Tuesday, 29 January 2013

nine.

the Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)

"That was it. Send a girl off with one man. Introduce her to another to go off with him. Now go and bring her back. And sign the wire with love. That was it all right."

Jake Barnes is an American journalist living in Paris. He spends his days working and his nights drinking with his crowd, including Lady Brett Ashley, a stunning English woman who falls in love easily, but is engaged to a Scot, Mike Campbell. And men fall as easily for her. One of them is Robert Cohn, a writer who has a steady and jealous girlfriend, Frances.

Jake has known Brett since the first World War, and they have had their moments, but Jake is one of the persons Brett can trust the most. Jake is planning to go to Spain to do some fishing and then do the bullfighting festival of Pamplona with his friend coming over from America, Bill, and Robert. But Brett and Mike also come along and the wine and festival bring out the worst in everyone.

Paris in the roaring 20s must have been magical and Hemingway portrays the lost generation perfectly. The tension between the characters are present, but you also feel that you don't know the whole picture. Some things are revealed as the story goes on, but a lot of things are left to the imagination.

I had a hell of a time reading this novel. It might be because I was under the influence of some excellent Italian red wine while reading most of it. But how can you read a novel soaked in wine without actually drinking some?

"It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was much wine, an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening. Under the wine I lost the disgusted feeling and was happy. It seemed they were all such nice people".

Saturday, 26 January 2013

eight.

Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton (1941)

 "Then he remembered, without any difficulty, what he it was he had to do: he had to kill Netta Longdon."

Earl's Court, London, 1939. George Harvey Bone is obsessed with Netta Longdon, an obsession which sometimes is love, other times hate. Netta has starred in some minor films, but now she spends her days drinking other people's money and doing little else. And George, who is one of the silent types and a little dumb, is the perfect tool for Netta. 
George has always been a bit awkward, and he has this mood, he described it himself as dead, other use the word dumb, which occasionally comes over him. It always starts with a crack in the brain and then his mood alters to the worse and he often doesn't remember what happens when he is in this mood. In this dead mood he plans to kill Netta.

I have seldom rooted for a possible murder as I have done in this book because Hamilton has portrayed Netta as a horrible woman and George as a man to pity. The fact that she secretly found fascism, Hitler and Mussolini sexy and the way she calculated every move when it came to money and men, made me really dislike her. 

Patrick Hamilton is one of the best authors I have stumbled upon and I really wish more people would do the same. And Hangover Square is possibly his best work, but it's been a while since I read Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky so it's hard to tell. And the Slaves of Solitude was also great. I'm glad I still have the Gorse Trilogy to read. 


Monday, 21 January 2013

seven.

the Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino (2008)

"My name is Namima - 'Woman-Amid-the-Waves'. I am a miko. Born on an island far, far to the south, I was barely sixteen when I died. Now I make my home among the dead, here in this realm of darkness. How did this come to pass?"

 Namima and her older sister by a year, Kamikuu, are of one of the noblest families on the island of Umihebi. Their grandmother is the island's priestess and when Kamikuu is 6, she is taken from the family to follow her grandmother's role, while Namima is to become the outcast of the island. Because her sister is yin, she has to be yang, and has to take care of the dead and live at the funeral place and not see anyone.

But before that happens, she has to take care of the basket of leftover food from Kamikuu, and although the island is poor and starving, the food is to be thrown off the cliff every night and that's Namima's job. One day, she meets another outcast, Mahito, and he begs for the food for his mother who is pregnant, and if she doesn't give birth to a girl, his family will remain outcasts. She falls in love, breaks a lot of rules, becomes pregnant and decides to run away with him.

This book wasn't anything like I expected from the woman who has written some of the goriest books I have read (Grotesque, Out and Real World). Because this is just beautiful. I really felt the unfairness of the island's rules, and then the shock of what came next. I really enjoyed the rest of the tale and especially that part when Namima became a wasp, and the story of Izanami and Izanaki.

I discovered after reading the book, that it is part of a wonderful series called Canongate Myths (least informative webpage ever?), which retell ancient myths and are written by quite a few well-known authors. I have already put a number of them on my wish list, including Jeanette Winterson, Ali Smith, Margaret Atwood and A.S Byatt.  What I miss, and have tried to google, is the background of the story. I found the story of Izanami and Izanaki, but I'm really curious about the island and what time it is set.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

six.

