U- Historier om djevelskap – Carl Jóhan Jensen

u-jensenAltså: Dette er juks. Jeg har ikke kommet lenger enn til side 276 av 908, så jeg kan selvsagt ikke skrive en fullverdig anmeldelse av Carl Jóhan Jensens murstein. Men jeg synes jeg skal få for innsatsen. Og jeg har tenkt å lese boka ferdig, det blir bare ikke i januar.

Det er fler grunner til at jeg nå har holdt på med denne i tre uker og ikke har kommet lenger. For det første – og strengt tatt viktigst: Den er rett og slett for tung, helt bokstavelig talt. Jeg orker ikke å bære den med meg i sekken for å lese på bussen og jeg orker nesten ikke å lese den i sofaen engang. Helst skulle jeg sittet ved et bord og lest slik at boka kunne ligge på bordet, men slik sitter jeg ikke og leser. Så det er et ork å plukke den opp, og derfor har det blitt til at jeg har lest andre ting innimellom. Bøker jeg kan holde med en hånd samtidig som jeg også holder asjetten med frokostskiva på, slik at jeg kan spise med den andre. Du skjønner hva jeg mener? Bra.

Boka er fra 2005 og ble nominert til Nordisk råds litteraturpris. Den norske oversettelsen er fra 2010 og et utgitt på Samlaget. Jeg har forøvrig stilt et spørsmål til Samlaget på twitter om boka kommer i pocket eller som ebok, gjør den det løser det vektproblemene i alle fall.

Den er forsåvidt relativt tung i oveført betydning også. Det at den er oversatt til nynorsk er ikke det største problemet, men det er en del av ordene som brukes som jeg ikke er overvettes familiær med for å si det slik. Historien i seg selv er en utfordring for meg, dårlig som jeg er til å huske navn. Her er det nemlig et vell av personer å holde styr på og som om ikke det var ille nok i seg selv er det fotnoter som motsier det hovedfortellingen forteller og som sper på med fler detaljer og andre varianter av navnene.

Noe å sette tenna i, altså. Jeg må derfor være tilnærmet våken når jeg skal lese i den, og det begrenser potensiell lesetid enda mer i tillegg til de fysiske utfordringene.

Men samtidig. Samtidig er det noe som tiltaler meg. Det er noe som drar meg videre i boka og som gjør at jeg ikke vil gi slipp, selv om det hadde vært det enkleste. Så jeg skal lese videre. Snart må jeg fornye lånet på biblioteket, kanskje må jeg fornye flere ganger før jeg blir ferdig, men ferdig skal jeg bli.

Da kommer kanskje en skikkelig anmeldelse, i mellomtiden får dette klare seg.

A Winter in Ravensdale – Kate Fielding

ravensdale_winterWell, I finished.

A Winter in Ravensdale by Kate Fielding is eminently readable, that has to be said. I zipped through it this weekend, despite not really having a lot of time to read.

It’s Laura Grant’s second winter working as a doctor in rural Yorkshire, the story picks up somewhere after Ravensdale left off. Though Laura is undoubtedly the “main character”, the narrative in this book is spread out over a lot of different people and stories, more so than the first one (as far as I can remember). I was particularly interested in Aimee and her relationship to her parents, but felt like Fielding tried rather than succeeded at dealing with the issues there. Aimee’s mother is especially invisible, and although I realise this is part of Aimee’s “quarrel” – that her father is too domineering and her mother just a foil for him – I think the story could have been made more interesting if we were treated to her mother’s point of view, too (see, I can’t even remember if she is named by name in the story).

There are also some relatively gruesome – or tragic – things going on, this is a crime story of sorts, in fact, that leave me more unconcerned than I think I’m meant to be.

Still, it’s a nice read, and reading about the Yorkshire Dales still classifies as Not A Bad Thing.

Anyway, I’ll be passing this Bookcrossing copy on (give a shout if you want it), and I’ll be looking for the next (and, I think, last) book in the series.

