novel, Amor Towles manages to make a lot out of a little, without rocking any kind of boat in any way. A little less sofa, that’s all. You’re not completely detached, but never manage to break the surface either. Towles makes it feel like this is how he wants to be, in complete control of the story/stories.

It’s only about that, and do with it as you will. If you want.

The Chimes

I’ve been standing here forever.

Maybe just another case of bad timing, but this time I didn’t even bother finishing the book. Of course I feel slightly bad about that.

Maybe if I wouldn’t have had read Homegoing before, the difference wouldn’t have been so big. I was ready to be swept off my feet again, instead I had to push myself through unrecognisable clunks of ..probably what was supposed to have been plot.

The Chimes are a thing that turned England, or maybe the entirety of the UK, or the world – a thing that uses music to control people and make it unable for people to remember. Some manage to put their memories into objects, but it’s still hard to have a past.

So, there is a nice element to built a world upon, but why does it feel like the author was paid per word? Several times I felt like I was close to a clue, only to have the story going into another direction again. None of the characters had any pull on me, to cheer them on or dislike them. For a story littered with music related terms, the rhythm was completely off.

The Chimes, Anna Small, Sceptre 2015


A young man, young but not very young, sits in an anteroom somewhere, some wing or the other, in the Palace of Versailles.

Ik denk dat met boeken als deze mijn gebrek aan professionele recenseerervaring schrijnend duidelijk wordt. Ik heb echt geen idee hoe ik dit boek moet aanraden, maar ik denk dat het toch een boek is dat het lezen waard is.

Een ingenieur, eind achttiende eeuw, á Paris, moet een gesloten begraafplaats en bijbehorende kerk (op)ruimen. Snel, netjes en zonder dat omwonenden het doorkrijgen en er over gaan klagen, alstublieft.
De ingenieur denkt dat hij het aankan, wilt het heel graag aan kunnen, maar de omgeving, situatie en andere mensen die onderdeel van het gebeuren zijn, zorgen voor een minder-dan-soepel verloop.

Ergens is Pure een geschiedenisboek over de lelijker kantjes van ons verleden. Mijnwerk, doden(verwerking), (mentale) ongezondheid. Er is een vals gevoel van kabbelen, terwijl er toch nare rotsen onder het oppervlak liggen.

Pure, Andrew Miller, Sceptre 2011


The Boy Next Door

Two days after I turned fourteen the son of our neighbor set his stepmother alight.

A love story between black and white against the back drop of the rise and fall of Zimbabwe. Four hundred pages and a few decades to show that wishes and dreams aren’t enough to uphold reality.

Zimbabwe was the African country that was going to be a great success. They had the resources, they had a sane government, and in comparison to neighbor South Africa, changes went pretty swimmingly. Until they didn’t.

That Zimbabwe went from great to a corrupted, dangerous mess isn’t news (or so I hope). In how many ways it went wrong might be. The Boy Next Door shows the very human story of being judged by your history, your skin color and your gender. And even when you do share those treats with your family, loved ones or neighbors, it doesn’t mean that your life will be easier for it. That – even when outsiders (in this case a lot of French people) – try to help, it doesn’t necessarily has to give good, or even any, results.

It’s easy to forget that the majority of people in such countries are the ordinary ones that just want to live their lives with an education, a job, a family of their own. This book shows it without shoving it into your face.

The Boy Next Door, Irene Sabatini, Sceptre 2010


Night is my favourite time of day.

Chick-lit times coming-of-age times thriller. One of these things is slightly different from the others. Anna Davis almost completely manages to link them together without dropping a ball.

Kathryn likes variety. Or as she puts it: why eat pastrami every day when you can go to several different restaurants. This results in five relationships; one woman, four men. None of them know about each other and Kathryn fits her name and life to every person. When she’s not around them, her life is vacant, it’s just her job as cab driver.
When she meets another man, things start to trip up. She doesn’t want a sixth relationship, but he’s thorough. Two of her boyfriends are making a mess of their lives and the new man seems to be related to their problems. Kathryn can’t keep the balls in the air any more and – both literally and figuratively – crashes.

Kathryn realizes that this can’t go on. That there are too many ways in which she’s pulled and that you can’t save yourself if you’re too busy focusing on others. She tries to change her way of life, but not before discovering boyfriend number six isn’t quite who he said he was. She met her match.

