The Alternative Hero

You know how it is sometimes.

The Alternative Hero is a coming of age story of the thirty-three year old Clive Beresford. Clive has been an (almost) life long fan of the band The Thieving Magpies and effectively stopped developing (mentally) when they broke up after a disastrous show. He drinks too much, has a shitty job, few friends and no girlfriend. And he thinks he can change all that (or at least his way of looking at life) when he spots the lead singer of The Thieving Magpies. That man should be able to give him closure and with that, somehow, a goal in life.

This book is stuffed with (pop) musical references, real and imaginary bands and persons passing by. Every chapter has a recommended listening, lyrics and texts from (fake) fanzines pop in and Clive simply can’t separate his life from his music.
Like in any coming of age story,  loads of stupid, sad and frustrating things happen, some wise lessons are pushed into the margins and The One Big Lesson isn’t so big and pretty easy to grab. The Alternative Hero reads like a scrap book of a music lover and in some chapters it looks like that as well. Sometimes the reader will probably have the urge to grab Clive’s shoulders and shake some sense into him, but the majority of the time he isn’t a bad guy, he just lost his direction.
And a has-been popstar helps him rediscover it.

Lovers of England, (English) music and coming of age stories, grab The Alternative Hero and enjoy the ride.

The Alternative Hero, Tim Thornton, Cape 2009

The Illuminator

John Wycliff put down his pen and rubbed his tired eyes.

The Illuminator tells the story of several characters living in the fourteenth century in (South) England. It is the time of two popes, the Church keeping their knowledge close to their hearts (because no way that a simple farmer can understand God’s Word) while others protest more and more loudly that everyone could and should be their own priest.
The main character is Kathryn, who as a widow and noble is pushed from every side to show her alliance and -if it isn’t too much of a bother- get married again soon because a woman being the owner of a manor and lands? Na-ah.

Sometimes the characters are placed a bit aside to tell the story about 14th century England and the huge gap between ordinary people and the Church and the country’s government. But never in an annoying way, instead reminding me of my elementary school History books that always started with a fictional story in a historical background.
Which is exactly what this is.

It is an easy to read story that half way in turns into more and more drama. I thought I was pretty good in predicting where plot lines would go, but The Illuminator threw me off for ninety percent of the time. For fans of Philippa Gregory: not in a happy ending way.
For everyone else who can handle death, illnesses, inequality and The Church taking everything without returning anything, I’d recommend this book. You might even learn from it.

The Illuminator, Brenda Rickman Vantrease, St. Martin’s Press 2005

The Lonely Polygamist

To put it as simply as possible: this is the story of a polygamist who has an affair.

Oh, but this is anything but a simple story.  I finished it a little less than two days ago and I still feel something ache when I think about it. This book didn’t leave me behind happy at all. I don’t agree with its happy ending. I pitied but couldn’t sympathize with (barely) any of the characters .. it took a bit of a toll on me, I suppose.

As the first sentence hints: this is a story about a polygamist, a man with four wives and twenty-eight children. But it’s not only about Golden Richards, it’s about his whole sorry family and sorry they are. One of his sons, one of his wives and -in a way- the house itself bleed their feelings of loss, frustration and loneliness into the main story. They can’t belong because there are simply too many others and too little of the father to give everyone equal opportunity. And Golden himself feels like an outsider in his own family. His back story shows that he has never made a decision about anything, there were and are always others to do that for him. Until he falls in love with an other woman and: lets himself. Even cherishes the thought of acting on it.

‘Wry’ would be my word for The Lonely Polygamist. There is no relief from the maelstrom that is the family Richards and I gobbled up the small pieces of joy that sparsely feature. It made me angry with polygamist families and the named religion they follow, but in the end there was only pity for so many unhappy people. Especially because they were unhappy by my standards (never share a man, don’t put yourself in second place, be loved unconditionally).

I fully recommend this book, if you read books to experience thoughts and feelings outside your own spectrum. Don’t read it for a laugh or a How To on polygamy.  It’s a very human story, of humans and their (self-)inflicted boundaries.

The Lonely Polygamist, Brady Udall, Cape 2010

Howl’s Moving Castle

119 min.

Weer een sprookje van Hayao Miyazaki, bekend van onder andere Spirited Away en Ponyo.

Het verhaal in het kort vertellen, doet eigenlijk afbreuk aan de film, maar omdat er weinig mensen zijn die een film willen kijken zonder enige voorkennis ..hierbij:

Disney

Hoedenmaakstertje komt onwetend tussen een vete van een heks en een tovenaar. De heks behekst haar waardoor ze in een oude vrouw verandert, ze vlucht naar de tovenaar, kan hem niets over de spreuk vertellen en wordt verliefd op hem. Daarnaast dreigt een oorlog, is de tovenaar zijn hart kwijt en wordt zijn weigering om aan de oorlog deel te nemen hem zeer kwalijk genomen. Voeg hier aan toe  de rijkheid en kleuren van Miyazaki’s beelden en je hebt een film die je dag opfrist.