When God was a Rabbit – Sarah Winman

winmanThis book is really horrible. I started crying about two thirds of the way through, and then I never really stopped, and the last 50 or so pages were really hard to read because of having to continually blow my nose and dry my eyes. Horrible, horrible.

So, naturally, this book is really, really good and you should read it.

The story is told by Elly and is a story of her and her brother an her best friend Jenny Penny and about Elly’s extended family. Pretty much every character is unforgettable and Winman makes me care deeply about each and every one, even the ones that aren’t entirely pleasant.

Jenny Penny wants to be adopted into Elly’s family, and though I am quite happy with the family I have, I can’t help but feel the attraction. Elly’s parents end up running a bed & breakfast i Cornwall, and I wish they were real, because I want to become a returning guest.

A new decade dawned, and my parents would eventually have guests who returned to them year after year, and who would all be a bit like us – a collage of the useful and impractical, the heady and the mundane.

It often occurred to me that normal people never stayed with us, or if they did it was certainly for no longer than the one eye-opening night.

(p. 132)

Few of the relationships in the book are straightforward, and I guess it is telling when “We raised our glasses and were about to toast the queer union” (p. 239) refers to Elly’s aunt intending to marry a man, and “queer” is both highly ironic and precisely the right word.

On the whole Winman’s choice of words is spot on, and I found myself wanting to underline turns of phrase on almost every page. Early on Elly is given a rather ridiculous-looking coat by a neighbour and her parents make her wear it out of politeness, and she observes:

although it was keeping the cold at bay, I felt it was simply because the cold stopped as it approached me and burst into laughter, rather than by any practical means.

(p. 61) And the book is simply littered with such gems.

In short, a book I can wholeheartedly reccommend. This is Sarah Winman’s debut. I, for one, am looking forward to her next book.

Minaret – Leila Aboulela

aboulela_minaret I finished Minaret towards the end of November, but have had a hard time finding something sensible to say about it.

I initially found the story fascinating, and at some point I felt I could understand how Najwa ended up going from ‘secular’ to ‘religious’. She never really belongs anywhere and once she ends up quite alone in London, it’s easy to understand how the mosque can feel welcoming in that it provides a sense of belonging and a sort of family. The novel also provides an interesting insight into islamic life in a western society from the inside.

However, Najwa is drawn to religion not just for the sense of belonging it provides, but also seems to find ‘religiosity’ (for lack of a better word), saintliness and religious devotion and submission attractive in itself. This is obviously not a unique trait, naturally I don’t think the entirety of the world’s population defining themselves as religious are just ‘in it for the community’. However, it’s an attraction I find it hard to understand, and this novel did not help me understand it any better (in fact, if anything, it left me more baffled).

Where everything that happens to Najwa underpins her need for a community, nothing – as far as I can see – explains this need for submission to a deity, to the contrary, several parts of her story would rather have me reject the idea that a god worth worshiping would sanction such things.

So, on the whole: Worth reading, but not entirely satisfactory.

Stardust – Neil Gaiman

stardustPlaying catchup on the review front here… It’s been a couple of weeks since I finished Stardust by Neil Gaiman.

I loved it. However, I didn’t love it anywhere near as much as I loved some of Gaiman’s other novels. It feels a bit like a first draft, to be honest, one that needs filling in. The sky pirates, for example, I need to read more about them. And the story of Stronghold, of Primus and Septimus especially: I’d like a bit more. Primus is interesting, but he is here and gone so quickly that I was left gasping for air (metaphorically).

And Tristran Thorn, our hero, well, I didn’t entirely fall for him.

On the other hand, the descriptions of Faerie are lovely. The star that turns out to be fairly human, the lilim, the little hairy man (gotta love him and his impatience) and a host of other characters that would probably be worth a whole novel to themselves.

One thing, though: I’ve seen Victoria Forester described as shallow in several reviews, which I think is a bit unfair. As far as I can gather, she sends Tristran on a fool’s errand in the hope that he’ll bugger off home and be ashamed of promising more than he can live up to, and so leave her alone. She seems genuinely distressed at him actually going off on a quest, and is willing to keep her promises to him when he returns, despite the fact that she is clearly in love with someone else. Tristran, on the other hand, seems to (imagine himself to) be in love with Victoria simply because she is “the prettiest girl within a 100 mile radius”. That’s what I call shallow.

