Wednesday, 29 December 2010

eighty-five.

And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac (1945)

In 1944 both Burroughs and Kerouac were charged as accessories to murder, after one of their friends murdered a much older homosexual suitor. After the event, the two, then unpublished author, co-wrote a book based on the days before the murder. They couldn't get the book published in the beginning, and later on they also promised the murderer that the book wouldn't be published. It was finally published in 2008, long after all the people involved were dead.

The story is narrated by Will Dennison (the chapters are written by Burroughs) and Mike Ryko (the chapters are written by Kerouac), and follows them around New York in the days before the murder. Will Dennison is occasionally working as a detective, but also deals on the other side of the law. Mike Ryko is trying to find a ship to work on, but drinks too much. The pretty boy, Phillipp, is fed up with his much older suitor, Al, and wants to ship out with Mike, but the trouble is that they never find a suitable boat for their plan to run off to France.

It was great to read a not confusing story by William S. Burroughs. I read Naked Lunch a few years ago, and it was so confusing that I have been dreading to pick up Junky, although it has been on my shelf for too long now. Jack Kerouac is, as always, brilliant.

The afterword by James Grauerholz explains the real circumstances concerning the murder and gives a great insight in the life of the Beat generation.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

eighty-four.


Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)

"124 was spiteful. Full of a baby's venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims. The grandmother, Baby Suggs, was dead, and the sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old - as soon as merely looking in a mirror shattered it (that was the signal for Buglar); as soon as two tiny hand prints appeared in the cake (that was it for Howard). Neither boy waited to see more; another kettleful of chickpeas smoking in heap on the floor; soda crackers crumbled and strewn in a line next to the doorsill. Nor did they wait for one of the relief periods; the weeks, months even, when nothing was disturbed."
Sethe, a runaway slave girl, kills her eldest baby girl, Beloved, when her owner comes looking for her. Beloved haunts the house until a day when a former slave, who knew Sethe from a farm, chases the ghost away. A few weeks later, a beautiful girl, turns up at the house, claiming she is Beloved.

The story changes between present and past, and thus gives a good insight in the lives of slaves at the time of the American Civil War. The language reminded me a lot of William Faulkner, though a lot easier to follow. Such a sad and violent tale. I will definitely read more by Toni Morrison, who got the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.
"Could she sing? (Was it nice to hear when she did?) Was she pretty? Was she a good friend? Could she have been a loving mother? A faithful wife? Have I got a sister and does she favor me? If my mother knew me would she like me?"

Thursday, 23 December 2010

eighty-three.

the Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton (1947)

"London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs, held there for a number of hours, and then, in the evening, exhaled violently through the same channels.
The men and women imagine they are going into London and coming out again more or less of their own free will, but the crouching monster sees all and knows better.
The area affected by this filthy inhalation actually extends beyond what we ordinarily think of as the suburbs - to towns, villages, and districts as far as, or further than, twenty-five miles from the capital. Amongst these was Thames Lockdon, which lay on the river some miles beyond Maidenhead on the Maidenhead line.
The conditions were those of intense war, intense winter, and the intensest black-out in the month of December."
Miss Roach, a woman around forty, had to flee from London during the Blitz. She seeks escape in a boarding house, the Rosamund Tea Rooms, which is occupied by a bunch of lonely souls. All meals are either eaten in silence or follow a strict, polite pattern led by Mr Thwaites. Miss Roach loathes Mr Thwaites, they often quarrel about everything and anything. He has a way of speaking in his own language which sounds like something out of Shakespeare, and it takes a while for the people around him to understand what he is actually saying. Miss Roach has an American lieutenant who takes her out to drinks and kisses in the park now and then. Miss Roach is also friends with a German girl, Vicki, but when she moves to the Rosamund Tea Rooms, Miss Roach is filled with hatred for her.

I have said it before, but I will say it again; Patrick Hamilton writes bloody well. The dark streets of Thames Lockdon and the dark mind of Miss Roach are enchanting and the terror of the war is ever present. Yet I didn't quite enjoy the book, I think it was too detailed for my liking. Yet I loved the detailed writing, the way the sentences are structured. I love the last sentence in the book. And Miss Roach didn't get my sympathy at all. I also really liked Doris Lessing's introduction to the book.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

eighty-two.

the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1926)
"In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
'Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone' he told me, 'just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had'"
Nick's neighbour is the infamous Jay Gatsby. Every weekend his house on Long Island fills up with people and they party all day and all night. There are plenty of rumours about Mr Gatsby. Is he an illegal bootlegger smuggling booze from Canada? And where did he get all his money and rubies from? Nick admires his neighbour and they turn into great friends, but Mr Gatsby has an agenda for befriending Nick. Gatsby wants to reconnect with his great love, Daisy, who is a relative of Nick's.
"And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night."
This is considered one of the great American novels. And it really is. Read it, weep and smile.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

epic fail.

I and Ikea furniture do not get along. I always get something wrong. This time as well. The top shelf is the wrong way, I couldn't get the screws out again so it is stuck, and therefore I couldn't get the cardboard fitted on the back either. I'm not touching the other bookshelf until I have someone of the opposite sex present.

As I had just one suitcase with me when I moved down south, most of the books are bought in the two past months. Will bring some more with me when I go home for Christmas, still have plenty of unread books in my bookshelves there.
I also bought my first proper plant today. Hopefully it will live a prosperous life.

ps. A new camera is on my wishlist for Christmas, can't take good pictures when you see nothing.

kindle and bookshelves

I have been wanting a Kindle for a long time and now I finally could afford one. I will mainly use it for non-fiction as I still intend to have a library one day. It sucks that it will take over a month before it's delivered, but I'm sure it will be worth the wait.

I also went to Ikea today and bought bookshelves and I'm in the midst of putting them out (and other Ikea furniture, takes forever apparently). Will take pictures once my books have found their new home.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

reading goals and such

As this year is approaching its end, and as I reached my reading goal of 50 books already in August, I think it's time to look ahead to the new year.

