Trust Exercise

Neither can drive.

Trust Exercise, Susan Choi, Henry Holt and Company 2019

What an utter load of twatwaffle no doubt disguised as High Literature because there is a load of teens fucking in it, it described in all kind of visuals and all this done by a female author.

What a disappointment. This is one of those titles that drew my eye, lost my attention because of the summary, only to regain it because of a solid review – I think (I can’t even remember). This isn’t just a love story between different worlds, there is A Twist and boy – hold onto your panties for that one! When does the twist happen? In the last forty pages out of the 250. Is it satisfying and/or satisfyingly explained? No. Are there any explanations for the behaviour of these Cool Guys and Girls? Barely. Is all this written in such a way that you understand that this is DEEP? Sadly, yes.

Boo, I hate such a severe disappointment. The twist could have done something, but I was browbeaten into absolutely passive not-caring long before that. Yes, I’m going to make a bad pun to finish this off: this trust exercise failed massively.

The Cat Returns

75 min.

This might be my favourite Studio Ghibli. It’s less breath-taking in how it looks and how diversely weird the characters are, but I guess that it also makes it more accessible. Or that could be because it’s ‘just’ 75 minutes instead of the studio’s habit to go for two hours and over.

Is this a children’s film? I wouldn’t know, aren’t all of them? The style is of pastels and little chuckles, but with enough barbs for the viewer to scratch their head. Possibly.

Studio Ghibli

Sweet girl Haru risks her own life to save a cat. Turns out that that cat is a prince, and his father decides that Haru deserves eternal gratitude. Oh, and his son’s hand in marriage, because why not.

Haru is – understandably – a tad confused and rather doesn’t marry a cat. Good thing she gets help from an unlikely angle, and the catty balance is evened out.

The Cat Returns feels more traditionally like a fairy tale than other Studio Ghibli creations, and there’s less gruesome looks and characters. Maybe you should view it as an introduction to the studio. It will also help with preventing you from feeling slight frustration about every main female character from the studio looking the same, but maybe it’s already too late for that.

Mexican Gothic

The parties at the Tuñóns’ house always ended unquestionably late, and since the hosts enjoyed costume parties in particular, it was not unusual to see Chinas Poblanas with their folkloric skirts and ribbons in their hair arrive in the company of a harlequin or a cowboy.

Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Del Rey 2020

It’s always tricky to read a hyped book, I’ve mentioned this before. Is it a hype because people jumped on the band wagon, or does it really deserve all praise?

I wanted to say that I don’t know with this one, but I think I do. The promo laid it on thick that for once this wasn’t a Latin-American author writing magic-realism and that her scares were genuine. Magic-horror, terror, gothicness! I, far from a fan of horror, was curious because of the denial. I understand – no-one wants to be cornered as a one-trick-pony, but why not promote the story if it was So Different Than Any Other?

Maybe because it isn’t. Noémi moves to a scary, old house far away from civilisation to help a cousin that sent her a nerve-wrecking letter. Is it abuse, is it gas lighting or is it [add drums here] something else?

I won’t answer that question, but will say that Moreno-Garcia takes her time for a build-up only to throw everything at you in the last fifty pages.

It’s a nice roller-coaster ride, but nothing we haven’t experienced before.

Conservation of Shadows

It is not true that the dead cannot be folded.

Conservation of Shadows, Yoon Ha Lee, Prime Books 2020

Now that’s what I call fantasy. Or scifi. Maybe both. Either way, there is fantasy and there is science (fiction) and it’s mind boggling, eerie and beautiful (not just for linguistic and/or math enthusiasts either). Eat that, tropes.

Conservation of Shadows is a collection of (short) stories previously published by the author. It’s about colonialism, wars, music, writing, reincarnation or maybe only death.

Especially the first five – six stories tickled my imagination, but even when you get used to Lee’s style and subject choice the originality stays with you.

My only complaints are that some stories deserve entire novels and that – for an e-book – it’s almost too much, too dense. Experience this relic from a future time through paper, I’d advice.

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.

Unreliable narrators and obsession

They must think I don’t have long left, because today they allow the vicar in.

Bitter Orange, Claire Fuller, Fig Tree 2018

I first saw Freya at my high school.

The Swap, Robyn Harding, Simon & Schuster 2020

New template, new way of posting? I read the second book to have something different from the first (because my previously planned book was also in a historic setting), turns out I got another portion of unreliable narrator and obsessive behaviour. Oh, well.

All protagonists are female, how often does the combination of unreliable narrator and obsession happens with male characters? Frances is close to forty, while Low and Jamie are a teen and a thirty-something. The set time period is different as well, but both books end in murder (or do they?).

