The Collaborator

Captain Kadian takes a large swig from his glass tumbler, closes his eyes for a moment, smacks his lips and says, ‘The job’s not that hard, you see, you just go down once a week or fifteen days, and the money, the money is not bad at all.’

I really wanted to like this. Looking back a few days later, I appreciate the story and the story telling, but while reading it, it couldn’t hold my focus.

The story is about the nineties war in Kashmir, and the young man left behind to take care of the remains. Literally. Where others have left to fight (for India/against India), the headman’s son has the job of taking identity cards from dead bodies. He feels left behind, he feels like a failure, he lives in less than a ghost town.

So what was it that didn’t click with me? Maybe the endless dreariness, the weight of everything going on. It’s not like the prose is dull, uninspired or repetitive, but it does push you into the tightening corner of the main character’s despair.
Maybe I simply read it after the wrong book, maybe I just couldn’t handle the story.

The Collaborator, Mirza Waheed, Viking 2011

Girls on Fire

See them in their golden hour, a flood of girls high on the ecstasy of the final bell, tumbling onto the city bus, all gawky limbs and Wonderbra cleavage, chewed nails picking at eruptive zits, lips nibbling and eyes scrunching in a doomed attempt not to cry.

I’m both angry at and feeling supportive towards this book. I didn’t like it.

Books like these – underlining how they realistically show what it is like to grow up as a girl, to have female relationships, always set my teeth on edge. Not just because it’s so easy to make it look like this is a world-wide experience versus a personal one, but also because it can easily turn into sexist material: “dumb, jealous, hormonal, pitiful creatures, these girls”.

It’s humanity and society that’s tackling these two main characters. Hannah and Lacey barely need anything or anyone else but each other for (self-)sabotage. A small American town as their stage doesn’t help either.

So there are too many recognisable things, too much hurt and frustration to come out of this story light and happy. Because gosh darn it, why didn’t we know then what we know now, and where did the fire go?

Girls on Fire, Robin Wasserman, Little Brown 2016

Everfair

Lisette Toutournier sighed.

Well, it could make an amazing looking TV-show. The world building is there, it’s bright and diverse (both in surroundings as represented race and sexuality). It’s just the plot that ..not really isn’t.

Everfair is the name of the reclaimed, bought Congo and later parts of surrounding countries. With steampunk elements and money from societies and countries world wide, Africans, Europeans, Americans and Asians build up a country without colonial rule. Cool, original, awesome idea.

And that’s about it. The author seems to be in a hurry to showcase the rise and fall of this young country, hopping ahead in time like she was told not to use too much pages on character development. The story only gets sadder because of this as well, pulling the reader out of the freshly created fantasy.

I’m very fond of stand alone books, definitely in the fantasy series, but maybe Everfair could have done better with being a two-parter.

Everfair, Nisi Shawl, Tor 2016

Radiance

Come forward.

First of all, I’m not very fond of the novels that show their story through a collection of notes, diaries, pamphlets, and so on. Add those as decoration, but it feels too fragmented to build a story from. Or that’s simply laziness from me.

Secondly, there’s more room for world building than plot. Yes, I know, me complaining about too much world building? On this blog? But with Radiance there is no balance between the two. Character names are thrown around while my mind’s still reeling from learning about Mars’ society, more time spent on the interior of a space ship than motivation of caring for the main characters. Who are even the main characters?

The main plot – at least I think it is – is about how a company tries to reconstruct the disappearance and or ending of one of their employees. This being a film company, and the employee being a director and daughter of a Well Known Director, makes things just a bit more glamorous.
Because that’s what Radiance is, glam. Shiny. A picture book set in words.

 

Radiance, Catherynne M. Valente, Corsair 2015

The Unseen World

“Hello,” it said.

It took a while, but this story comes with a punch. It’s about the family you choose and build, the place in society you can create and can be created for you. It’s about a love for education, knowledge and science, sometimes overruling familial love. It’s also about tragedies. Yes, I know this might not sound like the most appealing story.

Adding to that, the characters are all flawed in different kind of ways. The father figure chooses work and science over traditional parenting (and family) life, the neighbour falls regularly short in her attempts to add normalcy, the daughter is a stubborn yet passive creature. It takes a while to root for those that are all so awkwardly flawed.

David – the father – is losing the control over his mind, and Ada – his daughter – is only twelve. With his mind deteriorating, so does the world he built around her, the story he created for himself. Ada has to adjust to puberty, traditional life and saying goodbye to the father she knew, in different ways.

Science may just be the only that is left standing.

 

The Unseen World, Liz Moore, Windmill Books 2016

Lair of Dreams

Every city is a ghost.

Oh man, sometimes I’m just lucky to have a book. The first book of the series blew me away, this one -the second- easily caught up.

There’s a few new characters, a new creep and new surroundings added. But the fun, speed and adventure is still here, and I breezed through the pages once more. It’s the roaring twenties and thirties, the eye for detail without having it drag down the story.

This time there is a mysterious sleeping sickness, Diviners (and imposters) popping up around the place and terrifying metro stations. But with fun, different kind of female characters, and pizazz. I just hope I can repeat myself for the third book.

The Diviners: Lair of Dreams, Libba Bray, Little, Brown and Company 2015

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

In a single year, my father left us twice.

This was work. I don’t know how I managed to read two similarly build up novels (the other one being Disappearing Moon Cafe), but this one was the tougher of the two. Maybe because the comparison material was so recent. Both left me wondering how I’d like something contemporary written by an Asian actor.

Anyway, time moves every way but chronologically in Do Not Say We Have Nothing. Keep your head with you, because there’s a lot of characters going through a lot of things. The most brutal one, probably Mao’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ and the horrors of Tiananmen Square.

These aren’t light, bright stories. There seems to be no end to what a family can be put through, and the small, mythology-like side steps only make the difference starker. How did anyone come out alive?

It’s a novel to take in in small doses, to learn and see through another set of goggles.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien, Granta 2016