My main goal will be the same; read 50 books during the year. But I have been thinking about what books I should read and have come up with some aims:
  • Read non-fiction, a genre I have ignored as I love fiction, but there is so much to learn from non-fiction books. Non-fiction books I own are King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, Empires and Barbarians by P. Heather and A Carpet Ride to Khiva by C.A Alexander.
  • Read those classics. Many of them have been gathering dust on my bookshelf for years.
  • Read contemporary young adult fiction. I need to be able to recommend some books for my students to read. So far, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli is the only book on my list.
  • Cross off some more books on the 1001 books you should read before you die list. Only 5% complete. The shame! Also work on my life-time goal; read something by every Nobel Prize laureate.
  • Continue my journey around the world in literature. This year I covered 17 countries.
  • Read indigenous authors, and especially from the Arctic.
  • Read the books I own instead of buying new ones. Almost half the books I own are unread, circa 200.
Recommendations on how I can reach these goals are greatly appreciated, especially tips on indigenous Arctic authors.

2011 in books should be as entertaining as 2010 was.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

eighty-one.

Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart (2006)

"This is a book about love. The next 338 pages are dedicated with that cloying Russian affection that passes for real warmth to my Beloved Papa, to the city of New York, to my sweet impoverished girlfriend in the South Bronx and to the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). This is also a book about too much love. It's a book about being had. Let me say that right away: I've been had. They used me. Took advantage of me. Sized me up. Knew right away that they had their man. If "man" is the right word."

Misha is the son of the 1238th richest man in Russia, a famous Jewish Soviet dissident. He is living a carefree life in New York after graduating from an American university when his father wants him back to St. Petersburg. While he is there, his father kills an American and Misha is denied visa to the US again. And then his father is murdered and Gary is the sole inheritor to his money. Because of his father's influence, he is guaranteed a Belgian passport, but he has to move to Absurdistan, the Norway of the Caspian Sea, to get it. And then things get really complicated for Misha.

This book is absurd and brilliant. The stereotypes are spot-on; the filthy newly rich Russians, the multicultural girlfriend from Bronx, the American investors in Absurdistan, the various Absurdi ethnic characters and the rest of the characters. I also liked how Gary Stheyngart had put himself in the book. I also loved the description of St. Petersburg (made me miss the city) and New York. He also did a great job making up an entire country and describing the every day life in the capital. And I finally learnt some new Russian swearwords!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

eighty.

At the Edge of Light by Maria Peura (2005)

Kristina, 12, lives in a small town on the Finnish-Swedish border in 1979. She knows more dead people than alive. Almost all were suicides. Those who are left are barely alive, drinking too much and looking for ways to escape the village. She has a boyfriend, Kari, and they spend their time smoking, drinking and hoping that the train would run them over when walking on the tracks.

Such a dark, twisted novel and very typical Finland. The mix between real world and Kristina's imagination was confusing, same with the mix of past and present. I probably should read it one more time, maybe things get less confusing then. What I do know is that the writing was definitely very good in the beginning and then it all got really confusing, and guessing the end was easy. But Maria Peura has a lot of potential, and I will definitely be reading books by her in the future.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

seventy-nine.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (1987)
"Once the plane was on the ground, soft music began to flow from the ceiling speakers: a sweet orchestral cover version of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood". The melody never failed to send a shudder through me, but this time it hit me harder than ever."
Toru is reminded of a girl he loved a long time ago, Naoko. She was the girlfriend of his best friend who killed himself very suddenly at the age of 17. Naoko and Toru meet again when they are at university and they start taking long walks all over Tokyo. Naoko is not dealing well with the death of her childhood boyfriend and after sleeping with Toru she ends up in a sanctuary.

This book is full of lonely messed-up beautiful people reaching out to other lonely beautiful people. And so much death. But also love. And a fair amount of popular culture and sex. I had Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles stuck on my mind while reading.

"I trudged along through each day in its turn, rarely looking up, eyes locked on the never-ending swamp that lay before me, planting my right foot, raising my left, planting my left food, raising the right, never sure where I was, never sure I was headed in the right direction, knowing only that I had to keep moving, one step at a time."
Murakami has been on my book-shelf for years and yet all the wonderful things I have heard about his writing, I never picked him up until now. And how much did I like him? I just ordered two more books by him off Amazon.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

seventy-eight.

Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto (1992)

A young boy and an old man are walking on a road in the war-torn Mozambique. The man, Tuahir, found the boy, Muidinga, in a refugee camp when the boy was sick and no one else wanted to help him. They seek refuge in a burnt-out bus full of dead bodies and one suitcase. The suitcase contains notebooks from one of the dead passengers, Kindzu. Muidinga reads a few pages for Tuahir every night and the incredible story is the one thing they have to look forward to with days filled with war and hunger.

The story about Tuahir and Muidinga is sad and reminded me a lot of the Road by Cormac McCarthy. Kindzu's story is strange and reminded me a lot of the War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa. It was a story that was hard to follow because of the mix between real time and dream time; what was real and what was imagined? I didn't quite grasp the African superstitions and traditions, which made it hard to understand what was really going on.

ps. I need to take a break from war-themed books. Too bad war seems to be the main theme in books from Africa (and yes, I'm perfectly aware why that is). Feel free to recommend.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

seventy-seven.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (2010)

The Berglunds met at university in Minnesota. Patty was a very talented basketball player who moved to Minnesota to get away from her family on the east coast. Walter is very concerned about mother nature, but he also goes home every weekend to help his mother run a motel while watching his father drink himself to death. He lives with a very attractive musician, Richard Katz, and Patty has always loved him, but she chooses Walter because he is so sweet (and Richard is such an asshole).

This has been one of the most anticipated books of the year and it doesn't disappoint. It is a very slow-moving train, but you know it's going to crash, you just don't know the effects of the crash yet.

My favourite part? The three pages about my favourite band, Bright Eyes. The book is using every major and minor event in America in the past ten years. I would recommend reading this now as I think it will be a very difficult and different book to read in twenty years.

But what is really to be learnt from this book is this; keep your cats indoors.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

seventy-six.

Purge by Sofi Oksanen (2008)

Aliide finds a girl right outside her door in a small village in Estonia. The girl doesn't have many clothes on and is missing one shoe. What is she doing there? Could she be a decoy for gangs trying to rob her house?

The girl is Zara, from Vladivostok.. She has escaped from the men who forced her to sell sex in Berlin. And there is a reason why she is outside Aliide's door, they are related. Aliide remembers what happened in her village during World War II, when she was secretly in love with her sister's husband who were in the Estonian resistance army , but married a high ranked Communist party member in Estonia.

I'm sort of disappointed with this book. Every word of it is great, but there are so many gaps. There are two main questions I have after reading it; how did Zara get to Berlin from Vladivostok? And Aliide, what did you do?

