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

A Place for Us

As Amar watched the hall fill with guests arriving for his sister’s wedding, he promised himself he would stay.

Finally, a story that grabbed me again. One of those that makes you ache for the characters involved, making you wish that you could reach out to them and shake some sense into them.

At first, I got a bit frustrated by the lack of chronology; a story line is never finished before a memory (from another character) intervenes. It took me until much later that this is how humans work: our bodies might follow a chronology, our minds are always connecting things to thoughts past and future dreams. You learn so much about this family because of all the things they remember, worry about and wish for. But gosh darn it, why don’t they justĀ TALK to each other?

Maybe it’s because it’s a Muslim family that uses their traditions as a wall, a shield and a safety net. Maybe it’s because they’re immigrants in the USA, some of them growing up during and after 9/11. Maybe it’s culture and surroundings and character and fears.

But gosh darn it, do you root for them. Do you wish for more pages to set things right, because surely a happy ending is in order here. Until then, you’re stuck with a lump in your throat.

A Place for Us, Fatima Farheen Mirza, Penguin Random House 2018

A Simple Favor

119 min.

Batshit crazy, pretty much the entire story and the people involved. But in such a stupidly entertaining way.

a simple favor posterBesides that, there’s jealousy-inducing wardrobes involved, Anna Kendrick showing that she can act and that Blake Lively can’t play anything other than the Serena Woodsen – good thing her character isn’t the emotional type.

Super mom Stephanie befriends super cool aloof power woman (whom happens to be a mom as well) Emily. Emily has some weird habits, but look at the house and the outfits and the martinis! And then she goes missing.

During what follows, pretty much everyone is a suspect, red herrings and embellishments are thrown out left and right, and the women are well dressed (and Henry Young’s character as well).

Could all this have been cut down to a brighter Gone Girl? Very probably, but the two hours would have been far too much then. Better to just keep it as a sugar rush roller-coaster.

A Simple Favor, Lionsgate 2018

The Rules of Magic

Once upon a time, before the whole world changed, it was possible to run away from society, disguise who you were, and fit into polite society.

It’s the book that your mother loves. Or, like, the book the mothers love in movies about small, sleepy towns and antagonists that dream about a more exciting life but are told by those mothers that you shouldn’t want that because look what could happen. If someone would have told me that this book was written in the nineties, I would have believed it. It’s absolutely stale, and I don’t even mean this in a very negative way, but just because it feels like you’ve seen this movie a hundred times already. It’s comfortable, but never thrilling.

The Rules of Magic is the (“long awaited”) prequel to Practical Magic, which was a book before it was a movie with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock. Both are about a family of witches, The Rules is just a few decades earlier, so you get New York city of the sixties and seventies, which might be one of the things that make the story appealing. The Owens family is cursed to destroy those they love, so it’s moping about that, destroying (unwittingly) and avoiding anything remotely looking like love. Although it seems to only be about romantic love, else there wouldn’t have been a family at all.

Anyway, there’s nothing wrong about this book, it’s not just very exciting. I wasn’t eager to read on and stay up late, and it’s been a while since I had that with a book which might have made me more impatient.

The Rules of Magic, Alice Hoffman, Simon & Schuster 2017