Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

When people ask me what I do–taxi drivers, hairdressers–I tell them I work in an office.

Seems like my streak of entertaining and enthralling reads is still going on. Hurray for making the right decisions!

Some people told me that this was a romance, making me frown a bit when getting to know Eleanor Oliphant. First of all, she isn’t in the right state of mind for a romance, secondly, a romance with whom? Do women always need a romantic relationship to show personal growth?

Luckily those people were wrong, Eleanor shows growth because she has to and wants to, and -gasp- is allowed a relationship with a man that isn’t a romantic one. Apologies, that’s a mild spoiler.

As I say so often: if this would have been written by a male author, and the protagonist male, it might have been viewed as Deep and slice-of-life instead of the quick rejection of calling it chicklit because it involves women living life. Eleanor Oliphant showcases character building, motivations and lessons learned without any of it being obnoxious. While being funny from time to time as well.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman, Viking 2017

Young Jane Young

My dear friend Roz Horowitz met her new husband through online dating and Roz is three years older and fifty pounds heavier than I am, and people have said that she is generally not as well preserved, and so I thought I would try it even though I avoid going online too much.

Someone told me that this was “similar to the Monica Lewinsky story, but from Lewinksy’s point of view”. It is, except you don’t just get the victim’s view, but also her mother’s, her daughters, and of the wife of the cheating politician. This little difference took some time adjusting to.

But when you do, you not only get a ‘behind the scenes’ view of the Jewish community (through the mother and grandmother), but also a take-no-prisoners view on how this relationship and its falling outs should have been handled, opposed to how it had been handled.

Also surprising; none of the characters are dealt softening characteristics and/or circumstances to support their motivations. Women make stupid decisions as well, and do or don’t suffer the consequences. Women can hate and despise each other, men (can) stay assholes.

It’s refreshing in a slightly bitter way.

Young Jane Young, Gabrielle Levin, Viking 2017

The Painted Boy

The boy had finally fallen asleep.

I’m pretty sure the last time I read a Charles de Lint novel was before I started this blog, but Widdershins impressed me so much that from time to time I’d still check if I could find more of his in my libraries. The Painted Boy is clearly for younger audiences, providing a more accessible but less eerie, dream like and wonderful story (if those aren’t nostalgia goggles).

The Painted Boy from the title is Jay Li, a teenager that has a large dragon on his back (not tattooed) and is sent off to unfamiliar territory to finish his studies. Jay is part dragon, and will have to do something he won’t know until he’ll experience/see/know it.

Good thing (“”) he ends up in a town held hostage by different kinds of gangs. Of course he has to learn to become one with the dragon and his surroundings, but hey, all this was part of the learning curve, after all.

The magical elements add the necessary spice, else it would have been an oatmeal kind of story: okay for everyone, but nobody’s first pick.

The Painted Boy, Charles De Lint, Viking 2010

A Gentleman in Moscow

APPEARANCE OF COUNT ALEXANDER ILYICH ROSTOV BEFORE THE EMERGENCY COMMITTEE OF THE PEOPLE’S COMMISSARIAT FOR INTERNAL AFFAIRS

This was a book like a sofa. I feel like I’ve used this compliment before, which means that I have to go start looking for a new comparison. But spacious, comfortable and easy to stay put in.

Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is a Former Person in the Soviet Union, which basically means that he’s part of all that was awful before the enlightened bolsheviks showed up. Because he wrote an amazing, wonderful, beautiful poem, they can’t just depart him. Instead, they tell him he can’t ever again leave the hotel he’s been staying  in (logical!).

And that’s where the book plays out, in a hotel. But luckily, not just any hotel. And the Count isn’t just any ordinary man. Time moves, people come and go, the Soviet changes, but the gentleman in Moscow is there.

I have yet to find a book involving Russia that doesn’t fascinate slash baffle me. This is one man’s story, this is a part of history. While being an appealing reason to sit down.

A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles, Viking 2016

The Collaborator

Captain Kadian takes a large swig from his glass tumbler, closes his eyes for a moment, smacks his lips and says, ‘The job’s not that hard, you see, you just go down once a week or fifteen days, and the money, the money is not bad at all.’

I really wanted to like this. Looking back a few days later, I appreciate the story and the story telling, but while reading it, it couldn’t hold my focus.

The story is about the nineties war in Kashmir, and the young man left behind to take care of the remains. Literally. Where others have left to fight (for India/against India), the headman’s son has the job of taking identity cards from dead bodies. He feels left behind, he feels like a failure, he lives in less than a ghost town.

So what was it that didn’t click with me? Maybe the endless dreariness, the weight of everything going on. It’s not like the prose is dull, uninspired or repetitive, but it does push you into the tightening corner of the main character’s despair.
Maybe I simply read it after the wrong book, maybe I just couldn’t handle the story.

The Collaborator, Mirza Waheed, Viking 2011

A Delicate Truth

On the second floor of a characterless hotel in the British Crown Colony of Gibraltar, a lithe, agile man in his late fifties restlessly paced his bedroom.

As Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is by the same author (only watched the movie, didn’t read the book), there should be little surprise that I felt like putting A Delicate Truth in the same category of detective stories. This is not a detective like Bond, Bourne or even Holmes. A Delicate Truth got probably put into the detective category because of – well, detective work. With secret files, hidden conversations, hierarchies in hierarchies, doubtful authorities and a lot of talking and bluffing.

There is a very secret project, hidden so deep that the minister of the ministry it falls under, doesn’t even know about it. But no such thing as a real, deeply hidden secret in this age, and people both inside, outside and ex-government start pulling threads.

A Delicate Truth lacks (“lacks”) car chases, knuckle fights or seductive beautiful ladies. Honestly, there’s just a lot of reading. Story lines old and new to follow, with some double identities added for a bit of a challenge. Frankly, it feels like this is an ‘old school’, English Library Chesterfield couches detective novel. And that’s nice, for a change.

A Delicate Truth, John Le Carré, Viking 2013

Short Girls

After Miles left, Van began checking the security alarm every time she entered the house.

What’s the difference between chick-lit and a story about two sisters and their careers, love-lives and family connections? Okay, there can be big differences when the one genre refuses to act like women are individuals with a multidimensional character, but that’s bad writing, not a genre problem.

Anyway, Short Girls. Two Asian-American sisters who stumble through life, love, family and career while trying to discover why they drifted apart. Their father is the unwelcome thing that binds them, continues to bring them together because of his needs, his inventions, his struggles as a short man and as an immigrant.

Besides the very recognizable (daily) things, Nguyen shows the strange world of being a minority, always knowing that the first judgment will be on your not-of-the-majority looks. Even for the American born sisters there are several extra layers of being different.

Short Girls gives a nice insight into the life of at the same time remarkable and ordinary women.

Short Girls, Bich Minh Nguyen, Viking 2009