Monday, 4 October 2010

seventy-five.

Afrodites basseng by Gert Nygårdshaug (2003)

This is the final book in the trilogy about Mino and his eco-terrorism. Jonar, a biologist, who lives isolated in the Norwegian forest with his eight year old son is having some very strange dreams about a young woman walking around in the desert. The only contact they have with the outside world is through Mino who operates the small fire-fighting plane on the small lake next to their cabin. Jonar receives a mysterious beautiful small chest from Mino, but no key, and the next day a very fast growing forest threatens their existence. Are they the only living humans?

I love Nygårdshaug and his amazing stories. They are thought-provoking, I love the characters and I'm almost reading them too fast with a smile on my face.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

seventy-four.

Jonas by Jens Bjørneboe (1955)

Jonas is looking forward to starting school. But he doesn't know how to read, the letters don't make sense to him so he cheats by learning everything by heart at home. When he is found out in second grade, the teacher wants to send him to the other school, where all the dumb kids go. So Jonas runs away.

"Every new teacher should read this book", according to the Chicago-Sun-Times praise on the book's cover. And I agree that it would have been true at that time, but I'm not really sure if it still holds today. The characters in the book are definitely interesting and I actually laughed out loud a couple of times, but it doesn't focus as much on Jonas as the title indicates. You don't really get to know Jonas.

The book has been published in English, probably some time in the fifties, so if you come across it, you should read it.

Friday, 24 September 2010

seventy-three.

Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller (2003)

A female teacher, Sheba, is having a sexual relationship with her fifteen year old student. After being arrested she is living together with a former colleague from the same school, Barbara. Barbara is secretly writing a true account of the affair, starting with the day Sheba arrived at the school.

What was she thinking? Barbara is doing a marvellous job putting together the story of the scandal. She didn't treat Sheba well when she started teaching at the school, and she is certainly jealous of everyone around Sheba. When the scandal of the relationship surfaces, the media is making fun of Sheba, her husband refuses her to see her children but Barbara moves in with Sheba and takes care of her.

The film version was really intense, if I remember it correctly. I didn't find the book as intense, but it was an interesting read.

sixty-nine, seventy, seventy-one, seventy-two: poirot

After the Funeral by Agatha Christie (1953)

After her brother's funeral, Cora turns to her family and says 'he was murdered, wasn't he?'. Two days later Cora is found dead, murdered in her bed. The family's solicitor believes that Cora was right and gets Poirot on the case.

I think I have had it with family feud themed Agatha Christie's novels. Didn't enjoy this one as much as I should although it had a very clever twist.

Hickory Dickory Dock (1955)

Miss Lemon's sister is working at a student house where a lot of things have disappeared. Poirot is fascinated by the list of missing things and he want to solve the puzzle. After having a chat with the students, a girl confesses to Poirot. The next day the girl is found dead with a suicide note next to her. But was it really suicide?

A great crime novel, I really enjoyed the setting with the student house and all the drama.

Cat among the Pigeons (1959)

A royal prince in a small state in the Middle East and his British friend are planning an escape because of rumours of a revolution. The plan fails as the plane they are flying crashes in the mountains, but some precious stones are missing. A princess from the same state is starting at a top-notch private school for girls in England and a few weeks later a teacher is found murdered. Is there any connection to the jewels?

Poirot is not part of this story until over half-way into it, but it such a thrilling tale. Another great Poirot story.

the Clocks (1963)

A young typist is sent to a house owned by a blind woman, but when she comes there she discovers a dead man. The woman who owns the house claims she didn't ask for a typist and has no idea who the man in her living room is. But the strangest thing is the clocks; four beautiful clocks set to the same time and none of them belong to the house.

Another story where Poirot doesn't appear from the start. And yet another great story.

All these stories can be found in the Poirot: the Post-War Years omnibus. And now I'm taking a break from Agatha Christie and Poirot, I think I still have 12 more stories to read.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

sixty-eight, sixty-seven, sixty-six: twenty thousand streets under the sky

Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky by Patrick Hamilton
- a London trilogy

the Midnight Bell (1930)

"The kiss of a wicked woman - the kiss of Sin... The sweet, brief, virginal kiss of Sin! A miraculous and exhilarating contradiction! It remained on his mouth like a touch of violets. There had never been such a kiss in the history of the world."
Bob is a waiter at the Midnight Bell, a small pub in London. One a very busy night he meets a prostitute, but she is the prettiest girl in London. She is in a poor state, owing a few shillings on her rent. Bob has never lent money to strangers before, but the pretty Jenny, although she protests, gets the money and promises to pay him back. Bob cannot stop thinking about Jenny and starts walking the streets of West End in hope to see her again. And then he does and fell in love. He spends an awful lot of money on Jenny who hardly ever shows up on time, if at all, and is always in a miserable state. Bob is proud of the 80 pounds he has in the bank, but the more he sees of Jenny, the more money gets withdrawn from his account. But he loves Jenny and she is going to pay him back.
"And how could he complain? Languishing husbands might love her to distraction; authors might give her books. She might go to Paris. But she was here now, forgiving him with little pressures - his 'girl'. She had said she loved him"

the Siege of Pleasure (1932)

"'All through a glass of port,' Jenny, the girl of the streets, had said. She had said it in jest, but who shall decline to surmise that she had stumbled upon the literal truth? If Jenny had not taken that first glass she would not have taken the second, and if she had not taken the second she would not have taken the third, and if she had not taken the third she would not then and there have resolved to abandon herself to the pleasures and perils of drink. And if she had not done that, she would not have become involved in the events which lost her her job, and set her going down the paths of destruction."
The second book in the trilogy is all about Jenny, Bob's love interest, and that fatal night that made her late for her new job as a maid in service at the age of 18 and thus made her a girl of the streets.

the Plains of Cement (1934)

"'Doesn't the lake look lovely?' said Mr. Eccles, for by now they had walked right round into view of the lake. 'I shall never forget this lake'.
'Won't you?'
'No. That was where we walked when we first Knew, said Mr. Eccles, giving her another nudge, while Ella concentrated on gropingly on a Letter. A postman alone could curb this prodigious man."
Ella is the barmaid at the Midnight Bell and one day an older man, Mr. Eccles, asks her on a date to the theatre. A few weeks later they are engaged, but Ella is never sure of her feelings for this much older man with such a temper. And who she really loves is Bob, but he is unaware of her feelings.

