Stikkordarkiv: novel

Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

adichieLast month’s reading circle book was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. I was late as usual, so I had to read the last 100 pages or so after the discussion, but had skimmed (very, very quickly) on my way there.

Adichie writes a story full of warmth and detail from a country and a conflict I know very little about. The story is varyingly narrated from the viewpoint of Ugwu, Olanna and Richard, which keeps the narrative interesting and helps highlight both the differences and the similarities in their experience.

Our first meeting with Ugwu, and with the story, is when he arrives with his aunt to take up the position as houseboy to Odenigbo, who is a professor at the University of Nsukka, politically vocal and Olannas boyfriend. Ugwu is awkward at first, but blossoms under the tutelage of Odenigbo and Olanna, who practice what they preach by making sure he goes to school despite being «just a houseboy».

Ugwu came to realize other things. He was not a normal houseboy; Dr Okeke’s houseboy next door did not sleep on a bed in a room, he slept on the kitchen floor. The houseboy at the end of the street with whom Ugwu went to the market did not decide what would be cooked, he cooked whatever he was ordered to. And they did not have masters or madams who gave them books, saying, ‘This one is excellent, just excellent.’

(Page 17.) Ugwu is a grateful subject for their attention, picking up reading material from his master that is far beyond him, but stubbornly working his way through it, and on the whole being a quick and eager learner.

The next narrator is Olanna, and we start off with a glimpse of her background. She has a (non-identical) twin sister, born to parents who are of Nigeria’s upper class, her father is a businessman and involved in government. They have a plot to get Olanna, the pretty one, bartered away to strengthen their connections, while Kainene, is being groomed to take over the business, in place of the son they lack. The sisters have grown apart during their stay in Britain to study and though Olanna would like to bridge the gap, Kainene upholds her distance. Olanna is uncomfortable with her family’s wealth and seems more happy visiting her aunt and uncle, who are comfortably, but more humbly situated. She has no patience, moreover, with her parents plot to sell her off, and is moving to Nsukka to live with Odenigbo.

The third narrator is Richard, who is a Brit newly arrived in Nigeria. He is drawn by a recent find of ancient local art, and is an aspiring writer. He falls in love with Kainene almost at first sight at a party and in love with the country and the continent progressively through the book.

The characters alternate in this order throughout the novel. Though the narration is third person «omniscient», but changes tone with the three characters as we share their thoughts and feelings. This works beautifully, by giving the reader three strong voices who all have their different perspectives on the events of the story.

Life is peaceful enough in the first part of the novel, set in the early sixties. But then the plot skips foreward to the late sixties and the disturbances that led to the secession of the southeastern part of Nigeria as The Republic of Biafra. The new republic is not recognised by the international community and civil war ensues. I am ashamed to say I knew very little about Nigerias history before reading this book, and though I had heard of Biafra, all I could recall was vague images of a hunger catastrophy. That is part of the story, certainly, but there is so much more to learn. Partly because I was so unaware of the progress of the conflict it threw me when Adichie suddenly takes the plot back to the peaceful early sixties half-way though the book, before returning to the late sixties and the culmination of the civil war in the last quarter. At first, I was puzzled by this strategy, and failed to see that it contributed anything useful, but once I got over my own impatience to see «what happened next», I recognised that the cruel contrast between the progressively more desperate situations in the war zone and the peaceful, optimistic, forward-looking earlier years lends a deeper poignancy to the individual fates than a mere chronological retelling would.

While narrating the story of the war and it’s origins, Adichie touches on many subjects, not least of which is how the colonial English used the divide and conquer tactics to such effect in Nigeria that the after-effects are in operation long after the control has (nominally) passed to the Nigerians. This is true for much of Africa, and probably for much of the post-colonial world. Interestingly, the magnificent lack of concern shown by outsiders is most clearly shown through Richard’s, the outsider’s, eyes. Perhaps because he is white and so all the other white people expect him to be «on their side». Richard, however, has given his heart to Biafra, even as he recognises that he will always be an outsider.

Richard exhaled. It was like somebody sprinkling pepper on his wound: Thousands of Biafrans were dead, and this man wanted to know if there was anything new about one dead white man.

(Page 369.) Following on from this Adichie raises the question of who should write Africas stories. Thoughout the book are fragments of a history of the war. At first the reader assumes they are supposed to have been written by Richard, he is the writer, after all. But is he the one to tell Biafra’s story?

________________________

Adichie besøkte både Sverige og Norge forrige uke i anledning utgivelsen av hennes nye bok, Americanah, desverre kom hun ikke til Trondheim og jeg hadde ingen mulighet til å reise for å se henne. Men SvD publiserte en tekst hun har skrevet om at virkeligheten overgår diktningen og hos Och dagarna går kan du se en video der hun snakker om boka.