Het verhaal is naturel zoet in vergelijking met de chemische suikers van  Disney en zo propvol met wezens en gewoontes dat de nieuwsgierigheid alleen maar méér geprikkeld wordt. Laat mij meer van deze wereld zien. Voor de volwassenen zijn er boodschappen van anti-oorlog en milieuvervuiling, maar het wordt nergens door de strot geduwd.

Dit was een film die ik al enkele jaren wilde kijken en nu ik hem eindelijk heb gezien, ben ik heel blij dat het geen tegenvaller was. En weet ik zeker dat ik bij de volgende Hayao Miyazaki op de eerste rang zit, om eindelijk ‘op tijd’ eens een film van hem mee te maken.

Howl’s Moving Castle, Disney 2004

Clicking her heels

Saturday, early morning, and twenty-four-year-old Amy Marsh was running through her checklist, trying to keep a lid on her mounting excitement.

Man denkt dat schoenverslaafde vriendin vreemdgaat en verkoopt daarom al haar schoenen op eBay. Vriendin reist vervolgens de wereld over om haar schoenen terug te krijgen. Het is tenslotte chicklit.

De reis hangt aan elkaar van onwaarschijnlijkheden en plaatsvervangende schaamte. Sta vooral niet stil bij logica en de realiteit. Daarentegen zijn de karakters allemaal redelijk makkelijk leuk te vinden, de kleding en locaties gedetailleerd beschreven maar niet tot het irritant wordt en kan de lezer gelukzalig zuchten bij het einde.

Meer is er ook niet te vertellen.  In de categorie van chicklits: zeker een zeven.

Clicking her heels, Lucy Hepburn, Avon 2007

The Bad Fire

On a hot Monday night in early Summer Jackie Mallon went on a leisurely pub crawl.

The Bad Fire is een what the hell happened in plaats van een rechtdoorzee whodunnit. Natuurlijk komt aan het einde wel uit wat er waarom is gebeurd en wie er achter zat, maar auteur Campbell Armstrong doet eerst zijn best om een wereld en haar karakters op te zetten.

Het verhaal is simpel: verloren zoon komt terug naar zijn moederland (vanuit Amerika naar Schotland) voor de begrafenis van zijn vader. Die blijkt echter vermoord. Niet lang daarna beginnen andere doden te vallen en is er onwillende politie die weigert connecties te zien. Gelukkig is de zoon een agent en kan hij het hele stinkende zaakje zelf oplossen.

Ik haalde TBF uit de bibliotheek omdat ik dacht dat het van een andere auteur was. En Campbell Armstrong had vrij veel gemeen met Kelly Armstrong (naast de kaften) in schrijfstijl, wereldschepping en oog voor (goor) detail. In gestaag tempo wordt de knoop van de moord ontrafeld, ondertussen heel Glasgow in map brengend (een detective met reisgids-elementen, dat was ik nog niet eerder tegen gekomen).

Het is een verhaal dat je bent vergeten zodra je het boek uit hebt, maar dat is natuurlijk niet erg. Als diepgravende detectives met karakter iets voor jou zijn: rap naar de bibliotheek.

The Bad Fire, Campbell Armstrong, HarperCollins 2001

The history of history: a novel of Berlin

The oceans rose and the clouds washed over the sky; the tide of humanity came revolving in love and betrayal, in sky scrapers and ruins, through walls breached and children conjured, and soon it was the year 2002.

Oh.  This book starts with a woman who misses from her memory  a recent period of her life . Next thing that happens is that -to her eyes- every building in Berlin has turned to flesh. After that, it gets steadily more weird.

At first, that frustrated me. I plodded through the hallucinations, dialogues with Magda Goebbels and visits to a blind Nazi doctor.  Until I realized that this insanity is her reality and I decided that I would simply piggyback along. This brought me to the bodyguard of Hitler, a ghost of a Jewish woman that killed her children in prevention of the camps and a hawk-woman.

The parts about World War II are the most interesting, but like the parts about main character Margaret, don’t satisfy any question. Towards the end of the book, the author poses a question: ‘Would it tax the imagination to propose that Margaret was sane?’. Yes, it would, very much so and I don’t have any urge or sympathy to do so. I sighed a frustrated breath of release when I finished this book.

The history of history: a novel of Berlin,  Ida Hattemer-Higgins, Faber and Faber 2011