Night Film

Everyone has a Cordova story, whether they like it or not.

Marisha Pessl loves her similes. Every subject and person gets a description added, no wonder that the book is so thick. After a while it gets noticeable, and – in my case – a bit annoying.

The first strike was having a male main character. I read female authors because they usually write female characters, and that thusly I don’t have to worry about a man mishandling/manhandling a woman and her life. Now I still have to read about the grumpy and socially disgraced male detective (oh wait, he’s a journalist).

Scott has a bucketload of issues, with casual sexism possibly the most annoying one. His side characters have the potential to be interesting, but never really get to be on the stage as a person.  Strike two.

The story in itself is pretty amusing, though. There’s a reclusive director with a cult-like following, a thin line between realistic horror and magical, all in a lush noir-light background. If there aren’t any movie/TV-plans yet, I can see them happening. Plenty of the similes can be dropped, the main plot is easily streamlined and there will be less time to navel-gaze for Scott. Everybody wins.

Night Film, Marisha Pessl, Random House 2013

The Locals

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

The Golden House

On the day of the new president’s inauguration, when we worried that he might be murdered as he walked hand in hand with his exceptional wife among the cheering crowds, and when so many of us were close to economic ruin in the aftermath of the mortgage bubble, and when Isis was still an Egyptian mother-goddess, an uncrowned seventy-something king from a faraway country arrived in New York City with his three motherless sons to take possession of the palace of his exile, behaving as if nothing was wrong with the country or the world or his own story.

The first #readathon book, my second Rushdie. I picked this book because a review made it sound like satire about the present American president. You could say that a character shows up with definite resemblance to the man, but he’s a side character of a side character. And with the actions of this president … there’s a thin line between satire and reality here.

So what is The Golden House about? The family Golden, rich immigrants come to New York City. They’re leprechaun gold, new money, and it mesmerises main character René, a (script) writer. Mesmerised turns into obsessed and entangled, which makes an exciting story, but makes several victims.

In the end you might agree with this being satire about the present American president, maybe not so much solely him, but also the world he came from and the inhabitants of that world who are sure that everything can be bought. The very rich society of Manhattan is almost as alien as creatures from a science fiction story, these just have more influence on our media and politicians.

The Golden House, Salman Rushdie, Random House 2017

Behold the Dreamers

He’d never been asked to wear a suit to a job interview.

First of all, I’d like to mention that this is a book from Oprah’s Book Club. Mostly because the ebook file I had, would mention it in the most random ways.

Anyway, I discovered that my Ottawa library had another online service, which finally got me this one. Express, so I had to finish it in seven days. I finished it in two.

Behold the Dreamers is about the American dreamers, the immigrants who enter the country (kind of) legally and overstay their welcome in hope of a better life for themselves and their family. Jende and Neni are from Cameroon, escaping their town because of disapproval of their relationship and with dreams of more. For such a long time things go well (there is a job, education, money shared left and right) that the reader can almost get comfortable; maybe this family is the one that will slip through.

The story plays out during the start of the financial crisis. With Jende being the chauffeur of a high up Wall Street man, it’s clearly shown that suffering can always reach another level. The book is so full of (naive) hope that it gets tougher and tougher to swallow that the dream may just stay that: a dream.

Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue, Random House 2016

The Devourers

My part in this story began the winter before winters started getting warmer, on a full-moon night so bright you could see your own shadow on an unlit rooftop.

This isn’t an easy one to review. It came with the disappointment that you expected something completely different, and therefore need some time to adjust to what you’re getting, instead of entering the story completely from page one.

And The Devourers needs your attention. It’s a collection of histories and experiences, but unedited, not cleaned up and filtered for the reader. If you want these stories, dig through the dirt through them.

The Devourers are werewolves, shapeshifters, skin walkers, whatever which people or culture call them. They move through history and one of them invites a human to join him – through his stories. There’s no romance or heroic mythology, these are the stories our ancestors might have told each other at the fire, as a warning for the darkness.

Looking back after a week, I’d say I do think I’d recommend this. If you’re open for a different version of fantasy and mythology, with a lot of meat, blood and grit.

The Devourers, Indra Das, Penguin Random House 2015

House of Names

I have been acquainted with the smell of death.

Like a Creative Writing exercise someone gave up on after a few hundred pages. Or fanfiction, but where’s the line between those two anyway?

Anyway. House of Names is about the characters in Agamennon’s story. His wife Clytemnestra, his daughters Electra and Iphigenia and son Orestes. The sacrifice of one of them leads to mayhem and disaster, and everyone but Iphigenia get to give their point of view on the aftermath of it.

And they do so, and it feels like the build up to regular fiction build on mythological and/or historical figures. But then it’s done. Turns out it’s a slice of life, a collection of character sheets, instead of the creation of a story.

Maybe I should have known seeing that it only had little over 100 pages (in my e-reader). You can pass this one in your search for historical fiction with familiar names.

House of Names, Colm Tóibín, Penguin Random House 2017

Snowflower and the Secret Fan

I am what they call in our village “one who has not yet died” – a widow, eighty years old.

I allowed myself another book in between the ones school wants me to read. As I started The Catcher in the Rye, I really needed it.

It probably couldn’t be more different from that novel if I’d consciously gone looking for it. Snowflower and the Secret Fan is in nineteenth century China, the main character a girl the reader follows into adulthood. Lily has the firm belief that she isn’t worth anything, solely by being a girl. She will be someone’s wife some day, someone’s mother some day, but herself? Just a burden.

Feet are still bound in that century, and Lily goes through it. Small, beautiful feet will make her chances for a husband better, for starters. Before that relationship is created by planners and family, another connection is laid: with a girl that will become her sister, her other half: ‘laotong‘. With her comes the fan from the title, and that fan is written in ‘nu shu, the women’s language.

And this way, Lily can share her story. There’s ordinary life and hopes and dreams, disease and disaster. Lisa See puts you on her door step, showing a historical reality so incredibly foreign to me.

The story is fiction, the elements used in it not. I’d recommend this for anyone interested in those that move within a women’s constraints. In China, this time.

Snowflower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See, Random House 2005