Still and all, I did love it. And I think I’m going to try to get hold of the illustrated version. And I might even see the film. I’ll have to think about that one.

Our edition includes the first chapter of a possible other story featuring Wall. I wish Gaiman would hurry up and write that one, it sounds perfectly ripping.

Fru Björks öden och äventyr – Jonas Gardell

gardell_fru_bjorkDette med å lese nordisk gikk jo strålende. I alle fall langt bedre enn jeg egentlig forventet. Nå har jeg lest tre bøker, en finsk, en dansk og en svensk og likt alle så godt at det var vanskelig å legge dem fra seg. Det er en stund siden det skjedde med tilsvarende norske bøker, skal jeg si (krim teller ikke, ikke barnebøker heller). Jeg skriver riktignok om bøkene i motsatt rekkefølge av leserekkefølgen, men det er ganske tilfeldig. Av de tre var Fru Björks öden och äventyr den jeg var minst fornøyd med når den vel var slutt, men det er en svært god tredjeplass, så jeg klager egentlig ikke.

Jeg skal vel ikke forvente å like alle bøkene i utfordringen (særlig ikke min utvidede utfordring) like godt, men så langt har Norden innfridd, og det var nesten litt trist å snu seg mot Afrika i Jorden rundt (selv om Aboulela slett ikke er dårlig).

Kopien min av Fru Björks öden och äventyr er et bookcrossingeksemplar, så om noen vil ha den i posten nå som jeg er ferdig med den er det bare å si fra.

Boka starter i grunnen med at Fru Björk tar en avgjørelse:

Beslutet, ja! Hon fattar det i samma stund gästerna tackat för sig och hennes make med tunga steg vankat uppför trappan till deras sovrum. Hon hör en bilmotor starta och ser sin man försvinna runt trappkröken, och så fort hon är ensam kommer beslutet till henne.

Trots att hon i ett slag kullkastar och omdanar hela sin framtid är det inte ett svårare beslut att fatta än när hon om mornarna stiger upp ur sängeb för att hon vaknat och inte vill sova mer. Just känslan av att ha vaknat är den stärkaste. Som om hon vaknat och sagt: Nej, var är jag någonstans? Här ska jag väl ändå inte vara.

– Nämen, nu försvinner jag, säger hon nästan förvånat till sig själv, det är ju självklart. Att jag inte kommit på det förr.

Nöjd med sig själv går hon ut i köket för att ta hand om disken.

(Side 34) Så Fru Björk drar. Hun møter straks på noen vansker, men drar, det gjør hun.

Berettelsen om nåtid i Fru Björks liv veksler med historier fra tidligere, først om hvordan hun traff sin første mann og deretter om hvordan deres liv utviklet seg og så til slutt hvordan hun ble Fru Björk. Og selv om livene våre har artet seg svært så forskjellig har jeg ikke så vanskelig for å forstå Fru Björk. Hun har brukt livet sitt på å være den perfekte hustru, først for Mr. Right og deretter for Mr. Turned Up At The Right Time, og uansett hvor mye hun anstrenger seg blir det ikke satt pris på. Og nå er hun altså lei.

Jeg skal innrømme at jeg hadde ønsket meg en annen slutt på historien. Jeg hadde satt mer pris på et soundtrack av “I Will Survive” enn det Gardell velger å tildele Fru Björk. Likevel, dette er en svært lesverdig bok, og jeg vil gjerne lese fler av Gardells bøker. Snart.

Comfort and Joy – India Knight

Amazon has sent me no less than three emails recently suggesting I might want to buy My Life on a Plate by India Knight, which is silly of them because I already have it – I even think I purchased it from them to start with, though I can’t guarantee that. At the same time they COMPLETELY failed to tell me that India Knight has a new novel out. Luckily I follow @indiaknight on twitter and she told me herself that it was now out in pocket. And people wonder why we need twitter. Sheeesh. Anyway, a few clicks later, a couple of days waiting and bam, there it was in my hands and I fell to it as soon as I finished Helle Helle.