Half of a Yellow Sun er oversatt til norsk av Mona Lange og gitt ut av Gyldendal med tittelen En halv gul sol.

The Bone Season – Samantha Shannon

bone_seasonJeg har lest The Bone Season på engelsk, men velger å bryte mine egne regler og skrive om den på norsk, siden jeg har tenkt å lenke til og sitere fra noen anmeldelser og et intervju på norsk og dessuten har en kopi av den norske utgaven, Drømmegjengeren, å gi bort til en heldig leser.

Samantha Shannons debutroman er blitt såpass hypet at jeg i normale tilfeller nok hadde droppet å lese den med det første, fallhøyden blir stor når en bok får så mye oppmerksomhet. Siden jeg som nevnt tidligere i et anfall av postbokfestivalentusiasme takket ja til å få den norske oversettelsen fra forlaget måtte jeg jo nesten lese boka også. Og å si at jeg ikke var litt nysgjerrig ville være løgn.

Så, ja.

Kort fortalt: Paige Mahoney er en klarsynt 19-åring i år 259 i et totalitært Storbritannia der Scion styrer og klarsynthet betraktes som en epidemisk sykdom som må utryddes, fortrinnsvis  ved å henrette alle klarsynte. Det er 200 år siden vår verden og Shannons fiktive verden skilte lag, og Paiges London er preget av mye av det vi kjenner fra viktoriatiden, siden teknikken har gått framover på andre punkter i hennes verden enn i vår. Siden hun aldri ville blitt godtatt i samfunnet uansett har Paige valgt en kriminell karriere, og er en del av et kartell av klarsynte i Londons underverden. Paiges sjef, Jaxon, har stor tro på at Paiges evner er sterkere enn hun så langt har vist, og det viser seg etter hvert at han har rett. Hun oppdager nye dimensjoner ved evnene når hun havner i fare på t-banen, men nettopp denne situasjonen fører også til at hun blir oppdaget av myndighetene og arrestert. Hun blir fraktet sammen med andre fanger til Oxford, som det viser seg har vært et skjult samfunn siden 1859 når underjordiske vesener, kalt Refaitter, med sterkere tilknytninger til eteren enn selv de klarsynte gjorde en avtale med myndighetene om å beskytte menneskene fra eterens angivelige farer. I Oxford lærer Paige mer om egne evner og knytter nye allianser, men det er like fullt en fangeleir og mye av fokuset hennes ligger på å rømme og komme seg tilbake til «familien», hennes gjeng i kartellet.

Og det er jo ikke dårlig, dette. Paige er en ganske spennende hovedrollefigur, universet Shannon har skapt er gjennomarbeidet og komplekst, og som uhelbredelig anglofil er jeg fascinert av hennes London og Oxford. At det finnes ekko fra viktoriatiden gir boka et visst preg av steampunk, noe som ikke er negativt. Knytningen til irsk historie er også interessant, og jeg håper den tråden tas opp bredere i framtidige bøker.

No matter how much I sometimes wanted it, there was no normal. There never had been. ‘Normal’ and ‘natural’ were the biggest lies we’d ever created. We humans with our little minds. And maybe being normal wouldn’t suit me.

Men. Jeg vet ikke. Jeg blir ikke ordentlig grepet. Når jeg hadde kommet 25 % gjennom boka (sånn er det på Kindle, man tenker i prosent, ikke sider) vurderte jeg alvorlig å gi opp helt. Først når jeg var på over 80 % var det sånn at jeg leste videre fordi jeg virkelig ville vite hva som kom til å skje snarere enn fordi jeg følte jeg burde, men selv da ble det aldri sånn at jeg ikke kunne legge fra meg boka. Og det holder faktisk ikke. Når Shannon sier i intervjuer at hun har planlagt at det skal bli sju bøker kan jeg ikke si jeg blir hoppende glad, akkurat.

Både Bokelskerinnen og Knirk har pekt på ting som jeg også hang meg opp i, men jeg skal forsøke å sette egne ord på hva som gjør at The Bone Season ikke helt når opp til forventningene.

Universet Shannon har skapt er riktignok gjennomarbeidet, men jeg er ikke helt overbevist om at boka er det. Det er mye ‘tell’ i stedet for ‘show’ i boka og kanskje er universet unødvendig komplekst? Det blir i alle fall mye å holde rede på, og det hadde ikke vært noe problem om boka ellers grep meg, men det blir så mye Shannon må få forklart for at vi skal forstå hva som foregår at det går ut over handlingen. Av de 400+ sidene er det mye som bare er forklaring av hvordan ting henger sammenog enda mer som virker som det er med fordi det forklarer noe om universet snarere enn fordi det skal drive historien framover. Det er ikke uvanlig innenfor sjangeren fantasy/sci-fi, særlig ikke i første bok i en tenkt serie, men det er ikke dermed sagt at det er en god ting. Samtidig er dette det punktet som får meg til å tenke at jeg nok kommer til å gi Shannon en sjanse til og lese bok nummer to, for forhåpentligvis har hun fått unna det verste av forklaring i bok en og kan fokusere på historien i bok to.