Cheet is a quick read, cheeky but never superficial. Great for one of those long winter nights, for example.

Cheet, Anna Davis, Sceptre 2001

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

‘Miss Kawasemi?’

546 pagina’s en geen pagina te veel. Dat is knap. Jaren geleden was ik gecharmeerd door Cloud Atlas van dezelfde auteur. Dat en één positieve recensie in de Volkskrant was genoeg om dit boek aan te schaffen (iets dat ik minder dan één keer per jaar doe).

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet verhaalt over een groot aantal herfsten (geen duizend) van Zeelander Jacob de Zoet in Dejima. Hij is er als klerk voor de VOC,  want alleen met geld en faam zal hij een kans hebben op een huwelijk met Anna. De Zoet is dan wel de naamgever van het boek, maar in sommige delen van het verhaal is hij niet meer dan een element in de achtergrond of zelfs afwezig. TTAoJdZ toont een tijdsbeeld van het ‘exotische’ Japan, de (restanten van de) VOC en hoe multi-cultureel in die tijd heel anders werd behandeld. En dan is er ook nog de liefde.

David Mitchell schrijft heel gedetailleerd, schrikt niet weg om een bootlading aan karakters te introduceren en verplaatst van tijd tot tijd ook nog waar het afspeelt. Daardoor is er tijd nodig om gegrepen te worden door het boek, maar wanneer dat eenmaal is gebeurd, laat ze ook niet makkelijk los.

Tijd voor vrijmaken en lang van genieten dus. Zo makkelijk is het soms.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell, Sceptre 2010

Snake Ropes

The tall men in boats are coming.

I feel like a lot of this story went straight over my head. And I feel bad and a bit disappointed about that, because it has (/it looks like it has) enough elements to make reading Snake Ropes an amazing, slightly disturbing experience.

Snake Ropes tells the stories of Mary and Morgan. Mary lives on a small, sheltered-from-the-real-world, island. Her father trades with ‘the tall men’ and every family needs to hide their sons because it is thought the tall men take those with them. Morgan lives on the same island, but is even more sheltered because of the huge gate her unstable mother built around the house. Mary’s life starts to change when her brother is taken, while Morgan tries to find her way out of the gate, out of the jail that is her house. There are also talking keys, ropes that act like snakes, an alive house of punishment and a giant woman involved.

It takes Snake Ropes ’till around page 290 to start giving some less vaguer hints about what could have gone wrong. In a book with 342 pages, that is -for me- kinda late. I tried to cobble together what the relationship could be between Mary and Morgan, why the boys are leaving, how do the tall men fit in, but nothing. I’m very bad in just taking a story in, I want to get some kind of control over it. In this case I just felt too much like a bystander and that also made it harder to care about the characters, to not feel like I was struggling through the pages.

Maybe I’ll re-read it some day and understand. Maybe there is nothing to understand and it is simply a very tangled net and I should skip around the knots instead of trying to free them. But for now I am left behind with a taste of bewilderment and disappointment in my mouth.

Snake Ropes, Jess Richards, Sceptre 2012

Boxer Beetle

In idle moments I sometimes like to close my eyes and imagine Joseph Goebbels’ forty-third birthday party.

This book confused me. Luckily it had a lot to say about itself:

This is a novel for people with breeding.
Only people with the right genes and the wrong impulses will find its marriage of bold ideas and deplorable characters irresistible.
It’s a novel that engages the mind while satisfying those that crave the thrill of a chase. There are riots and sex. There is love and murder. There is Darwinism and Fascism, nightclubs, invented languages and the dangerous bravado of youth. And there are lots of beetles.
It is clever. It is distinctive. It is entertaining. We hope you are too.

Ned Beauman didn’t worry himself with using a clear layout that makes it easier for the reader to understand who’s point of view she’s following this time. And from time to time it is very weird and the reader might has to get used to the fact that she’s following fascists and that (if he/she isn’t one) opinions will clash. But on the other hand -yes it was entertaining and weird and bold and interesting. Read it if you want to read about a whole different world view, a way of life that existed not that long ago and/or Hitler beetles. Seriously.

Boxer Beetle, Ned Beauman, Sceptre 2010