After the Party

When I came out of prison my hair was white.

When we don’t learn from history something something repeat something something. Who would have thought that a book about fascism would be all too relevant again in the twenty-first century? Look, it even has women and children being brainwashed through children and ‘good people’ while parroting that above all “it’s about patriotism!”.

The title can be interpreted in two ways, I realise only now. Protagonist Phyllis returns to England when the second world war is just a spot on the horizon. She joins her sisters in a world of high(er) society, and so what if there’s stories about a very charismatic Leader whose party will take care of making Great Britain greater (I kid you not)? Parallels, anyone?

The time-hopping kind of spoils how Phyllis’ story goes, and I would have appreciated more focus on details about this “patriotic” party and their place in society. Now it’s mostly a slice-of-life look of a certain people and how easily they step into the “we just want the best (for people like us)” trap. A study of humanity – and their refusal to learn from history.

After the Party, Cressida Connolly, Viking Press 2018

Booksmart

102 min.

What a surprise: female teenagers can be shortsighted, crude and bad decision makers as well! With this film coming from the people behind Superbad and similar material, I was honestly a bit surprised that there weren’t more nudity, body-parts, and/or poop related jokes.

Booksmart posterIn Booksmart two very devoted school-going and study-religious female teenagers and best friends are shocked when they discover that you don’t need to deny yourself a life to achieve the best grades and highest accolades. Even students that *party* turn out to have great grades, which means that the two feel like they’ve wasted their high school years and need to correct it before university. Luckily there are plenty end-of-the-year parties, and a party is what will change everything (they’re still teens, after all).

What follows are American Mr. Bean-like situations that sometimes go on too long, but at the very least gives the young women involved (and one man) room to show that they’re people with flaws and ups and downs and that sometimes you have to do something to discover if it’s someone you are/want to be or not.

That’s also what gives the film its charm: stereotypes are (slightly) dismantled and there are enough believable situations and actions that won’t make you wonder how far away writers are distanced from teenagers and high school.

Booksmart, Annapurna Pictures 2019

The Lonely Hearts Hotel

On that day in 1914, a young girl banged on the door of the Hôpital de la Miséricorde in Montreal.

Boy, does this author love her metaphors like a dog likes a bone. Don’t use them as a drinking game, you will end up in the hospital. Even though it’s becoming quite noticeable after a while, I have to admit that they add to the fairy-tale like feeling this story already has. The development and rise of orphans in Great Depression North America, involving clowns and mobsters, maybe they deserve a metaphor every other sentence.

Main characters are Pierrot and Rose and share the chapters whenever they are together or apart. They’ve got very different views on life and what they want from it; making the fairy-tale like feeling disappear before it can give a (happy) end.

Besides that, there’s the surroundings this plays out in. Montreal with its alive snow, New York with the buildings full of possibilities and risks. It’s all written very visually, which neatly distracts from the small plot holes or just hiccups it provides. This story is pretty and enticing; everything else is subordinate to it.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O’Neill, Riverhead Books 2018

Normal People

Marianne answers the door when Connell rings the bell.

I should have known that an impatient wait would only lead to disappointment, but I guess such repetitious mistakes make you human. This novel got plenty of accolades, but the summary didn’t particularly appeal me. After one review – one I didn’t even recognise the previous summaries read in – I changed my mind. Blow me away, Rooney.

There was no blowing away, only dragging down and wrestling through (negative) emotions. These two people, the main characters Connell and Marianne, are just …incomplete(?) and manage to simultaneously make it worse and better in the other. So much low self-esteem, depression, (mental) self-harm and words that should be said to improve things, but never are.

I finished this an hour ago and still feel that kind of daze of finishing a story that doesn’t let you come up for air. Of course, no story has to be completely happy, or even have happy moments, but every other word is doubted and dissected. The story involves only a few months, making me wish for these poor people involved for it to be decades because surely everyone deserves to have a mental breather.

And underneath all of it, I couldn’t find anything the author wanted to do with this story. Share suffering? Show us that there is no such thing as normal people? Or that no matter what kind of train wreck, people just can’t look away?

Normal People, Sally Rooney, Alfred A. Knopf 2018

A Beautiful Work in Progress

I sat on the king bed at the Best Western Mountain View in East Ellijay, Georgia, the night before the Double Tap 50K race at Fort Mountain State Park in the Cohutta Mountains.

I expected much more pages being about running, training, exercise and the judgment people reserve for fat people doing sports. Which is kind of sloppy of me, because it says right there in the title: a memoir. And no person came out of the womb with running shoes on.

So, after my initial lack of excitement about learning about this woman I’ve never heard before and didn’t know why I should have, I kind of got over it. I’m interested in what she had to say about her (long distance) runs, we’ll take the rest as it comes.

With Mirna Valerio being a fat collection of minorities in contemporary USA, there’s so much more to her stories about running and exercising than the regular blood, sweet, and tears (although they do show up). This might make you a bit impatient about the next story about a trial run, but it also shows you that nothing happens in a vacuum; not even exercising and sports.

So, for that, you could read this memoir. And, honestly, there’s definitely different kinds of motivation in it. You just have to work a bit harder for it. If not – there’s plenty of ‘regular’ running stories to be found.