Kanskje.

Ellers må jeg vel si at jeg er så lei historier om såkalt klarsynte, spøkelser og andre «eteriske» fenomener i vår verden at irritasjonen min smitter over på The Bone Season. Det er litt urettferdig, kanskje, for i Shannons fiktive univers er klarsynthet og eter legitime handlingsdrivere og jeg har ikke inntrykk av at Shannon på noen som helst måte mener at det finnes klarsynte i vår verden av den grunn. Men irritert blir jeg i alle fall.

Jeg fikk også en litt uggen følelse rundt «the love interest», altså kjærlighetshistorien oppi det hele. Jeg klarte først ikke helt å definere hvorfor, annet enn at det på en eller annen måte virket umodent (til sammenligning virker J. K. Rowlings beskrivelse av tenåringsforelskelse i Harry Potter moden, siden sammenligningen til Rowling – til Shannons fortvilelse, det skal sies – er dratt). Nå er jo Shannon bare 21, så det er kanskje ikke så rart, men siden boka er utgitt som voksenbok må man få lov til å vente seg noe mer. Knirk setter fingeren på noen av de tingene som både tyder på manglende modenhet og på en langt mer tvilsom klisje i litteraturens kjærlighetshistorier, men vær klar over at detaljene her er spoilers, så ikke klikk deg inn om du ikke vil ha avsløringer, jeg lar være å utdype.

Refaittene er i seg selv et problem for meg, du kan si jeg har litt det samme problemet med dem som med vampyrer. Shannon sier til Bokelskerinnen: «Jeg hadde en ide om å skape en rase som så ut som det menneskene gjorde før syndefallet. Mer perfekte, høyere og sterkere. » Og, ja, er det bare jeg som får litt glitrende, tusen år gammel vampyr-vibe av dette? Som fiender er de en ting, som allierte eller venner? Altså, jeg vet ikke.

Jeg savnet også humor. Det er det nemlig fint lite av. Shannon sier selv, også til Bokelskerinnen: «jeg har heller ikke J.K. Rowlings vidunderlige sans for humor», og nei, det har hun ikke. Men hun har også rett i at det ikke finnes noen god grunn til at vi skal sammenligne henne med Rowling (kvinner som skriver fantasy og utgis av Bloomsbury. Joda, jeg ser hvordan pressen vil hoppe på sammenligningen), og at hennes bok er mørkere (mørkere enn Deathly Hallows? Vel, jeg er ikke så sikker). Men det betyr ikke at man ikke kan savne lysglimtene. Lær av Shakespeare, sier jeg, selv tragediene har humor innimellom, det er kjent som «comic relief».

Jeg skal utdype en annen sammenligning med Harry Potter, siden vi først er inne på det. Ikke fordi det er noen grunn til at Shannons bok skal ligne Rowlings, men fordi Harry Potter er et godt eksempel på noe annet jeg savnet i The Bone Season, nemlig vennskap, fellesskap og (selvvalgt) familie. Gjennom mesteparten av boka er det Paige mot verden som rår, og at boka er fortalt i jeg-form er med på å understreke dette. Mot slutten ser jeg riktignok konturene av noe som kan bli til noe i neste bok, men gjennom bok en er Paige for det første stort sett adskilt fra det hun har av «familie» og det som kommer fram rundt denne «familien» er ikke av en slik art at jeg nødvendigvis føler at de var noe tap. Så får vi se hvordan det utvikler seg.

Den norske oversettelsen av Kjersti Velsand later til å være helt ok. Jeg har bladd litt her og der og sammenlignet noen av sitatene jeg har markert på engelsk med den norske versjonen. Noen steder taper språket noe av fargen sin som i denne beskrivelsen av en av Claires «kolleger»:

Danica. Our resident genius, second only to Jax in intellect. She was three years older than me and had all the charm and sensitivity of a sucker punch. Nick classified her as a sociopath when she was first employed. Jax said it was just her personality.

På norsk har det blitt til:

Danica. Vårt eget lokale geni, intellektuelt bare forbigått av Jax. Hun var tre år eldre enn meg, fullstendig blottet for sjarm og empati. Nick betegnet henne som sosiopat da hun ble ansatt. Jax sa det bare var personligheten hennes.