Such a strange trilogy, not in chronological order at all and the second book doesn't really correspond with the other two. I think that if the part about Jenny's past had been left out, it would have been a much better book. But such lovely language and style of writing.

I agree with Doris Lessing; 'Hamilton was a marvellous novelist who's grossly neglected'. I'm definitely going to read more Patrick Hamilton, and I urge you to do the same.

Monday, 6 September 2010

sixty-five, sixty-three, sixty-two: poirot

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie (1940)

Inspector Japp phones up Hercule Poirot to inform him that the dentist he just visited, is found dead. The inspector thinks it's a suicide, but Poirot doesn't agree. One of the dentist's patients is also found dead at his hotel room - a lethal dose of anaesthetics. And then one of the other patients on that day, a woman, is missing. Poirot suspects it all to be connected to yet another patient, an important bank man with plenty of enemies.

The background of this story is World War II, and it has a fair share of foreign spies and war time angst. This is also the first Poirot story where I couldn't focus while reading, maybe it had too many possible plots for my little brain. I didn't even get it when Poirot was laying it all out.

Five Little Pigs (1942)

A young woman comes to Poirot and asks him if he could investigate a murder that happened 16 years ago. Her mother had been found guilty for murdering her father, but the woman had received a letter left to her from her mother stating her innocence. Poirot goes back in time and interviews the five other people who were on the crime scene, but all evidence points towards the mother.

This is one of the best Poirot stories I have read so far. I thought I would get tired of reading the same account of the murder over and over again, but all the testimonies are written very differently and you definitely notice the minor details which help Poirot solving the mystery.

These two stories both use nursery rhymes as chapter titles and they are constantly on Poirot's mind while he's solving the crimes.

Taken at the Flood (1948)

During an air-raid in London, Hercule Poirot seeks shelter at the Coronation Club. Here he hears a rumour about a woman who lost her husband in Africa and then remarried a rich old man in England, but the first husband isn't dead. Two years later; a man is found dead at a hotel in a small village where the woman, now very rich and very disliked after her second husband's death during an air-raid, lives. The dead man has been blackmailing the widow by saying that he can prove that her first husband is in fact very much alive.

So many intrigues in this story. There is the pure hatred of the family of her second husband as she inherits everything from him. And her brother who cares more about the money than the well-being of his sister. And I was absolutely shocked to discover that Poirot lets someone getting away with murder!

All these three stories can be found in Poirot: the War Years. I still have four more Poirot omnibuses to read.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

sixty-four.

the Storyteller's Market by Gert Nygårdshaug (2008)
(Fortellernes marked)

Eight letters sent from an old priest to a retired veterinarian and a librarian takes them on a voyage through history. The old priest is on a hunt for the truth about Jesus and the creation of Christianity. He writes the letters as mystery hunts, where he gives clues about his next discoveries and the two friends in a small village in Norway manage to follow his discoveries by using literary sources. And what the priest discovers will be a blow to all religions springing from the deserts in the Middle East.

Holy Grail, Templars, Maria Magdalena. Same shit, but definitely new and interesting wrapping. What I really liked about this version is the characters and their surroundings. The retired veterinarian and the librarian love good food and drink, fishing and women. And it is set some time in the near future with global warming. This is not a thriller, no hero being chased by Templars or the Illuminati, and I was actually relieved to discover it. Another thing that I liked was that it isn't a complicated book and it is easy to follow as the important clues are repeated so I never lost track. And finally, it is in no way a copy of other works about the same theme.

The only thing that is wrong with this book is that it has not been translated to English.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

sixty-one.

Coming Up for Air by George Orwell (1939)

George is a fat middle-aged man who feels like he has lived a very boring life. He reckons he hasn't been happy since he married Hilda, and why did he marry her anyway? He remembers his happy childhood with fishing and reading, he never went fishing after 16. At that time he had to leave school and get a job and then the great war happened and he was shipped to France. And after that it was hard to get a job, he ended up in the insurance business and then married. He decides to go back to the village where he had his happy childhood and go fishing in that pond with the giant carps that no one else know about.

The beginning of this story really depressed me, so I didn't continue reading it for a couple of months. And then I sensed that it was richly detailed sarcasm. I kept hoping that something exciting would happen to George or that he would do something completely out of character, but alas. And what the hell was that end? It left me disappointed.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

sixty.

Stalin's Cows by Sofi Oksanen (2003)
(Stalinin lehmät)

Anna is half-Finnish and half-Estonian. Her mother is Estonian, takes her there often during the 1980s, when it still was Soviet. But her mother won't let Anna be Estonian, because Estonian women are whores in the west. Anna's father is rarely present, he still works in Soviet, but every time he comes home, Anna's mum finds new evidence concerning his whores. Anna won't allow her body to be more than 50 kgs.

This book has yet not been published in English, but it definitely should be. Oksanen's third novel, however, Purge, has been published in English and it is my next purchase for sure.

It was really hard to read about Anna who suffered from bulimia. If I had read this a few years ago, it would have been thinspiration. But now it was like being haunted by a bad memory; all the rules, lies and feelings came back, so much of Anna was at some time me. But it is also a reminder of how far I have come and for that reason alone, I'm glad I read this book.

The Estonian part of the story is also a reason why I'm glad I have read it. It partially follows Anna's mother from when she met Anna's father and until Estonia's independence. And it also goes further back than that, back to World War II. It is a beautiful portrait of the fear and absurdity in Soviet. And the attitude in the west towards people, and especially women, from the former Soviet. And it made me miss Finland and regret that I never learnt the language.

(This is without doubt the hardest and most personal post I have made and I have the urge to delete parts of it, but I'm trying to be brave.)

Saturday, 28 August 2010

fifty-nine.

the War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa (1981)

Brazil, 1890s. A mysterious prophet is walking around Bahia, telling tales of doom and swearing that the newly established Republic of Brazil will fail. He is followed by the poor, but also by thieves, murderers, whores and other he has put his hands on. They build a new town, where the rules of the Republic don't exist. The regional government of Bahia doesn't like this and sends an army and this is the start of the long war between the prophet's people and the Republic of Brazil.

