Ghosts & Lightning

-Ma’s gone.

Is Ireland the most plain yet mythological country in Europe? Are the people very different because they grow up believing all kind of (fairy) tales, in such a very western society? Is it a thing based in class, more faith in the wee folk from those that need their help? Either way, Denny needs to go back home after the death of his mother.

Denny was in Wales, trying to get into university, trying to make a better life for himself. Because home is a house with his alcoholic sister and violent brother, drug addicted friends and a black hole of a life that can only suck him down again.

It’s always easier to give in than to fight. Denny tries, floats, tries a little bit less and lets life take over again. It’s like a Dickensian fairy tale, feeling contemporary and from the deep past at the same time. It’s grubby and vibrant, an easy read that leaves you just slightly hopeful about the power one has over its own life.

Ghosts & Lightning, Trevor Byrne, Canongate 2009

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Nocturnes

Slowly I’m changing my mind about collected (short) stories.For a long time I thought the short story was for the writer that couldn’t come up for a novel-spanning plot, while these days it only shows that creating a good short story is tougher than filling x number of hundred of hundreds pages. The Nocturnes dip and fall, while still managing to leave some element of each story behind.

As the title tells us, all the stories are about music. Musicians, the influence music making or not making has on someone’s life. Some stories are shorter than others, which gives a strange extra experience – a cadence, maybe?

None of the stories are excessively bright gems, it’s more the entirety of the five that leaves a certain feeling behind. Do the characters mentioned need help, was the reader an active participant or was it really only about music?

For a short collection, and for starting readers of short collections, definitely something nice to read.

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, Kazuo Ishiguro, Faber and Faber 2009

Acts of Violence

It begins in a parking lot.

Humans can be so very ugly in thoughts, behavior and actions. This story plays out in the sixties – seventies of the previous century, but show that the ideas and life styles mentioned sadly aren’t outdated. The corrupt cop that abuses his power, the people that look away because “someone else will help”, the racism, the sexism.

A woman is murdered a few meters away from her home, in front of her apartment block and a lot of its inhabitants. Some see it from begin to end, some are distracted by what’s going on inside their own homes. And all of them quickly go from shock to denial to passing responsibility to the other.

Every chapter is for one of the inhabitants remotely involved. Some know the woman well, others are more worried about the violence on their door step. It’s the cop, the murderer, the neighbor, and all have motives and blame-the-other/blame-the-world arguments to keep the self denial (or delusion) strongly in place.

It’s not a happy story, and your faith in humanity won’t be restored by the end. It is a clear cut showcase of the human character when threatened.

Acts of Violence, Ryan David Jahn, MacMillan 2009

The Box and the Dragonfly

When Horace F. Andrews spotted the Horace F. Andrews sign through the cloudy windows of the 77 eastbound bus, he blinked.

While sometimes the target group shows, Ted Sanders definitely delivers a bright, vibrant and interesting fantasy world. The author shows that gathering a bunch of tropes (nerd is the unlikely hero, the sullen female sidekick with tragic background, the unreliable good guys and so on) isn’t necessary a bad or unoriginal thing.

Horace discovers a different world full of magical creations and elements and the people that keep them. Of course, just around the time that he’s being initiated as a Keeper, a war is brewing. And he and the other kids need to be on the front line.

Adventures that need their talents and characteristics follow, surrounded by very appealing and grandiose imagery. It’s a book that makes you wonder how the TV series or film would look like. Yes, sometimes there’s a bit too much of wise lessons and repeated explanations but oh well – it’s almost summer somewhere. Make it an adventurous snack.

The Keepers Book 1: The Box and the Dragonfly, Ted Sanders, Harper Collins 2015

The Age of Innocence

On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.

Het was weer eens tijd voor een klassieker. En omdat ik graag vrouwen in de literatuur steun (en het toneelstuk kende door een Gossip Girl aflevering), viel mijn oog op deze.

Zoals veel “oude” verhalen, gaat het helemaal over high society, low society en society. Wie doet wat en waarom en hoe durven ze het om zo’n schaamte te zijn voor hun familie/familienaam/omgeving. Wat misschien wel een twist is dat de hoofdpersoon deze keer een man is, in plaats van een jongedame.

Een oude bekende verlaat haar man en komt vanuit Europa terug naar New York. De hoofdpersoon is enthralled, maar al verloofd. En Ellen is tenslotte toch nog getrouwd, want scheiden is niet netjes. Terwijl we in een tijd leven waarin we nog met nadruk boeken met mannelijke emoties ‘manlit’ noemen, was Edith Wharton haar tijd ver vooruit. Elke twijfel over prestige, imago en samenleving komen langs.

En ze verrast ook met de verloop van het verhaal, waardoor in een zee van ‘Zo was het leven in eeuw [X]’, The Age of Innocence er toch echt uitspringt.

The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton, Penguin Books 1920