Det er bare ikke samme schwungen over «fullstendig blottet for sjarm og empati» som «had all the charm and sensitivity of a sucker punch». Samtidig ser jeg jo at det ikke er så lett å finne en norsk variant som funker. Og hadde jeg ikke sittet og sammenlignet setning for setning hadde jeg neppe savnet noe heller. Noe annet er at jeg også synes språkflyten virker litt hakkete innimellom, men så er heller ikke språket i orginalen blottet for feil.

drømmegjengerenDet er mulig jeg har vært så negativ at du har bestemt deg for å la være å lese boka, men om du har lyst til å gjøre opp din egen mening og vil lese boka i norsk oversettelse har jeg altså en nesten-ikke-bladd-i-kopi å gi bort (stemplet med «God fornøyelse! Kagge forlag», slik at den ikke skal kunne byttes/selges som ny). Legg igjen en kommentar, så trekker jeg en vinner på Halloween (altså 31. oktober), det forekommer meg som en passende dato. Kanskje slenger jeg med en og annen overraskelse i pakka også. Om du vil dele «giveawayen» er det hyggelig, men du får ikke fler lodd av den grunn: En person, ett lodd.

Et par lenker på tampen:

Saturday – Ian McEwan

saturdayDet begynte så bra. Henry Perowne våkner midt på natten og står ved soveromsvinduet og ser et fly i flammer komme inn over London. Post-ellevte september er det naturlig å mistenke terrorisme, og Perowne våkner dagen etter med en uro i kroppen, er hans trygge, idylliske liv truet?

Perownes lørdag fortsetter først i vante mønstre. Han kjøper fisk til kveldens fiskegryte, han besøker sin mor, og så drar han for å spille squash. På vei til squashen blir han involvert i en liten bilulykke og møter Baxter, som med hjelp av kompisene truer Perowne mer direkte. Perowne snakker seg ut av situasjonen ved å utnytte diagnosen han instinktivt stiller og slipper altså unna bank der og da, men ved å ydmyke Baxter stiller han seg åpen for framtidige angrep.

Etter squash drar Perowne hjem og starter med matlagingen, gjestene (sønn, datter og svigerfar) ankommer og når de alle er samlet ankommer også Baxter med makker som tar familien som gisler i et innbruddsdrama.

Gjennom hele boka får vi Perownes filosoferinger over livet generelt og over politikk og neurologisk sykdom spesielt. En gryende irak-krig problematiseres, spørsmålet om mennesker kan lastes for ting de gjør som er forårsaket av sykdom likeså.

Som sagt, det begynner bra. Jeg liker Perowne på sett og vis og jeg liker det McEwan skriver. Men etterhvert begynner ting å skurre. Og innbruddscenen med Baxter er rett og slett så… idiotisk at det er vanskelig å ta boka 100 % alvorlig.

Det mest interessante aspektet ved boka er diskusjonen rundt nevrologisk sykdom og hva det kan ha å si for atferden til mennesker, og altså hvorvodt de kan lastes for sine handlinger hvis det er sykdommen som forårsaker dem. I den sammenhengen er Baxter et særdeles interessant kasus, men McEwan sløser det hele bort i den tynneste, Hollywood-aktige resolusjonen av en konflikt jeg noensinne har lest i såkalt seriøs litteratur.

Og det er så synd, for han kunne gjort så mye mer med det persongalleriet han har skapt. Perowne selv kunne vært dissikert og blottlagt (på John Updike-vis som gjestebloggeren hos och dagarna går ønsker seg). Ekteskapet mellom Henry og hans kone Rosalind er også verdt enda fler linjer enn det allerede får, det samme er forholdet til barna og til svigerfaren Grammaticus, her er materiell nok til tre-fire bøker minst. Og diskusjonen om virkelighet, særlig hjernens virkelighet sett med nevrokirurgens øyne, og litteraturen representert ved svigerfar og datter er også verdt mer fokus enn det får.

A man who attempts to ease the miseries of failing minds by repairing brains is bound to respect the material world, its limits, and what it can sustain – consciousness, no less. It isn’t an article of faith with him, he knows it for a quotidian fact, the mind is what the brain, mere matter, performs. If that’s worthy of awe, it also deserves curiosity; the actual, not the magical, should be the challenge. This reading list persuaded Perowne that the supernatural was the recourse of an insufficient imagination, a dereliction of duty, a childishevasion of the difficulties and wonders of the real, of the demanding re-enactment of the plausible. (Page 67-68)

I det hele tatt. McEwan skriver for det meste bra, men undergraver sitt eget prosjekt i mine øyne. Har jeg blitt skremt fra å lese fler bøker av McEwan? Nei. Han kan da ikke ødelegge alle bøkene sine på denne måten, kan han vel? Og i utgangspunktet likte jeg virkelig boka.

Jeg hadde moro av denne anmeldelsen på Goodreads, forresten, jeg er ganske enig, for å si det slik.