Comfort and Joy lives up to its title, it is nothing less than a feelgood book, and I strongly suggest you treat yourself to it in the run-up to Christmas. It is absloutely the best book you could curl up with in the moments between shopping for last minute gifts, dressing a turkey or worrying about how to get the svor on the ribbe properly sprø (yes, you’d have to be Norwegian to understand that last bit, at least to understand the importance, suffice it to say it’s one of those things that is essential to making Christmas perfect for a lot of people). And if you are too busy with the cleaning, shopping cooking and worrying about sprø svor, then the book will also be a very, very good companion for those peaceful moments that usually happen somewhere between the 25th and the 30th of December*.

The action is set at Christmas in the household of Clara Dunphy – three consecutive Christmases (or Christmi** – oh, I love that word, I think I will adopt it), in fact. I called it a feelgood book, and it is, despite the fact that to a large extent it is about divorce, and how divorce affects both children and adults.

And may I say I adore Clara?

‘I observe that you are,’ he says. ‘You’re very good at holding it together. Always were.’

Wrong thing to say. Just because I’m not doing ugly crying with nose stuff doesn’t mean I have no feelings, the git. Second, it’s so easy to tell someone what they’re like – it exonerates you from having to do any thinking or empathizing: ‘Oh, Clara, she’s absolutely fine, because she’s really good at holding it together. Me, on the other hand… Me, I’m sensitive.’ I mean: fuck off.

(p. 105) Yes, I know that gut reaction. I’ve never had to handle divorce (not my own, nor my parents’), but I’m the sort of person who’s pretty good at holding it together – in public, anyway – and I HATE it when people suggest that that means I don’t really feel anything, or that they somehow deserve more sympathy because they break down and cry instead of holding it together. How about I get some credit for holding it together DESPITE having a shit time? (Which is not to say I have a shit time a lot, life is pretty good, but, you know?)

The following is a quote related to stepfathers and what happens if they break up with your mother. Quite often, of course, that’s basically the last you see of him if you’re the child, nevermind he functioned as you father in everything but genetic material for years and years. Even in so-called well-adjusted families where the adults make an effort, there is no denying that the child’s claims on a stepfather are far from the same as that same child’s claims on a biological parent, and also that if you’re really unlucky you may end up with a series of stepfathers, all suddenly disappearing from your life.

This is the difficulty with stepfathers, I think to myself. They come with their own detonators built in, and as a child you have absolutely no idea if – or when – the detonator’s going to detonate. So you put all your eggs in that particular basket – well, your one egg. Your Egg of Self. One egg, one basket, like one man, one vote. You put your egg in the basket called ‘my new daddy’, and you think, ‘Well, there’s my Egg of Self, I don’t know why I made such a fuss about putting it there: it’s so happy in the basket. Everything’s fine. The egg, and the basket are a pretty good match.’ Sometimes this goes on for ever, in which case everybody is extremely fortunate. But sometimes something comes along and BOOM. Your egg is smashed, tipped out of its cosy basket through no fault of you own. ‘Where’s my new daddy now?’ you think, lying on the ground, which frankly isn’t a very nice thing for any child to think.

(p. 160) Clara and her family handle all the complications of splitting up better than most, I think, which is one of the reasons this book is so lovely: It presents a picture of how these things can actually be handled without big drama and children who are traumatised by parents demanding that they chose “whose side they’re on”. I don’t know that I could be that sensible about it myself, but I would sure try if ever I have to – god forbid I ever have to, though.