This was a hard read for me because it is so richly detailed. Every character is described, often starting by his birth, and thus I could only handle about twenty pages a day. Was it really necessary to describe the war from every angle? It is as brutal and dark as Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy but mixed with magic realism. But it misses something, because I felt that I could at any point in the book stop reading and it wouldn't have mattered if I finished it or not. I guess it didn't make me curious about what would happen next.

And oh, I read a Norwegian edition and it had so many typos and occasionally bad language that it made me sad (and glad that I bought it at a second-hand store).

Friday, 27 August 2010

fifty-eight, fifty-seven, fifty-three, fifty-one: poirot

the Third Girl by Agatha Christie (1966)

Hercule Poirot has a young girl waiting for him in his office, when making the appointment she said "I think I have committed a murder" to Ms Lemon, his secretary. But when she sees Poirot, she says that she cannot tell him because he is too old. Despite being very offended, Poirot decides to get to the bottom of this case, even if the girl refuses to cooperate. Together with Mrs Ariadne Oliver he gets to the truth.

This story is written in the 1960s, and it is weird having Poirot in the same time period as the Beatles, LSD and computers. But the plot in this one is truly awesome and I really enjoyed reading this one.

Hallowe'en Party (1969)
Mrs Ariadne Oliver is visiting a friend on the country side when a child is found murdered at a Hallowe'en Party. The child had said that she had witnessed a murder shortly before she herself was murdered. Mrs Oliver calls up Hercule Poirot and together they do not just solve one murder, but several.

Elephants Can Remember (1972)

Mrs Ariadne Oliver is asked the strangest question concerning her god-daughter at an event; Did her mother kill her father or was it the father who killed the mother? The couple had been found shot and the investigation at that time concluded with double-suicide. With the help of Mr Poirot, Mrs Oliver starts looking for clues among her friends for a tragedy that happened fifteen years earlier. And the truth is more spectacular and tragic that anyone could guess.

the Pale Horse (1961)

An old Catholic priest is found murdered and in his shoe a list of names is found. When Mrs Oliver is told the story of the peculiar findings, she recognises one of the names on the list and says that the woman died recently of an illness. Her friend, Mr Easterbrook also recognises some names, also dead persons, and they start to look into the case. Mr Easterbrook quickly discovers that the clues lead to an old inn, the Pale Horse, that is now inhabited by witches.

This story doesn't involve Mr Poirot at all, and it was written in a different style than the rest of the novels I have read by Agatha Christie. Confusing in the beginning and no surprises at the end when it is all solved. But it is brilliant and I really enjoyed reading it.

All these novels are found in the Complete Ariadne Oliver volume 2 omnibus. I really grow fond of Mrs Oliver and is sad that there are no more stories concerning her.

Monday, 23 August 2010

fifty-six.

Less than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis (1985)

Clay is home in Los Angeles for Christmas from his first semester at a college on the east coast. He does nothing for the holidays, except partying, seeing friends, getting wasted and seeing a shrink.

Poor little rich kids with no present parents. This book is boring until the last thirty pages when things start to go wrong for Clay's friends. And then it sort of goes to the extreme, but then back to apathy again. This book was nothing I haven't read or seen before.

If you want to read a brilliant book by Easton Ellis, I recommend the Rules of Attraction. Same theme, just much better. The film version is definitely my favourite college film, and I mainly love it so much because it is so different from the book. I usually watch it, then have to read the book, and then watch it again. Brilliant.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Nå har jeg endelig fått registrert meg på bokelskere. Sjekk meg ut da!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

fifty-five.

Cold Earth by Sarah Moss (2009)

Six archaeologists are on Greenland trying to solve the mystery of why the Vikings disappeared from the island. An outbreak of a pandemic disease is spreading panic at the time of their departure to Greenland. As the dig is starting to uncover bodies, Nina is having nightmares about dead Greenlanders in the camp. And then the rest of the archaeologists are sensing them too.

This book frightened me. Isolated camp, ghosts and a pandemic. I couldn't put it away and even when I did for a few minutes, it was always in my mind. And even now when I have finished it and the daylight is back, I still have a nervous feeling. Or more like an Arctic chill. I'm really glad I was attracted to the shiny cover at the airport in Trondheim.

I really liked the letter as a writing style, mainly because it took a long time before I realised it was written as letters. And this one of the few books where I'm satisfied that you never get all the facts, you have to guess what happened. What really happened to the Greenlanders, anyway?

Dear Hollywood; please make a brilliant film out of this book.

Friday, 13 August 2010

fifty-four.

the Book of Not by Tsitsi Dangarembga (2006)

This is the sequel to Nervous Conditions and it starts off in Tambu's second year in secondary education while Zimbabwe is still Rhodesia. Tambu doesn't fit in anywhere, she is too smart for her family in the village, too European for the other five black girls at the school and the white girls are afraid of touching her. In the second year at the school she witnesses her sister losing a leg at a political meeting back in her village. The war for independence is making Tambu very nervous and she is struggling at school.

I loved Nervous Conditions and Tambu because she was such a strong girl, aiming high and achieving her goals. In the sequel she is completely lost, and cannot even speak up for herself any longer. While Nervous Conditions was all about the family, the sequel is more focused on the political background. And I missed the family, especially her uncle's family.

I'm waiting for the next book about Tambu to be written as it simply cannot end this way.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

fifty-two.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (1930)

Addie Bundren dies and her family is going to bury her in another town. The book follows them some time before and after her death and on their journey to Jefferson for the burial.

This was a very difficult book to read, it has many narrators and most of the time I had no idea what they were talking about. I was very close to throwing the book at the wall when I came to a chapter with only four words; My mum is a fish. I also wanted to find a red pen and mark every incorrectly spelt word and grammatical error. And I felt defeated as this is supposedly one of the best novels of the 20th century.

I should reread it in twenty years and see if it makes more sense then.

Monday, 9 August 2010

forty-eight.

the Last Living Slut: Born in Iran, Bred Backstage by Roxana Shirazi (2010)

Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Roxana is a groupie, loving and hating the musicians she hangs out with. The autobiography of Roxana starts all innocently in Tehran and ends up in all kinds of sexual escapades backstage.

This is definitely a book that should be read in places where no people go. The book is full of sex and dirty (yet censored) pictures. The chapters have titles like Her cunt gripped him like a warm friendly hand and Have you guys ever double-penetrated a girl? I asked gently. I didn't want to shock them. This book is written to shock, but for me, the most shocking part was the description of her sexual experiences from early childhood. I have no desire to read about how five year olds get excited by playing with their cousins, thank you very much. Yet I liked her childhood memories the best, maybe it is because they focus on something more than just sex.