A Beautiful Work in Progress; A Memoir, Mirna Valerio, Grand Harbor Press 2017

Witches of New York

In the dusky haze of evening a ruddy-cheeked newsboy strode along Fifth Avenue proclaiming the future.

Remember The Rules of Magic? I’ve got a similar book-from-the-nineties-feeling with this one. Or maybe it’s just the nineties that make me remember the nineties? This story doesn’t even play out in the nineties, so we might never know. On to witches!

This is New York in the nineteenth century, which certainly was part of the appeal for me as well, and luckily for me does Ami McKay spend time on giving the city room in her story as well. It’s enough of another world from the New York city we know (through media and fiction), that a magical element seems to fit almost right in.

The three main characters are quite charming as well, even though I would have enjoyed learning more about the older two. There’s also something to say about how the author decides to completely commit to magic instead of keeping the implication and illusion of it, but it doesn’t sour the story of the three women. All in all, like the book mentioned in the first paragraph – none of this is mind-blowing and groundbreaking – but it is sweet and easily enjoyable.

Witches of New York, Ami McKay, Alfred A. Knopf 2016

Stay with Me

I must leave this city today and come to you.

I typed and deleted the start of this blog for about four times. It’s an impressive story, a frustrating one, not a happy one but a hopeful one? Here’s me scoring high on cliché bingo.

So, okay. Stay with Me is about a Nigerian couple that can’t conceive and because offspring is very important, is offered (‘offered’) a second wife to make sure offspring does happen. But this is liking saying Lord of the Rings is about some rings, there’s much more to it.

It’s not just a slice of life, it’s a slice of culture. It’s for everyone who isn’t familiar with Nigeria and Nigerians, a look behind the scenes. Yes, we all have relationships and romances, but how, why, and in what way? What sacrifices are desired (by the partners, their families, their surroundings), and who are you if you’re not parents of a child/children?

I was warned beforehand that the subject could get pretty heavy, and there have been times I cursed out outdated ideas and the people still clinging to them. But as an anthropological view, as a psychological view, and to freaking root for Yejide.. this story has a strong pull.

Stay with Me, Ayobami Adebayo, Alfred A. Knopf 2017

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

109 min.

I understand why this is quite award-friendly. I also understand why it didn’t win a lot. With these vague comments out of the way, let’s get to the story.

CYEFM posterLee Israel is an author that writes biographies not a lot of people – and definitely not her agent – care about. Instead of trying to find a job that will make her enough money to take care of her bills and sick cat, Israel digs in and tries to continue with making money from her writing. She’s complimented on completely disappearing behind the person’s voice she writes a biography about so that’s what she does: disappear. With her research and writing skills, she starts a very profitable business of embezzling letters from dead celebrities. With her lack of people skills and restraint … let’s just go with ‘it doesn’t end well for many people involved’.

The entire movie looks and feels a bit grubby, stubborn and unwilling to get out of the rut Lee Israel put it in. Israel herself isn’t a likeable character, but she isn’t exactly unlikable either. That’s probably largely due to neither Melissa McCarthy and the writing worrying about showing her ugliness. This is a sad creature, and her friend/fellow criminal isn’t much better off. Maybe you don’t completely root for them, but the ending will leave you tender.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Fox Searchlight Pictures 2018

Before We Were Yours

My story begins on a sweltering August night, in a place I will never set eyes upon.

Adoption isn’t an easy subject, but the historical story line of Before We Were Yours shows at the very least how it definitely shouldn’t be handled.

There are two story tellers in this novel about an “orphanage” that basically stole children from poor people and sold them to rich families. One is the girl and her siblings that go through it, the other connected to her through different generations. This element sometimes makes it a little bit Lifetime-ish, although her motivations for discovering more are at first more political than personal. ie the sob story starts later into the story.

Weaved in between these two is a romance that isn’t quite necessary, but not horribly done either. I feel like the subject is what elevates this novel from being just another one of the paperbacks your gran reads and pushes upon you because it’s “so exciting”. It’s an easy, accessible read, but the horror of the “orphanage” and the reality on which its based, is what gives the story its pull.

Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate, Penguin Random House LLC 2017

Dietland

It was late in the spring when I noticed that a girl was following me, nearly the end of May, a month that means perhaps or might be.

Gods, I wish that this would be mandatory reading for male teenagers. Okay, any teenager. Why? Because it hits home with several hammers the fact of diet culture and how women are viewed in society. I know, but so many still don’t, and it’s best to get them as young as possible.

Is this is an activist story? Is showing reality activist? Protagonist Plum is fat, and have been working almost her entire year to not be it. She’s not living, she’s functioning until she can live as a skinny person, a normal person. Things are changed around when someone reaches out to her.

Simultaneously, violence acts against male rapists and abusers happens. People are confused, shocked, motivated, because whenever do men get what’s coming for them? Maybe a few trigger warnings are at place here: Sarai Walker doesn’t avoid descriptions of said acts.

The comedy tag is mostly for the laughing in disbelief you might do. Because yes, they’re right, and yes, it’s really this stupid. Or maybe you just have to laugh to prevent from getting angry for the entire time of reading it. You wouldn’t want to be considered unfuckable, after all.

Dietland, Sarai Walker, Houghton Mifflin Company 2015