And did I mention that I love Clara? This is one of the reasons why:

I am astonished by air travel. Astonished. I know it’s the twenty-first century and even babies are used to long-haul flights, but I genuinely marvel every time at the fact you were in place A not so long ago and now you’re in place B, in a whole other country – continent, in our case. It strikes me as one of those things that is actually a proper miracle – albeit one that can be explained

(p. 193) Isn’t it just? You know something else that is magical, though it can be explained? Mobile phones. This struck me a few years ago when I was standing in a supermarket and got a call from my dad. I asked “Where are you?” and he answered “Montreal.” And it did, literally, sound like he was standing next to me. And no cords or anything! Magic, I tell you. (As my father has travelled a lot I have been used to calls throughout my childhood with crackly lines and several seconds lag – and an echo, if you’re really in luck. A clear reception in itself is therefore still something of a novelty.)

This is hardly a coherent review, is it? My apologies. Suffice it to say I loved this book, I laughed and yes, I did cry (on the bus, just a little, towards the end, but nonetheless), and I think you ought to read it.


* I should point out that it doesn’t HAVE to be Christmas time for the book to work, even if I just made it sound like that. It’s a bit like the film Love, Actually, which works any time of year but possibly especially well at Christmas, since that’s when it’s set.

** One of Clara’s little sisters used to believe it was spelt Christmus, in which case the plural, naturally, would be Christmi.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Moshin Hamid

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is book of the month at NRK Bok, and since it’s a short book and available for the Kindle I thought I might as well play along. And I’m glad I did.

The novel is a monologue by the young Pakistani Changez, told to an unnamed American visiting Lahore. Changez relates how he was educated at Princeton on a scholarship, was a star student and got a job with the prestigious firm Underwood Samson, who specialize in valueing businesses, and whose motto is “focus on fundamentals”.

Focus on the fundamentals. This was Underwood Samson’s guiding principle, drilled into us since the first day at work. It mandated single-minded attention to financial detail, teasing out the true nature of those drivers that determine an asset’s value.

He starts his work with them shortly before 9/11, and the narrative relates how things changed with the terrorist attacks. So does his relationship with a girl named Erica, who has been mentally ill after losing her “soulmate”, Chris, to cancer and who slowly slips back into illness after the attacks, retreating to an internal, nostalgic world.

The story is a powerful illustration of how the 9/11 attacks forced a lot of people to chose sides in an argument not of their making. The narrative structure is cleverly constructed, the silent American somehow plays an active part in the monologue, and it draws you in, making it a difficult book to put down. The ending is very open, which is undoubtedly one of the novel’s strengths.

Wasim Zahid suggests in the comments at Bokbloggen that “Erica” is a symbol of “AmErica”. I hadn’t noticed the suggestive name, but I had already concluded the same thing. Changez falls in love with Erica in the same way he falls in love with the States, but just as his relationhip with the country deteriorates after 9/11, so does his relationship with Erica. It is hard to avoid the symbolism in that the only time Changez and Erica make love is when Changez asks her to pretend he is Chris, just as he is only accepted the American society when he pretends to be “like them” – after having been to Lahore for Christmas (ironically?) he lets his beard grow, which is commented upon by his peers (and superiors). His answer that a beard is quite common where he comes from does not improve the situation.

And just as Erica retreats into nostalgia, so does the United States:

it seemed to me that America, too, was increasingly giving itself over to a dangerous nostalgia at that time. There was something undeniably retro about the flags and uniforms, about generals addressing cameras in war rooms and newspaper headlines featuring such words as duty and honor. I had always thought of America as a nation that looked forward; for the first time I was struck by its determination to look back.

If Erica’s name is symbolic, surely Changez’ is no less so. Wikipedia tells me it is the Urdu version of “Genghis”, which could probably be analyzed, but I cannot imagine that it’s similarity to the English word “Changes” is coincidental.

Relevant links (though in Norwegian): Interview with Wasim Zahid. NRK Bokbloggen on the novel – discussion in the comments.

Ned til hundene – Helle Helle

helle_hundeneNår jeg hadde lest ferdig boka i kveld lukket jeg den og sukket tungt. Mannen lurte på hva som var galt. “Boka er slutt,” sa jeg.