Roxana story is not glamorous, I felt really sorry for her. And not to spoil anything, I was relieved when she had to spend some time at a mental institution. But she is brave, naming bands and people she slept with. I'm just glad she didn't sleep with any of my favourite bands.

fifty, forty-nine, forty-seven: poirot

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie (1936)

Hercule Poirot receives a strange dinner party invitation from an acquaintance. When they are finished playing bridge that evening, said acquaintance is found dead; stabbed in a room with four other people. One of them is the murderer and all of them claim that they have seen nothing suspicious that evening.

This was not the best version of Poirot, he was a bit vague in this story and I'm curious to get to know this Ariadne Oliver more.


Mrs McGinty's Dead (1952)

An old lady is murdered and a man is found guilty for the crime. But the police in charge of the investigation is not satisfied, but as he is now retired, he asks Poirot to help him out. Poirot quickly links the murder to an article about women who have been linked to criminal activities in the past. While investigating he also bumps into Mrs Oliver who happens to be in the same town. And together they solve the crime.

Dead Man's Folly (1956)

Mrs Ariadne Oliver is asked to make a murder mystery hunt for a party. She calls Mr Poirot before the hunt takes place because she doesn't feel right about it. Then the game becomes real, the girl who is playing the victim is found murdered exactly the way Mrs Oliver planned it.

These three stories are found in the Complete Ariadne Oliver volume 1. Also included in it are two short stories; the Case of of the Discontented Soldier and the Case of the Rich Woman. These stories are about Parker Pyne, a private investigator who makes people happy. The stories are as unlike Poirot as possible, the only thing they have in common is Ariadne Oliver.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

forty-six.

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote (1958)

"The instant she saw the letter she squinted her eyes and bent her lips in a tough tiny smile that advanced her age immeasurably. 'Darling,' she instructed me, 'would you reach in the drawer there and give me my purse. A girl doesn't read this sort of thing without her lipstick.'
Guided by a compact mirror, she powdered, painted every vestige of twelve-year-old out of her face. She shaped her lips with one tube, coloured her cheeks from another. She pencilled the rims of her eyes, blued the lids, sprinkled her neck with 4711; attached pearls to her ears and donned her dark glasses; thus armoured, and after a displeased appraisal of her manicure's shabby condition, she ripped open the letter and let her eyes race through it while her stony small smile grew smaller and harder."
Holly Golightly, Travelling is written on her mailbox. Men are always coming and going into her apartment. The narrator is stunned by her appearance and intrigued by her crazy life.

I loved every word of it which is why it took me over a week to read the hundred pages. The next film I will watch is definitely the adaptation of the book.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

forty-five, forty-four, forty-two: poirot

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie (1936)

An archaeologist's wife is feeling threatened at a dig in Iraq and the man insists on getting a nurse to watch his wife. The nurse discovers that there is something weird going on in the camp, the atmosphere is rather stuffed. And then the wife is found dead, murdered in her room in the middle of the day and nothing suspicious has been seen. Hercule Poirot, who happens to be travelling by, takes the case and solves it, but not until another murder has taken place.

Another excellent Poirot story. And I liked the twist where the story is narrated as a book written by the nurse, with an introduction and everything.


Death on the Nile (1937)

Hercule Poirot is on a holiday in Egypt when a young woman tells him that she intends to murder someone. A man she loves left her and married her much richer and prettier friend. And then the murder happens, but the woman has an alibi. When the ship reaches its final destination four people have been murdered and one suicide, but Poirot has also solved the case.

This is quite a long Poirot story. It is really built up well, the motives for going to Egypt from everyone involved are explained and I got really involved in the story. And for once I finally guessed who did the murders. Definitely one of my favourite Agatha Christie stories.

Appointment with Death (1938)

Hercule Poirot is in Jerusalem where he overhears someone saying You see, don't you, that she's got to be killed? and he knows that he will recognise the voice if he hears it again. Two doctors are also at the same hotel and they observe an American family with odd behaviour. The adult children are afraid of their mother who is rather sadistic. The doctors travel to Petra where they meet the family again. And the mother is found dead, one of the doctors suspect murder and Poirot gets involved.

Another good read, but not as quite as good as the other two in the Poirot in the Orient omnibus. I was quite surprised to see so much xenophobia and racism in the stories, but it definitely mirrors the British world view in the 1930s. And I was also surprised to discover that Poirot lets some crimes slip through his fingers - after telling the criminals that he knows the truth, of course.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

forty-three.

the Missing Person's Guide to Love by Susanna Jones (2007)

Isabel flies in from Istanbul to be at an old friend's (Owen) funeral. But she is also looking for the truth of what happened twenty years ago when their friend, Julia, went missing. She believes that Owen either murdered Julia or know who did it.
"When she returned, years later, to the palaces, they weren't the same ones. Only their names were the same, as if new buildings had been put up but they had kept the old signs. The Dolmabache Palace was the wrong way round. She couldn't say what she meant by this, only that she seemed to be facing the wrong direction all the time. Topkapi was smaller. Perhaps it was simply that he wasn't there any more, so it couldn't be the same"
The book is narrated by two persons, Isabel herself, and her aunt, Maggie, in italics, more like an introduction to each chapter. It is a mix of present and past, both from Isabel and Maggie's lives. It was an easy page-turner and nothing fantastic, until the end. Those ten last pages really flipped the book around and made me all confused and disappointed at the last word. Disappointed because it ended the way it did and I know I will reach the full concept of the book unless I pick it up and reread it. Which is probably why I'm stuck left with the impression of having read a good book although I know it wasn't until the last pages. And I know it will be messing with my mind for a while, dammit.

Friday, 16 July 2010

forty-one, thirty-nine, thirty-seven: poirot

the Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie (1923)

Hercule Poirot receives a telegraph from France asking for urgent help as a man believes he is in grave danger. But Poirot and Hastings arrive too late, the man is already murdered, a grave has been dug but the body is laying outside of it, and his wife was found tied and gagged in bed. A letter indicating blackmail is found, there is a mistress and clues suggest that South Americans are involved. There is also a famous French detective on the case and the two famous detectives are not very fond of each other. And then a stranger is found murdered in a shed on the property.

