Amal Unbound

I watched from the window as the boys tumbled out of the brick schoolhouse across the field from us.

This story sometimes feels a bit too much like those introductions to subjects in school books, but is enticing enough to not be bothered by that.

It’s a short story as well: I checked twice if I didn’t happen to download just the first book, or even an incomplete version (I’m so sorry library, it’s me that has the mistrust, not you that deserve it). In 166 pages Amal’s story is told.

She is a young teenager that lives in a small Pakistani village and dreams of becoming a teacher. Her entire life is turned upside down when she says no to a (blackmailing) landlord, moving her from future potential teacher to indentured servant.

This story is inspired by Malala Yousafzai, and as mentioned before, sometimes it shows. Through hardship this young girl learns things and acquires a new view of the world. For that second part (unless you come from a small Pakistani village as well), you should have a look at the novella.

Amal Unbound, Aisha Saeed, Penguin Books 2018

Run, Hide, Repeat

I was running along the Upper Blandford Road this morning, watching the little islands emerge from the morning mist, when I came upon a fisherman stacking lobster traps by his shed.

Truth again turns out to be stranger than fiction in this story that might make you repeatedly check if it really isn’t a dramatised/fictionalised version of events. That also means that pretty much everything I will put down here could be considered as spoilers, but at the same time you could look up the author and possibly learn the entire story without ever opening the book. Hm.

During a big part of her childhood, Pauline, her mother and her brother are on the run. She’s told why in her early twenties, but that doesn’t exactly put a halt to the running. There’s two large twists (do you call it twists when it happens in real life?) in this story, and Dakin writes with the right amount of insecurity (is it me, is this really happening?) to – as a reader – keep doubting things as well, even when rationale starts popping up.

This way it continues to feel like a slightly laughable and surreal story, instead of paint-by-numbers memoir of someone growing up in seventies Canada. The Mounties don’t even show up until the end.

So, you could read this one for several reasons. If you like memoirs, if you like truth-is-stranger-than-fiction, if you like a detective element without any detectives involved, if you want a slice of life view of seventies Canada.

Run, Hide, Repeat: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood, Pauline Dakin, Viking 2017

My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Whenever I woke up, night or day, I’d shuffle through the bright marble foyer of my building and go up the block and around the corner where there was a bodega that never closed.

This novel is an one woman on the ledge balancing act. The ledge here being ‘Is she terribly annoying or horribly sad?’. If it would have been a male protagonist, I would have given up on the book, but it’s not very often that women are allowed to be all of the above.

So what’s going on? The main character decides to sleep a year away, aided by a bucket load of medicine freely provided from possibly the worst psychiatrist in recent history. She seemingly has it all (money, looks), but none of it seem to satisfy or fill her in any way. There’s an ugly relationship with a so called friend, a permanent neglect from a man, orphan-hood. Basically, there’s no positivity and very little light in this life.

So, why read it? Because women can be absolute trash/go through periods of being absolute trash as well, and it’s not shown often enough. Because it’s an almost surreal trip through someone’s mind, and when there’s someone around living through worse things than you do, it definitely lights up your situation. Because it’s just kind of weird in an enthralling way, and that doesn’t happen (to me) often enough.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh, Penguin Press 2018

The Mars Room

Chain Night happens once a week on Thursdays.

I changed my mind about this novel pretty much every other chapter. Probably because I expected one person’s story and got several, with almost all of those not being interesting to me. I don’t care about the male prisoner when the book is marketed as being about a woman in a female prison.

Anyway. Every chapter is a facet of the story, some just muddier than others. It is about Romy, a female prisoner. It doesn’t just show her story, but the circumstances that got her there and life in prison. And neither of those things are pretty.

With every chapter there is a slight shift in style, which could be a compliment to the author, but again adds to the feeling of ‘Am I here for this?’. Quickly, the story turns out to be another version of life in prison: you slog through and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner, Scribner 2018

The Underground Railroad

The first time Caesar approached Cora about running north, she said no.

Watching the series Underground, The Knick and than reading this book, gives you a triangle of black American history. If you’re not a complete dunce, you can recognise that these three are slavery-related, because that’s a large part of black American history. And as I often ask myself with books about ugly subjects; why should you read it? Don’t we know already?

This time the underground railroad to the saver surroundings up north is really an underground railroad, but that doesn’t make an escape easier. Main character Cora is followed through different states and escapes, and even when it looks safe, it doesn’t mean it is. Sometimes the violence against black people is written down so detached, it’s easy to believe all the slavery-wasn’t-horrible stories some people still try to taut. Only for this author to proof them wrong, again and again. This book isn’t just about the violence, it’s about the impact on human lives.

The railroad gives it a slightly fantastical shade, but an escape is an escape, whatever way used. Sometimes the author veers off a little in style, rails to a dead end, but Cora’s story needs to be seen through.

And if people know already, even about South Carolina, even about the mass sterilisations, maybe they can just pass this story on for those that don’t.

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead, Doubleday 2016

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

The Last Mrs. Parrish

Amber Patterson was tired of being invisible.

This was insanely fun, until it got serious, and then luckily got fun again. A story like a roller-coaster, no matter how big a cliche that is. It’s fast, gets a bit scary/ugly at some times, and gives you no break from it.

It starts out with Amber, who’s planning to take a rich woman’s husband and with that, a woman’s life. Take over, there’s no need for murder, although Amber definitely has some murderous thoughts from time to time. She feels grossly neglected by faith and luck and life, so honestly – shouldn’t she grab whatever she can?

Then there’s Daphne Parrish, the delicate rose whom refuses to recognise how good she’s got it, no matter how often she says she does. It’s easy to view Amber as a bit of an angry Robin Hood, but the Constantine sisters (the author exists out of a duo) flip that around, having the reader end up in the ugly part.

And all this with such a tempo that it feels like the story is being poured straight into your brain. I honestly can’t remember downsides to it; it just leaves you with such a ‘FUCK YEAH’ feeling that blemishes are blown away.

The Last Mrs. Parrish, Liv Constantine, Harper Collins 2017