The Bitter Orange covers up the thriller/mayhem part better, masquerading for a long time as a story of a woman as exciting as a dry black bean in technicolour surroundings. She has to evaluate gardens of a neglected mansion and finds people who have to do something similar, but don’t really do it. They make her think that she could be technicolour, instead.

The Swap on the other hand starts out with a clear manipulator; an ex-social media influencer for Pete’s sake. She twists everyone around her pinky finger, but some you don’t want around your pinky or other body parts…

Both stories have appealingly-written surroundings, dramatic characters and don’t attempt to make you root for them. It’s train wrecks waiting to happen, with an extra point to The Bitter Orange for a more subtle lead-up to the twist.

Neither are stories that will end up on your Best Of-list (probably), but they’re good for what they attempt to be.

The Animators

Introduction to Sketch was held in Prebble Hall, a building Professor McIntosch called “Ballister’s dirtiest secret” during our first class.

The turn around on this novel is incredibly impressive. It took me three – four chapters to change my mind about abandoning it, it’s incredibly ugly and depressive and scary and I think I’m even angry after(/about?) finishing it. It’s also one of those books you just want to press upon everyone just to see if they had the same experience, if it can touch different people in the same way.

Its ugli- and darkness might be its winning element, it creating a story that dumps you outside of daily life and makes you wonder how you can ever participate again. It isn’t ugly like a Gillian Flynn-creation, no murder here. It’s the way in which women are even less shown in fiction: dark and bitter and scared and a myriad of bad decisions while being bottomless wells of imagination and creativity.

This book isn’t to be summarised; it would fall incredibly short while at the same time preparing you for something it isn’t. To me, it was confrontational about daring to create and to create all – not just the cute stuff. About family and friendship and identity in an USA that made never have felt more filthy.

It’s a blast, it’s a terror. Read it so we can discuss.

The Animators, Kayla Rae Whitaker, Random House 2016

The Far Field

I am thirty years old and that is nothing.

This library haul had a 75 percent success rate, with The Far Field being the concluding chapter (heh) of that rate.

And – as it sometimes is with good stories – with this one it’s hard to put into words what exactly is good about it. It’s not like the naive, spoiled protagonist is easy to love, nor are the other characters particularly likeable. The plot could well be called Eat Pray Love with poverty tourism, so honestly, Madhuri Vijay had the stacks against her.

But there’s so much humanity in these characters and their stories. The randomness of things, people and situations brought together and bringing the worst or the best out in each other. You could say that the protagonist leaves a trail of destruction behind, but does she even have that kind of power? What is there to destruct in a war zone?

This book is coming of age, a rapport of ordinary life in contested country, a confrontation with bias. It’s written in such an appealing way that sometimes the plot arrives second because you’re just enjoying the words.

It’s good.

The Far Field, Madhuri Vijay, Grove Press 2019

This Lovely City

The basement club spat Lawrie out into the dirty maze of Soho, a freezing mist settling over him like a damp jacket.

The pretty cover will definitely throw you off: this isn’t a light, bubbly story about a fabulous time in black music history. This is a novel about black British history, and there’s little prettiness about that.

Jamaicans are ‘invited’ to come to the motherland, but England isn’t a loving mother. Black people are denied on every level of daily living, and when a baby is found, police and white citizens take it as an excuse to go full out racist.

Louise Hare shows the endless fear and frustration as well, making you move from ‘Why not just go back?’ to ‘Why don’t you stand up for yourself?’ and ‘Why is everybody such a wanker?’. Lawrie doesn’t want much in life, but because he’s black there’s a lot of people out there that actively sabotage him.

The Empire Windrush and their people aren’t fiction, nor was their treatment of them. So even though this is an interesting look at London after the Second World War, there’s no fun and bubbles to be found here.

This Lovely City, Louise Hare, House of Anansi Press 2020

The Body in Question

“When that door opens, sign out.

Sometimes I feel like I subconsciously read in trends. Recently I seem to be on the “Oh, the ending is already here?”-kick. Definitely not a conscious decision: I don’t like those kind of stories.

This novel is pretty two-dimensional, anyway. Not necessary because of the characters or the plot, just the feel of it. Nothing touched me, it’s just there. Maybe that’s the right fit for the protagonist, maybe that’s why it has such an ending as well, but instead I felt like even the small investment I had was a waste of it.

Should I have gotten insights on the American law system? On how women can feel rudderless and make bad decisions? Or is the story just there to make the reader slightly uncomfortable and feeling defeated?

The body in question is probably not the one in the probable murder case the protagonist is in a jury for. Maybe it’s hers, maybe it’s her husband’s, maybe it’s her body of work? I don’t care enough to ponder it.

The Body in Question, Jill Ciment, Pantheon Books by Penguin Random House LLC 2019