This is the best Poirot story I have read so far. It is narrated by Hastings which gives it an interesting personal aspect. And it has such clever twists and of course I couldn't guess the murderer.

the Mystery of the Blue Train (1928)

Miss Grey spent all her life in poverty but inherited a large sum of money after her mistress died. She decides to go to the French Riviera with the famous Blue Train. On board, she talks with a rich woman who is in despair as she has made the wrong choice in a matter of the heart and is travelling with her maid and some famous jewellery. The next day, when arriving in Nice, this lady is found dead. Hercule Poirot also happens to be on the same train and he wants to solve the crime with the help of Miss Grey. They soon discover that not only is the woman's lover on board the train, but also the husband, and why did the maid get off the train in Paris?

I cannot put my finger on exactly why, but I found this Poirot story rather disappointing compared to the rest I have read. Oh well, on to the next one!

Death in the Clouds (1935)

A woman is found murdered on an aeroplane. The murder is extraordinary, she was killed by a dart dipped in snake poison and no one saw anything. Hercule Poirot was on the plane, but he was asleep the whole time. Who had the opportunity to murder her and what was the motive?

Another brilliant Poirot story. And of course the murderer was no one I suspected.

These three stories are found in the French Collection, although Murder on the Links also appears in the Complete Battles of Hastings vol 1.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

forty.

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (1988)

Tambu is not sorry for that her brother died. Because his death means that she can go to the mission school as she is the oldest girl. She also moves away from her life as a peasant and to her uncle's house at the school. Her uncle is the head of the family as he is educated by the whites and the headmaster at the school and therefore rich. Tambu is eager to begin her new life as an educated girl and leave her old life as a poor peasant behind.

Tambu is very bright and resourceful and is doing everything in her power to achieve her goals. Because her parents only could afford to send one child to school and because she was a girl and her brother not, he was sent. Realising how important education is, she plants her own crops and sells them in order to pay for her own education. And when her brother dies and she finally can go to a better school, she studies hard to be one of the best in her class so she can get scholarships to go on to higher education. But she also realise that being educated means leaving her peasant identity behind, no longer staying in touch with her family and culture. But she also discovers that being educated means having other troubles.

This book made me realise how important education is, having taking it for granted all these years. Such a wonderful book about and Tambu is definitely a heroine. I'm very tempted to break my self-imposed no-more-new-books-until-2011-rule to buy the sequel with the curious title the Book of Not: Stopping the Time.

Friday, 9 July 2010

thirty-eight.

the Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden (1998)
"His Excellency President for Life Field Marshal Al Hadj Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.."

Dr. Garrigan takes a position in Uganda in the early 1970s. When Idi Amin gets hurt in an accident by the town Garrigan resides, he gets to treat him. Idi Amin is so impressed by the Scottish doctor and wants him as his private physician. As he is tired of not being able to treat the people coming to the local hospital because of lack of necessary equipment, he takes the position. He witnesses the horrors of Idi Amin, but also gets enchanted by the charismatic dictator and decides against leaving. He also gets entangled in politics; the British want him to assassin Idi Amin as he is the only one who has access, but he refuses as a doctor saves lives, not taking them.

Dr. Garrigan is a fictional character, but the book is based on real events that took place during Idi Amin's reign of terror in Uganda. The book was made into a film in 2006, and I'm glad I didn't remember too much of the film as I think that would have ruined the book for me. What I really liked about the book is all the things I learnt from it.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

mine lesevaner.

Norunn har laget en test hvor du kan finne din lesepersonlighet. Hvordan du skal tolke svarene står på bloggen hennes.

1) Leser du rutinemessig bøker om igjen?


Fra jeg var 14 til den første filmen kom ut så leste jeg Hobbiten og Ringenes Herre årlig og i fjor leste jeg de endelig igjen. I tillegg så har jeg jo lest Harry Potter omtrent årlig. Akkurat nå har jeg funnet fram noen bøker som jeg vil lese på nytt, men ellers så prioriterer jeg nye bøker.

2) Er du opptatt av å holde bøkene dine pene?

Tja. Jeg skriver aldri i de (gjelder også pensum), men jeg leser når jeg spiser og de blir litt krøllete, men det er jo fint når det ser ut som de har blitt brukt.

3) Har du lister av bøker du planlegger å lese?

Jeg har over 100 uleste bøker i hylla, men som oftest velger jeg en når jeg nærmer meg slutten av en annen så det er tilfeldig. Akkurat nå har jeg dilla på Afrika. I tillegg så har jeg store ambisjoner om å lese minst et verk av alle som har fått Nobelprisen, samt jobber sakte men sikkert med 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die og Guardian's 1000 Novels Everyone Should Read.

4) Hvordan velger du ut hvilke bøker du leser?

Tema, utseende, anbefaling, anmeldelse, pris, impuls. I tilfeldig rekkefølge.

5) Finnes det bøker du aldri ville nedverdiget deg til å lese grunnet omtale?

Man skal aldri si aldri, men jeg tviler på at jeg kommer til å lese Knausgård.

6) Leser du alltid ferdig en bok hvis du ikke liker den?

Hvis det går tregt så gir jeg den opp før side 50. Har jeg kommet over det så tvinger jeg meg igjennom, ofte tar det månedsvis. Akkurat nå måtte jeg legge fra meg Coming Up for Air av George Orwell, var visstnok ikke i humør for en så pessimistisk begynnelse.

7) Hvor mye leser du hver dag?
Det varierer veldig. Akkurat nå som arbeidsledig adjunkt med ingen sosialt liv så blir det veldig mye.

8 ) Tenker du noen gang på at du burde skjerpe hva eller hvordan du leser, på samme måte som du tenker at du burde spise sunnere eller trene mer?

Kanskje litt mer variert? Men jeg får som regel i meg en god blanding i løpet av et år.

9) Språk eller handling, eller er dette et absurd spørsmål? Tenk fort.
Fungerer ikke språket så har handlingen lite å si, og omvendt.

10) Regner du mer enn 60% av din lesertid som avslapning?

Absolutt. Kunne til og med kose meg med pensum.

11) Er litteratur hovedsaklig underholdning, dannelse eller flukt?

Jeg tror jeg har lært mest av bøker, men det er også god underholdning og tilfluktssted.

12) Har du noen gang likt en bok og nektet å innrømme det av kulturstatusårsaker?

Tror ikke det.