Ps: Plutselig skrev jeg visst på norsk. Det var i grunn en forglemmelse, men jeg gidder altså ikke oversette når jeg først har skrevet… Boka er utgitt på norsk av Gyldendal, oversatt av Halvar Kristiansen, med tittelen Lørdag.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce

harold_fryThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry jumped the tbr-queue a bit unexpectedly. I borrowed it from my parents, who both read it this summer, and it therefore happened to be on top of a pile in the bedroom when I needed something to read while keeping the baby company until she fell asleep. Once I started, I was intrigued enough to promote it to main read when I had finished Mutton, and since I spent Friday flying to Oslo for a meeting, I had a lot of time to read (one good thing about meetings in Oslo).

I say I was intrigued, and I was. Harold Fry lives with his wife Maureen in Kingsbridge, their marriage has been pretty much dead for twenty years. One morning he receives a letter from Queenie Hennessy, and old friend, who is dying of cancer in Berwick-on-Tweed. Harold is shaken by the news, especially as he feels he has things unsaid to Queenie. He writes a letter, and walks to the postbox to post it, but somehow he can’t quite manage to get it into the first one, nor the second one and at the edge of town he encounters a girl in a petrol station who talks about faith curing cancer and Harold has somehow started walking to Berwick-on-Tweed in order to save Queenie. This is the pilgrimage, an old man in unsuitable shoes, without his mobile, walking from Knightsbridge to Berwick-on-Tweed. A mad project, if ever there was one.

Well, there’s naught the matter with mad projects, fictional or otherwise (Round Ireland with a Fridge, anyone?), and one of the more enjoyable features of Harold’s project is the conversations he has along the way. He also has a lot of time to think, and we get flashbacks of his life, his friendship with Queenie, his relationship with his wife, his less-than-perfect parents and his son. Maureen, with her husband out walking to save another woman also has time to think, and so we get her side of the story, too. And it’s interesting enough, as things go. And there are nice turns of phrase, too:

The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had done so for a long time.

(p. 180) However, I’m not quite sold on the whole thing. I can’t put my finger on it, but Joyce doesn’t really make me care. I am nowhere near tearing up at any point, and really, there are several places where I should be breaking out the Kleenex (I mean, nowadays I cry at ANYthing, NOT making me cry is almost impressive in itself). So, well, a quick and somewhat interesting read, but not really something I’d recommend whole-heartedly, I’m afraid.

Another quote, though, this is Harold and Maureen’s neighbour Rex talking about his dead wife:

I miss her all the time. I know in my head that she has gone, but I still keep looking. The only difference is that I am getting used to the pain. It’s like discovering a great hole in the ground. To begin with you forget it’s there and you keep falling in. After a while, it’s still there, but you learn to walk round it.

(p. 240)

Ps. Boka er utgitt på norsk av Aschehoug i 2012 med tittelen Harold Frys utrolige pilegrimsferd.

Mutton – India Knight

muttonMutton is a free-standing sequel to Comfort and Joy (which I loved) though I only realised this once I started reading, as the publishers have completely neglected to include this information on the cover. This is a shame, because, although you could quite definitely read Mutton all on its own, it does contain Comfort and Joy spoilers, so if you want to read both you should definitely read them in the correct order.

Clara is still my BFF, or something like that. I like her a lot. The two of us have differing views on things like shoes (I’m more interested in comfort than looks) and makeup (I can hardly ever be bothered), but so do a lot of my real life friends. What Clara does have in common with me (I think) is what the cover calls «a healthy sense of what matters in life». But then Clara’s old friend Gaby moves in. Gaby is older than Clara but looks substantially younger. Because, of course, she has had «things done». And Clara, who has just discovered a frown taking root on her forehead, starts wondering whether, perhaps, she should get a few things done herself.

I’ve never been the sort of person who worried too much about how I look (hence the lack of interest in shoes and makeup), but I do see how a nip here, a tuck there and a little shot of Botox may seem quite tempting to people (we’re talking the subtle(ish), small alterations here, not full-on duck lips and scary expressionless faces). And it’s all very well to tell people to «grow old gracefully» as long as most actresses don’t look a day over thirty (even the ones that are supposed to be old) and women get laughed at for not dressing their age (as if, magically, at say, forty, we should stop liking to dress up and start preferring shapeless beige and navy dresses). And if you’re single, as both Clara and Gaby are, and would rather like to have sex with someone vaguely attractive (to you, definitions differ, obviously) occasionally, then living up to what society tells you is an attractive woman will of course seem massively more important.

