The Pregnant Widow

They had driven into town from the castle; and Keith Nearing walked the streets of Montale, Italy, from car to bar at dusk, flanked by two twenty-year-old blondes, Lily and Scheherazade …

You know that alternative themed party that your friends (and the Internet) have been raving about, while to you it only looked like a students’ common room with cheap alcohol and high ‘philosophical’ conversations? This book is that party and I didn’t get why it was so cool.

You’d think it would be fun for a reviewer to review a book you didn’t like. Just use every kind of  it sucked known to man and you’re done. But that’s not reviewing, nor giving a proper opinion (arguments, remember?).
So, here goes my try.
The Pregnant Widow is 465 pages of obnoxious twenty (and up) year olds who can only think of sex and (British) novels, women who are called cock a lot, using words and adding their dictionary definitions and not much else. There is no insight into any of the characters, no jokes, cynicism or even details of their surroundings. It’s only self-pity and uninspired meetings written in such a way that make you wonder how an author can fill so many pages with so little. I dragged myself by my hair through this book, through this day-to-day holiday life of a mentally-bloated kid.

Other reviews speak about the book as a memoir of the start of feminism, the end of youth and dark humor.  Maybe I expected too much, maybe I didn’t dig deep enough. For me, it simply was a disappointment. Next time I want to read whining about people not sleeping with you, I’ll visit any teenage message board. It’s much less long-winded.

The Pregnant Widow, Martin Amis, Cape 2010

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

127 min.

Film. Not only hard to review because you are bombarded for (at least) two hours by imagery, plot and characters and need to get a bird’s view before you can get a (small) grip, but also (especially with films watched in cinema) tougher to re-watch, re-evaluate to make the film simmer.

Studio Canal/Working Title

And yet, here we go.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (TTSS) tells the story of British Intelligence in the seventies. One of the big shots thinks that there is a mole in his team of big shots. And one of them, mister Smiley (played by the ever charming, even though he never smiles in this entire film, Gary Oldman) is told to discover who the mole is. That’s the long and short of it, because to go into more detail, introduce more people and lay down more plot lines, would break down the experience of watching the film. Yes, in the case of TTSS you can spoil a feeling, a hunch and most definitely an atmosphere.

When you go to the cinema, you expect a film that came out this or the previous year. And of course TTSS is from last year, but the locations, cars, way of dress and everything else gives you the feeling that it’s Sunday afternoon and you landed yourself in an obscure seventies TV-detective. It’s the famous faces (Oldman, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and many more) that tell you that it really is a recent film and not a dip into the cinema archives.

The film also  has the speed of a visit to an archive. Don’t expect snappy one-liners, explosions, hunts, pretty women and sexy shots. The characters talk. They explain a bit and you can decide to set your brain to work or wait for the explanation at the end. The only fast thing in this film is the accusations and sneers flying around between the big shots.

So with TTSS we have a colorless film that is all about its characters. It will need you to sit up a bit and listen  and you will come up with a small question mark on your face. Did you just spend two hours listening to old white men talking? Did you even care about who the mole was?
And yet .. I recommend it. Because not every film needs to be bright and in your face with yelling its message. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is pretty in an not pretty way. A nice Earl Grey tea for the eyes.

Beatrice & Virgil

Henry’s second novel, written, like his first, under a pen name, had done well.

The most recent Yann Martell. Finding a snappy pop culture reference and/or worn out cliché that can cover this book will probably cost me more time than reading the book itself did.

Beatrice and Virgil are not only characters from Dante’s The Divine Comedy, but since Martell’s novel, also a donkey and a monkey. They are characters in a play that the protagonist, sort-of-ex writer Henry, chances upon. The play and accompanying letters lead him to a taxidermist and -for Henry- a complete unknown world. At first Henry is charmed and can appreciate this road to an exciting life, although the taxidermist and play-writer is a bit of a weirdo. But slowly signs crop up that the taxidermist isn’t a weirdo in a nice, socially-accepted way and Henry has to re-evaluate his enthusiasm.

While the previous book I reviewed was clearly from the category of Easy To Review, this book catapults me into Think About It. Beatrice & Virgil is (deceivingly) colorful, bright, detailed (Martell puts you inside the taxidermy store), aching and uncomfortable.  There are no chapters and little space to come up for air. The faster you read it, the more time you spend on it, the more it pulls you in and eats you up until it drops the climax in your lap. Do with it as you will, but here it is.

Read this book? Yes. You are brought into someone else’s life, into someone else’s experience without plodding through hundreds of pages or needing all of your concentration. Book some time and brain space for it? Definitely.

Beatrice & Virgil, Yann Martel, Canongate 2010

Pan Am

Sony Pictures Television

Een televisieserie over een vliegtuigmaatschappij die alleen uit gebakken lucht bestaat. Dat is geen schot voor open doel, maar met de bal in je handen het doel in wandelen. Het maakt het cliché daarom niet minder waar.

Pan Am gaat over de hoogtijdagen van vliegtuigmaatschappij Pan Am (die dagen waren in de jaren zestig, de maatschappij is eind jaren tachtig opgeheven). De kijker volgt een team van vier stewardessen, twee piloten en af en toe de excuus-niet-blanke Sanjeev. Verder zijn Dean en Ted en Maggie, Laura, Kate en Colette (maar die is wel van Franse afkomst!) hartstikke blank en Amerikaans want het gaat hier om Amerikaans gloren.

De serie blijft ‘overeind’ door drie pilaren. Een lachwekkend plot over de klunzige ‘ik-ben-vreselijk-zelfstandig- Laura die bijklust voor de geheime dienst van de USA, mooie mensen in mooie steden/landen en bijdehante, ‘feministische’ (gewoon vragend voor haar rechten, gezien door de bril van de eenentwintigste eeuw) Maggie.
De aanhalingstekens zijn er voor een reden, want een stuk nat karton komt steviger over dan deze plotlijnen. De vijftig minuten durende afleveringen zijn reclamefilmpjes voor een wereld die niet meer bestaat gecombineerd met eendimensionale karakters. Zelfs als er kans is op verdieping (Colette moest vluchten voor Nazi’s), wordt dat snel opzij geschoven want Pan Am is glamour en prét!

Het is dan ook zonder veel risico te zeggen dat de serie niet de levensloop van haar naamgever zal hebben.
Maar tot dan: all aboard voor glimmende leegheid en reislustopwekkende decors.

Pan Am, maandag 21.30 uur, Net 5

Sanctus: Revelation or devastation?

A flash of light filled his skull as it struck the rock floor.

Simon Toyne’s Sanctus was categorized by the library as detective/thriller. It could also be categorized in the Indiana Jones/National Treasure category, to get the first pop culture reference out of the way. In this book we have secret sects, evil monks, Siamese twins, something referring to immortality and yes – we cross half the world in less than 500 pages.

Toyne manages to introduce a lot of characters, maybe even too many. By the end of the book I still only cared about three of them and his plain description of every character (red/dark/black wind jacket, long hair) doesn’t make it easier to recognize in whose chapter we are this time. Besides that there are some scenes that wouldn’t go through National Treasure’s kid-friendly ratings, using detailed wound descriptions and a fleshed-out visit to the morgue.

Am I looking for problems here? Just a bit. Because besides these two points, Sanctus is entertaining, throws some lovely conspiracies around, gives you small surprises and not to be forgotten: is very accessible to read. So grab it from your library (or Amazon, if detective/adventure/travel is completely your reading kink) and enjoy. And try hard to remember how it exactly went a week after you finished it, because this is a story that won’t stay with you for long.

Sanctus: Revelation or devastation?, Simon Toyne,  Harper 2011