Comfort and Joy – India Knight

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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.

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* 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).

Hårfine floker! – Tania Kjeldset

kjeldsetJeg leste altså Hårfine floker! av Tania Kjeldset i helgen. Det var forsåvidt et hyggelig bekjentskap. Fanny er en sympatisk niåring av typen jeg gjerne skulle vært venn med når jeg var i samme alder (eller nå, for den saks skyld). Boka starter med at alt går på tverke for Fanny, akkurat slik verden kan gå på tverke av og til, og hvor hver nye ting du gjør bare gjør situasjonen verre, samme hvor godt ment handlingen din var. Heldigvis er det alltid lov å si unnskyld.

Fanny har en venninne som heter Klara og er gammel. Det er ikke bare niåringer verden kan gå litt på tverke for, og når alt er som verst for Fanny viser det seg at Klara har minst like store problemer. Fanny bestemmer seg for å hjelpe Klara og når hun gjør det løser hun samtidig de fleste av sine egne floker.

Som sagt er Fanny selv sympatisk, ellers falt jeg vel mest for familien hennes, men ingen av personene i boka er spesiellt utdypende beskrevet. Skal jeg ha noe å innvende er det vel at dette virkelig føltes som en barnebok når jeg leste den – i motsetning til f.eks. Tonje Glimmerdal som føles som en bok, rett og slett. Men den står nå i hylla sammen med de andre “les selv”-barnebøkene i påvente av at ungen skal bli gammel nok til å gjøre nettopp det, og jeg likte den godt nok til å være litt skuffet over at det ikke later til å finnes flere bøker om Fanny. Tania Kjeldset har derimot skrevet en del andre bøker, så jeg kommer vel til å holde utkikk etter dem, tenker jeg, men i første omgang på loppemarked (der også min kopi av Hårfine floker! stammer fra).

Et slags PS: Hadde den utgaven jeg fant hatt det omslaget som den utgaven som nå er i salg har hadde jeg ikke kjøpt den, tror jeg. Og jeg som pleier å si at utseendet til boka ikke har noe å si. I dette tilfellet synes jeg det gir et HELT annet inntrykk av hva slags bok det er, jeg får nærmest et litt sånn “kioskroman for barn”-inntrykk av det nye designet. Men det er nå meg.

Bluestockings – Jane Robinson

bluestockingsBluestockings – The Remarkable Story of the First Women to Fight for an Education by Jane Robinson came home with me from one of my browsing trips in a proper bookshop (so, somewhere in Britain) and surfaced in the recent bout of putting books on shelves. And I’m sure glad it did.

As a female and a graduate I am profoundly grateful to the women who first breached the barricades of higher education a century and a half ago. And to those who, undaunted by jeers, ridicule, hostility and pig-headedness perservered so that I and my contemporaries could take it for granted that if we wanted to go to university our sex, at least, would not stop us.

Jane Robinson has assembled an impressive amount of personal anecdotes from interviews, letters and diaries and woven them in with officially recorded dates and facts to provide a consise and highly readable history of women’s entry into higher education.

“There is a wonderful exhilaration about getting a degree. It is something more than the degree itself. It feels like coming into an inheritance of tradition,” quotes Robinson from a female graduate of Manchester in 1926. And it does. At least it did for me, and reading this book made me relive my own years at university and, particularly, my own graduation from Manchester (did you hear me cry: “Oh, sister!”?) and to reflect.

Read this book, especially if you also happen to be female and a graduate. It would also be the perfect gift for any young woman of your acquaintance going away to university for the first time, as it is not only designed to give her a sense of history but also to instill love of learning for learning’s sake, and to remind her to enjoy herself.  No mean thing.

Doktor Proktor og verdens undergang. Kanskje. – Jo Nesbø

doktor_proktorDa har jeg fått lest oppfølgeren til Doktor Proktors prompepulver og Doktor Proktors tidsbadekar. Og sjarmerende lesning var det.

I Doktor Proktor og verdens undergang. Kanskje. må våre helter – Lise, Bulle og Doktor Proktor – igjen trå til og redde seg selv, Norge og hele verden forsåvidt. Norges befolkning har blitt hypnotisert av noen vesener som er beskrevet i Dyr du skulle ønske ikke fantes, boken Bulles bestefar har skrevet, og det ser mørkt ut. Ved hjelp av noen nye allierte – noen av Bulle og Lises lærere, en mislykket hanggliderselger fra Sør-Trøndelag og en konge i eksil – rydder våre helter selvsagt opp.

Når jeg leste de to første bøkene var jeg litt kritisk til at de lignet stilen til Roald Dahl så ettertrykkelig. Det opplevde jeg ikke som et problem denne gangen. Som bemerket i forbindelse med smakebiten jeg serverte på søndag er slektskapet til en annen barnebokforfatter framtredende i denne boka, Bulle kunne helt klart vært Pippis barnebarn. At en person fra Di Derres repertoar – Madsen, korpsdirigenten med pilotsolbriller – også får en litt mer framtredende rolle hjelper på å gi persongalleriet mer spennvidde, og er forøvrig en herlig detalj og et nikk til voksne lesere. Likheten med Roald Dahls forfatterskap er tilstede fortsatt, men ispedd alle andre referanser er det ikke lenger forstyrrende.

Plottet er ubetalelig. Dyr du skulle ønske ikke fantes er skumle. Spenningskurven er akkurat slik den skal være. Vennskap er toppen. Annerledeshet er bra. Å redde verden er gøy og forsøket er verdt det selv hvis man skulle mislykkes, for livet er faktisk herlig. Og ikke minst, Bulle og Lise og Doktor Proktor er fortsatt verdens beste bestevenner.

I det hele tatt er dette en serie Nesbø fortjener vel så mye cred for som for Harry Hole. Skikkelig gode barnebøker er det relativt langt mellom. Dette er i alle fall årets første julegavetips fra meg.

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.