Jeg ble anbefalt denne boka av mjoff på Bokelskere.no (vel, rett skal være rett, Ingalill anbefalte også Helle Helle), og tenkte at den var jo verdt et forsøk siden jeg uansett måtte finne meg noen danske forfattere dersom jeg skulle komme meg gjennom den nordiske utfordringen. Likevel var jeg forberedt på å bli skuffet, mine erfaringer med norsk samtidslitteratur er nedslående, så hvorfor skulle danskene være noe bedre? Vel, ikke vet jeg med danskene, men Helle Helle? Hun er storveis. I alle fall å dømme ut fra Ned til hundene.

Sitatet fra tidligere er altså åpningslinjene i boka. Boka er fortalt i førsteperson, og jeg’et har altså nettopp steget av en buss et sted ved kysten på leting etter et sted å gråte – man må formode i Danmark, men det blir aldri nærmere bestemt. Stedet er nokså øde, og det går slett ikke buss særlig ofte, selv i normalt vær, og nå er det i ferd med å blåse opp til orkan. Jeg’et blir hentet inn av et par som bor i nærheten – Putte og John – og får sove på deres sofa. Og der blir hun, og blir viklet inn både i det dagligdagse og det mer katastrofale. Men det er først og fremst det dagligdagse som preger romanen. Her er kaffedrikking, fyring i vedovnen og lufting av hunder.

Stillferdig og likevel intens. Denne boka kommer til å sitte i en stund. Jeg skal nok lese mer Helle Helle.

Det er noe med språket, med det dagligdagse som likevel sier så mye. Jeg-personen har, framkommer det etterhvert, forlatt samboeren sin i “parcelhuset”, men før det har hun vært i en depresjon (eller noe slikt) en tid, og ikke gjort stort – knapt kommet seg opp om morgenen – og i alle fall ikke skrevet, som var det hun burde gjort siden hun er forfatter. Likevel tas det hjelpeløst hensyn:

Han var lige kommet hjem med en gave til mig, en uopsprættet digtsamling fra firserne, han sad ved sofabordet og sprættede den op, så jeg ikke skulle have dét at tænke på, jeg har jo så meget andet for tiden.

Jo. Jeg liker det.

Og slutten, slutten er altså bare så bra som den kan få blitt, egentlig, men du må lese boka selv for å få vite hva som er så bra med den (og om du ikke sukker når du lukker boka etter siste side, ja da vil jeg mene det er deg det er noe galt med).

Only Time Will Tell – Jeffrey Archer

archerArgh. I’ve done it again! And I can’t even blame anyone else this time, I mean the book clearly states “The Clifton Chronicles Volume 1”. Why, why, why did I not take five seconds to check online and confirm that, yes, there will be a sequel, and no it’s not available yet (April next year, apparently). Then I could have put the book back on the shelf and found something else to read. Instead I read it. I even got so caught up in the story I read waaaaaaay past my bedtime (I would have finished it that night if the lass hadn’t woken up and demanded to sleep in our bed, so I had to turn off the lights to get her to sleep). And then, of course, as the amount of pages left in the book diminished while there was obviously quite a lot of story still to go, it dawned on me. But too late, alas.

So now I wait with bated breath for April.

Only Time Will Tell centers on Harry Clifton, who is born in 1920 into a working class family in Bristol. Harry’s father died when Harry was a baby, and no one wants to talk about him or his death. Harry is told he died in the war, which he soon figures out can’t be true. Harry is an exceptionally bright child, and luckily he also has the voice of an angel before his voice breaks, he is therefore able to attend a good school on a choral scholarship. Little by little Harry uncovers the truth about his background. This first volume takes us to the start of WW2.

Harry’s story encompasses some of my favourite Archer clichés (clichés are not all bad, you know), the poor boy making good, the hidden past needing uncovering, selfish “villains” from the upper class suffering from major entitlement issues, decent people from all classes standing by the hero through his struggles, and so on. It’s all familiar stuff, but it works beautifully, and Archer weaves the whole into a gripping story. I’ll have to wait for the sequel to see where it all goes, and to judge whether I’m happy with the whole, but so far it’s promising.

Read it. But don’t read it before the sequel(s) is out. In the meantime, if you’ve yet to read Archer, I’d recommend As the Crow Flies or Kane and Abel as good starting points.