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

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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.

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