So Clara worries a bit, but on the whole her outlook is that it is what it is and if you have to forego pasta forever in order to live up to the ideal, then perhaps it’s the ideal that’s wrong, rather than the pasta. But having Gaby in the house is unsettling, however, not all is hunky-dory with Gaby either:

For the first time since she re-entered my life, I feel properly sorry for Gaby, beautiful, gorgeous Gaby, pretendy Gaby, who has made herself a captive of her looks, who can never stop, who is never going to say, ‘Sod it, I’m nearly fifty, I think I’ll skip the daily punishment and the starvation regime and just do what I like. And if my arms sag a bit, then so what? I’ve had a good innings and it isn’t the end of the world.’ Instead here she is, snaffling down the Class As and trying to keep up with people she could realistically have given birth to. Kate would say it’s undignified, and at this very moment I’m inclined to agree.

(p. 82) They rattle along, and learn bits and pieces on the way, helped along by some of Clara’s other friends. At the same time, things are going on with Clara’s son Jack and his girlfriend Sky. Sky’s father is a successful fantasy writer, in the middle of writer’s block over his seventh novel, and is sent by his publishers in isolation to the outer Hebrides in the hope that this might help, so Sky is also a temporary lodger i Clara’s house. It turns out that Gaby is a complete fangirl when it comes to Sky’s dad’s books, and that provides both entertainment (being a bit of a fangirl myself, I chuckle over Gaby and Sky and their conversations filled with in-jokes and unintelligble gibberish – to an outsider like Clara) and plot twists.

The main focus of Mutton, though, is looks, whether to «fix» them and how to live with them. As such, I found Mutton less engaging than Comfort and Joy, simply because looks interest me far less than divorce (or Christmas). And some of the dilemmas seem quite foreign as well. Though one of the novel’s tenets is that far more peope have had «things done» than will readily admit it, I can’t help but feel that this might be true of middle-class-and-up London, but I somehow doubt it is true of Trondheim. I’d be rather surprised, in fact, if any of my friends had had «things done» (at least more drastic than a bit of teeth bleaching or such). Perhaps I’m naive, but it does make the novel’s main existential discussion seem even less relevant.

So, yes, I liked it. I read it cover to cover much more quickly than I generally read things nowadays (what with life happening and all), and I will probably get hold of India Knight’s next book the moment it hits the shelves (as usual). And I half-way wish the next one will be about Clara and her familiy, too, because I’d like to know what happens next. But, no, I didn’t love it.

I may have to reread Comfort and Joy come Christmas, though.

A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night – Deborah Harkness

I purchased A Discovery of Witches for the Kindle last summer on the strength of a recommendation from a friend, and started the book while in hospital having labour induced at the end of August. I read around half before we were allowed home (mostly while waiting for the pills to take effect). Once we got home I had other things to read and since I hadn’t been entirely enthused I forgot all about A Discovery of Witches. Until about a month ago, when something brought it to mind and I decided I might as well finish the thing. So I did, and immediately purchased Shadow of Night and read that, too and then cursed because the final installment of the trilogy is not out yet. You could say I got more caught up in it now that I was then.

So why did I not care too much for it in August? Well, in a word: Vampires. I’ve never been a big fan, and the whole Twilight thing with sparkly vampires and abusive or at least unhealthy relationships has ruined what little interest I might once have shown. Not that I’ve read (or seen) Twilight, it just feels like I have because of the barrage of information about it from both fans and critics. Anyway, Matthew is, if not exactly sparkly, a little too shiny in the first half of the first book. Besides, the ‘tall, dark and handsome with a troubling past but a heart of gold’ thing is really not very inventive.

However, Diana, her untried and unpredictable powers and her penchant for history eventually hooked me, despite rather than because of the relationship with Matthew. Besides, the novel is teeming with interesting ‘supporting actors’. And yes, of course I am curious to see how it all ties together at the end – I sure hope it does.

Shadow of Night is the more interesting book if you’re into history, as Diana and Matthew go back to Elisabethan London. Harkness obviously knows her stuff, though she wreaks havoc with several real historical characters’ reputations (and that’s part of the fun). Having Kit Marlowe as a deamon makes perfect sense, for example. The tiny little historical details are the best, though, and I vastly enjoyed that part of the story.

However, and there is a big However – or more accurately: Several of them.

I still don’t feel engaged in the love story. I’m engaged in Diana’s happiness, so have to accept that Matthew may be part of that, but it’s a bit like seeing you best friend fall for a douchebag: A big part of me wants her to snap out of it (though I realise that’s an unlikely outcome considering the rest of the plot). That’s one big However.

The other, which is less of a narrative problem and more of a ‘perhaps this is too close to Twilight after all’ sort of social issue is that there really are some major skeletons in Matthew’s and the de Claremonts’ closets. Really major. There’s more than a bit of ‘I used to be a bad boy but you changed me’ meme going on. I don’t like it. It may be elegantly resolved in the third book, so I will suspend judgement.

So will I buy the third book the moment it is out? Probably. And then I’ll get back to you. In the meantime: If you like vampires that are almost sparkly, you might want to check this out, if not, this is probably not the book for you. I’m not sure it’s the book for me.