Så må jeg bare dele det jeg fant under oppussingen av mine foreldres kjellerstue:

Saturday, 3 July 2010

thirty-six.

A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul (1979)

"Small things can start us off in new ways of thinking, and I was started off by the postage stamps of our area. The British administration gave us beautiful stamps. These stamps depicted local scenes and local things; there was one called "Arab Dhow". It was as though, in those stamps, a foreigner had said, 'This is what is most striking about this place'. Without that stamp of the dhow I might have taken the dhows for granted. As it was, I learned to look at them. Whenever I saw them tied up at the waterfront I thought of them as something peculiar to our region, quaint, something the foreigner would remark on, something not quite modern, and certainly nothing like the liners and cargo ships that berthed in their own modern docks"
Salim grows up on somewhere on the East Coast of Africa, but his ancestors came from India. Looking to get away from the place, he buys a shop in a city by a bend in the river in the heart of Africa. He arrives in the midst of decolonisation. He watches the city growing, first slowly and then very rapidly under the new government. The new president (or Big Man) must be popular, his face and people are everywhere. Salim admires him and ignores the signs that tell him to leave while he still can.

I could quote every passage from this book. It is a marvellous story about post-colonial Africa and feeling out of place. In some ways the writing style and theme reminded me of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, but I definitely liked this book better.

Friday, 2 July 2010

thirty-five.

Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt (1990)

An academic finds a letter from a famous male Victorian poet to another poet. He seeks expertise from a female academic who also happens to be related to the female poet. Together they unravel a correspondence which turns into obsession. But other academics are also on the hunt for the new information that could change everything.

I was definitely the wrong reader for this book. I don't have the patience to read and analyse poetry (words that probably never should be said by an English teacher) and I actually skipped a lot of the poems that probably make this book meaningful. I liked some parts of the book, the parts that dealt with the present and some of the past, but I skimmed a lot as it got to the end.

For people who like poetry, mythology, the Victorian period and romance this is probably the perfect book, but if you have no particular interest in these things this is not the book for you (and me).

Thursday, 1 July 2010

summer purchases.

No more buying books until 2011 or when I get a proper job (whichever comes first). Missing the Last Living Slut by Roxana Shirazi as it won't be released until Mid-July. Instead of putting books in my basket at Amazon, I have started to put the books I want on my Wish List, more or less obsessive-compulsory.

But more than anything I need a new camera. Hard to take good pictures when the screen is black.

Monday, 28 June 2010

twenty-nine, thirty, thirty-one, thirty-four: poirot

Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie (1935)

An old vicar falls dead during a dinner party. Everyone assumes it is of natural causes, even Hercule Poirot. But when yet another man, a famous doctor, dies in the exact same way at another dinner party, mr Poirot and his helpers are certain both cases are murders. But why would anyone murder a sweet old vicar? And whom among the dinner guests is the murderer?

Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie (1940)

A young girl is on trial for murdering her aunt and the girl who used to take care of the aunt. Even her attorney believes she is guilty. But the local doctor believes she is innocent and puts Hercule Poirot on the case. Poirot is not fully convinced of her innocence, because who else has the motive to murder both victims?

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie (1941)

Hercule Poirot is on a holiday on a small island on the British Coast. He and the other guests observe an ongoing love affair between two of the guests, both married. And then the woman in the affair, a famous actress, is found murdered. There are many people who would liked to see her dead, but all of the guests have their alibis in order.

the Hollow by Agatha Christie (1946)

Poirot is invited to lunch but walks straight into a crime scene. He sees a body (a doctor) in the swimming pool and a woman (his wife) holding a gun. The wife swears she did not kill him, she just picked up the weapon. And again Poirot is looking for motives. Could it be the wife, the mistress or the woman he loved fifteen years ago that suddenly reappeared the day before the murder?

These four novels are collected in Poirot - 4 Classic Cases. The one I liked the least is the Hollow but they are all excellent crimes. What I like about Agatha Christie is that her novels are as much about human nature and every day life.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

thirty-three

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2003)

"Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the étagère."
Kambili never speaks unless she's spoken to and never smile. Her father is a rich man and a devoted Catholic is admired by everyone. Yet he punishes his family when they aren't number one in class and when they sin. The biggest sin is to eat at their grandfather's house, the heathen. He beats his wife so severely that she miscarries. Kambili and Jaja's rescue is their aunt, their father's sister, and her small house full of love and laughter.

Another beautiful book by Adichie that I could not put down. It is sad yet very hopeful. It is set in Nigeria, mainly in the university town Nsukka, which also played a major role in Half of a Yellow Sun. The coups and corruption is also part of the background of this book. Needless to say that I loved it. I'm definitely going to teach this book to the right class someday.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

thirty-two

A Clergyman's Daughter by George Orwell (1935)

Dorothy is a spinster, living at the home of her father, the rector of the church. She takes care of the house and the parish, doing her father's work as he's getting more and more mentally ill. She punishes herself if she is not able to do the work she set out to do that day. She is also determined to never marry and have devoted herself to God. One day she loses her memory and do not know who she is. She follows a group of kids living on the streets to Kent where they go hop-picking. There she suddenly remembers who she is and because of the scandal that her sudden disappearance from her village caused, she cannot go back. Instead she goes to London to find work but ends up living on the streets.

It took me a while to get into it as I found the descriptions of village life tremendously boring, I actually left the novel alone for six months before I picked it up again. It gets a lot more interesting once Dorothy loses her memory. What I liked the most was this excellent sentence:
Women who do not marry wither up - they wither up like aspidistras in back-parlour windows; and the devilish thing is that they don’t even know they’re withering.
(I accidentally deleted this entry while editing the blog so this is re-type and not as good as the original post.)

Saturday, 19 June 2010

twenty-eight.

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr. (1964)

The place is Brooklyn, New York, some time after World War II. The gang hangs around Greeks, a local bar, looking for sailors and military men to rob and pick fights with, girls and fairies to lay and cars to steal.

With this book, Hubert Selby Jr. replaced Charles Bukowski as my favourite dirty old man. I love his introduction to the book where he explained how and why he learnt to write. It is a hard book to read. It took me a while for me to get used to the language, the way he glue the words together, but the book wouldn't be the same if it was written in standard English.

It was banned in England for being controversial. And it is brutal. Cross dressing, drugs, foul language, violence and very descriptive sex scenes. I will not recommend it to the faint-hearted. But it is definitely a book worth reading.

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