Black Vodka by Deborah Levy (2013)

 "Have you ever had that weird feeling in an airport when you panic and don't know what to do? One screen says Departures and another screen says Arrivals and for a moment you don't know which one you are. You think, am I an arrival or am I a departure?" (from Pillow Talk)

Black Vodka is ten stories about Europe. Ten stories about identity, love, loss and longing which take the reader around Europe. I liked them all and they certainly made me think. There are many charming sentences, and they are all full of wit and sadness. Although, sometimes the Europeaness was too obvious, I mean, not every person in the book didn't need to have several identities.

The story I liked best was probably Cave Girl; a story about a young girl who dislike herself so much she gets a total make-over. It is told by her brother and it is disturbing to read how the brother develops feelings for the sister.

Deborah Levy made me want to read more short stories, and more importantly, force my students to read, so I ordered a few anthologies with various authors to use in class, but of course I have to read them first. I also am going to read Swimming Home soon.

"Kissing you is like new paint and old pain. It is like coffee and car alarms and a dim stairway and it's like smoke." (from Placing a Call)

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

three, four, five: vera stanhope

Ann Cleeves: Hidden Depths (2007), Silent Voices (2011), the Glass Room (2012)

Meet my newest obsession, DI Vera Stanhope. I spent the entire weekend reading the final three novels about her cases.  I just couldn't stop reading, dreaming and obsession. So what is it about Vera?

Vera is a fifty-something, enormous woman who couldn't care less about her appearances and is too fond of food and alcohol. She has never had a man in her life, no children either and she lived with her father until he died. Her father was interested in birds and her great knowledge of nature has helped her in the investigations.

Vera definitely isn't the nicest boss, but she is brilliant. She leads a small team consisting of Joe, Holly and Charles in the Northumberland police. Joe is by far her favourite and he often has to keep Vera company instead of being with his own family. I really liked how he finally got to narrate some chapters in Silent Voices and the Glass Room.

In Hidden Depths Vera and her team has to solve a case which starts with a teenager being found dead in the bathtub and the water is full of flowers. They don't get much further with the case before a young teacher student is found dead in the sea, and this time there are also flowers in the water. Are there any links between the two victims?

 Vera has been told by her doctor that she needs to start exercising, so she starts swimming at a local health club. She enjoys using the sauna after and it is in the sauna she finds a body of a woman in Silent Voices.

In The Glass Room Vera has tracked down her missing neighbour to a writer's house on the coast. But once she gets there, a professor is found dead and Vera's neighbour is found at the crime scene with a knife in her hand.

I wish I had more Vera to read, but a new season of the TV series is just around the corner and then there's the new Shetland book to look forward to in a couple of weeks. I hope Ann Cleeves is writing a new one about Vera now, as I have really grown fond of that woman. 

Friday, 4 January 2013

two.

Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves (2005)

A teenager, Abigail,  was murdered and found by her best friend, Emma. The girlfriend of Abigail's father, Jeanie, was convicted for the murder, but claimed her innocence until the day she hanged herself in the prison cell ten years later, not knowing that a witness had just come forward and the case was to be reopened. Vera Stanhope is sent down to Yorkshire to look at the case with fresh eyes.

My second meeting with Vera and it was definitely much better than the first one. This time I felt that I got to know Vera somewhat. I also liked how it was narrated by different persons, but mainly Emma and Jeanie's father, and Vera of course.

I have already started on the next Vera book, just the easy reads I need right now as I seem to be tired of the harder reads waiting for me. I'm also super excited and nervous about the new Shetland book coming out later this month. I thought that the last book, Blue Lightening, was brilliant, but also very conclusive, so I'm curious to see what brings Jimmy back.

one.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2001)
 
“Japanese-owned cargo ship Tsimtsum, flying Panamanian flag, sank July 2nd, 1977, in Pacific, four days out of Manila. Am in lifeboat. Pi Patel my name. Have some food, some water, but Bengal tiger a serious problem. Please advise family in Winnipeg, Canada. Any help very much appreciated. Thank you.

Pi grew up in a zoo as his father was the director and he spent the days learning about animals. He was also very interested in faith and shocked his family and teachers by practising Islam, Hinduism and Christianity at the same time. His family decides to migrate to Canada when the situation in India became troubled and they sell off the animals to various zoos. Some of the animals are going to zoos in America and they are therefore on the same cargo ship which the Patel family set out for Canada with. But the cargo ship sinks and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with a hyena, zebra, monkey and Richard Parker, the enormous tiger.

Seeing the film trailer every where at Christmas, I decided that it was time to reread the book. I remember that I really enjoyed the book the first time around, and although I remember the setting, there were lots I had forgotten.

It is certainly still a good tale, but I found the days on the sea rather repeating and boring. But then I guess that's what it's like on the sea. I still haven't decided which of the two versions of the story in the end that I believe is the true one.

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