Ps. Bøkene gis ut på norsk av Pax, oversatt av Elisabet W. og Marius Middelthon. De to første har fått titlene Alle sjelers natt og Nattens skygge.

The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals – Wendy Jones

wilfredI’m pretty sure I got The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals from my friend Tone, I can see from Goodreads that she really liked it.

Me, on the other hand? Well, I’m torn.

From the Goodreads synopsis: «Wilfred Price, overcome with emotion on a sunny spring day, proposes to a girl he barely knows at a picnic. The girl, Grace, joyfully accepts and rushes to tell her family of Wilfred’s intentions. But by this time Wilfred has realised his mistake. He does not love Grace.»

Extricating himself, however, proves to be more difficult than he had expected. And so the story deepens and expands.

I didn’t not like it. I certainly read it quickly enough. I root for Wilfred, and for Grace. I care for their fate, as I care for several of the other characters. But something seemed to me to be lacking while I read it. Well, for one, one of the major plotlines is left a little too wide open for my taste. That’s one problem I have. The other is less tangible. Because while, as I said, I root for Wilfred and Grace, I somehow fail to be touched very deeply. Several of the events should have been bringing tears to my eyes, but I was left dry-eyed throughout (and that is quite a feat these days, I’m a big sop). I find it hard to pinpoint, but for some reason it felt more as if I was reading a (wordy) plot synopsis rather than an actual novel. Does that make sense?

Maybe it’s just me. Anyway, middling to good, I’d say, not brilliant.

Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann – Jonas Jonasson

jonassonSå har jeg altså endelig også lest om hundreåringen som ‘klev ut genom fönstret och försvann’. Siden boka nærmest er blitt geniforklart i enkelte kretser er jeg ganske fornøyd med at jeg klarte å lese den med relativt åpent sinn. Som regel gjør slik hype at jeg enten ikke klarer å få begynt på ei bok i det hele tatt eller at jeg tror på hypen og blir skuffet fordi boka ikke lever opp.

Hundraåringen er blitt omtalt som en ‘humrebok’, og humre gjorde jeg. Jeg lo til og med høyt minst en gang. Persongalleriet er (stort sett) sympatisk, det gjelder ikke minst Allan Karlsson – hundreåringen selv – som etter et mer enn gjennomsnittlig begivenhetsrikt liv havner  på gamlehjem i en alder av 99 og bestemmer seg for at det nå kan være nok, nå vil han dø. Men det å dø sånn uten videre er ikke så lett, så etter noen måneder, på sin egen hundreårsdag, faktisk, klatrer han altså ut vinduet og begir seg ut på et nytt eventyr.

Halvveis forsøkte jeg å sammenfatte boka for min bedre halvdel, og endte med å karakterisere den som en blanding av en Arto Paasilinna-bok og Forest Gump. Det høres kanskje litt merkelig ut, men det fungerer aldeles utmerket som underholding.

Å andra sidan låg ju Spanien i utlandet, precis som alla länder gjorde, Sverige undantaget, och efter att ha läst om utlandet i hela sitt liv vore det inte så dumt att få uppleva det på riktigt någon gång.

(Side 76) Og der ligger kanskje kjernen i min omtale av boka: Dette er lett underholdning. Visst humrer man, visst finnes det spark til øvrigheta og til A4-livet og visst kan man sikkert dra ut en og annen (om enn ganske banal) livsvisdom av det hele. Men jeg føler liksom ikke at jeg sitter igjen med noe særlig etter endt lesing.

Det er da heller ikke noe krav, så ikke la deg skremme av det. Boka anbefales absolutt som f.eks. ferielektyre, eller som et feelgood avbrekk i hverdagen om du vil.

Disgrace – J. M. Coetzee

coetzee

(I guess it would be appropriate to start this with a trigger warning for rape.)

Disgrace was our February read in the bookcircle, which is probably just as well because I don’t think I’d ever have read it (and certainly not finished it) of my own accord.

David Lurie is an ageing professor at a university in Cape Town, teaching Communications since his orginial subject – literature – has been deemed too old-fashioned and the department shut down. He falls in lust with one of his students and has an affair of sorts with her, but is subsequently accused of harassment (rightly so, I should say). He refuses to apologise and therefore loses his job. To get away from it all he goes to visit his daughter Lucy, who lives «the simple life» in the Eastern Cape. She has help on the farm from Petrus, who is also developing the land next-door. David and his daughter do not have an easy relationship, it is clear that while he loves her, he does not approve of the way she choses to live her life. He does, however, get involved in her daily routine. That routine is broken when a gang of three attack the farm, stealing anything of value, setting fire to David and – David believes and we with him – gang-raping Lucy. After the attack, the differences between father and daughter increase, he wants her to get out of there while she wants to stay.

To start with I was pleasantly surprised. I liked David more than I had expected to, and although I did not approve of his relationship to Melanie (parts of which were dangerously close to rape), I rather liked his refusal to «issue an apology» – regardless of whether he meant it or not – in order to save the university’s face and keep his position. Most of all I liked his way with words, and up until half-way through the novel I have marked several quoteworthy passages.

His temperament is not going to change, he is too old for that. His temperament is fixed, set. The skull, followed by the temperament: the two hardest parts of the body.

After that, though… At some point «liking» David becomes impossible. As far as trying to understand his daughter, well, he says he’s trying, but he is not, really. However, I don’t really like Lucy, either. I found her somewhat, well «boring» is not quite the correct word, but certainly not terribly interesting. All honour to her for chosing the simple life and being happy with it, but for one I felt her resignation to Petrus’ encroachment had started long before the attack, and I also to a large extent disapprove of her handling of the attack just as much as her father does (though with an understanding that it would not have been my business to approve or disapprove, had this been real life, which he lacks).

And I do need someone to root for when I read, and there really isn’t anyone once I lose all respect for David. Which is one problem.

The other problem is that I really don’t understand what Coetzee wants with this book. What is he trying to say? I do realise this may say as much about me as about Disgrace, but still, it’s my blog, so I will say it: The whole thing seems somewhat pointless to me. And it leaves a sour taste, too, as I feel that Lucy – much as I fail to really like her I do not wish her harm – is sacrificed in order to make a point about David’s relationship to his daughter specifically and humanity in general. The attack is used to turn the spotlight on David’s feelings and actions, rather than as the highligth of a plotline in itself. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t approve of rape as a literary device, especially one that just showcases the emotional angst of middle-aged white males.

Still, there is meat here, and I can sort of see why the novel is so celebrated. For me, though, it’s a thumbs down.

London – Edward Rutherfurd

london_edward_rutherfurdI’m finally done! And the reason it took so long is really none of Rutherfurd’s fault (well, except in writing such a thick book, though I’ve read worse), but simply because life, really.

Anyway, I liked it. I felt I learned quite a bit, which is nice, though I must admit my head is not made for remembering dates, so I got confused several times and had to search backwards to a page with a date on it. Several people on Goodreads have complained that since it spans such a lot of time and events there is no time to get to know the characters, but I found that to be a minor problem – and I do tend to dislike being rushed on to a new set of characters just when I’ve gotten interested in the present set. This is why I’m not a major fan of short-stories. But Rutherfurd’s trick is to stick to a few families, and to give them somewhat hereditary traits – not just physical, but also of temperament – so that one the whole you can tell from the name of a character whether he/she will be a «hero», a «villain» or someone bumbling but generally well-meaning for example. Well, towards the end the families intermarry and intermingle and it all gets somewhat complicated, but by then I was hooked anyway, and there was still a sense of «I will root for you since your grandfather was so nice» or perhaps «I will root for you since your father was so shitty».

I had one small, but niggling quarrel with the book, though. I may have mentioned that I’ve learnt pretty much all the history I know from novels, which makes this a perfect fit. And more than anything, I love the little daily-life details. The «how a Roman forged coins», for example. Interesting stuff, I tell you. But I need to trust the author, I need to believe he (or she) knows what he (or she) is talking about. And therefore passages such as this one throws me:

But Dame Barnikel was happiest of all when she was brewing ale, and sometimes she would let young Ducket watch her. Having bought the malt – «it’s dried barley,» she explained – from the quays, she would mill it up in the little brewhouse loft. The crushed malt would fall into a great vat which she topped up with water from a huge copper kettle. After germinating, this brew was cooled in throughs, before being poured into another vat.

(Page 524) Except barley (or any grain) won’t germinate after it’s been milled. In fact, «malt» isn’t dried barley, it’s barley that has germinated and is then dried, and there is a crucial difference. «Dried barley» is just a grain whereas the germination means the «malt» is bursting with sugars which is what the yeast later feeds on in the process that actually makes alchohol. What happens after you mill is quite rightly that you add hot water to the «coarse flour» (called «grist»), but that water is meant to extract the sugars (and partly set off enzymes that convert even more of the starches into sugars to be extracted, if you want to get really technical) in a process called mashing.

And I know it’s a very, very small detail and not at all important to the story, but it grates, and it makes me wonder where else he’s tripped up and which details I now think I’ve learnt turn out to be less than accurate.

But let’s return to happier thoughts, because I really did like the book, and end with a quote which is really a much better representation of Rutherfurd’s skill:

And so with confidence he could give his children these two important lessons: «Be loyal to the king.» And perhaps profounder still: «It seems that God has chosen us. Be humble.»

By which, of course, he really meant: be proud.

(Page 787)