The Burning Sky

Just before the start of Summer Half, in April 1883, a very minor event took place at Eton College, that venerable and illustrious English public school for boys.

Stories don’t have to be original to be entertaining. Unlikely hero? Absolutely beautiful, but cold-hearted-because-of-plot-point prince? Cruel authorities? Cross dressing for safety? Pompous names? Now I come to think of it..where’s the adorable pet/companion animal in this story?

Iolanthe has been warned by her guardian to not do certain things. With her listening to him, there wouldn’t be a story, and suddenly Iolanthe turns out to be a threat and a treasure to the powers that be. Good thing there’s a handsome prince that won’t let them get her. Instead, she should stay close to him, hidden away on Eton.

Emotions, hormones, friendships and a book that’s a gate way, a training room and a virtual reality of royal history all make sure that there’s nary a dull moment. Is the will-they-won’t-they sappy? Yes. Does Thomas go off on a much too long description of all the beautiful people around? Definitely. But sometimes someone wants a story you can race through without feeling like you have missed out on details, plot and information. I’m even interested in the other two books (of course this is part of a series), even though I wouldn’t know what they could be about. Sacrifice? More angry kisses? Good thing the trilogy is already completely published.

The Burning Sky, Sherry Thomas, HarperCollins 2013

Smoke

‘Thomas, Thomas! Wake up!’

Well, Dan Vyleta got the Victorian-feel of it down pat. Several times I paged back to the front to check the year of first publication.

This could be viewed as a compliment, but as I expected something else going in, it took me a long time to adapt. Smoke is as straight-edged as its characters, afraid of anything that could be viewed as sin or a wrong emotion, any form of entertainment that could ‘evoke’ something.

This element makes the novel dystopian, a strict society in which something or someone will give sooner than later. Not just that, but on top of the societal mystery, there’s a mysterious group that’s kind of powerful, but not powerful enough to have a clear enough message. Or maybe the smoke just got in between.

Even when adventure is added, the feeling doesn’t get very urgent. Power hungry people want to keep things the way they are, maybe some light sins aren’t that horrible, okay, okay. It could have been a short novel, a foundation for a television series, but as a hefty book there’s just not enough spark.

Smoke, Dan Vyleta, Weidenfeld&Nicholson 2016

Seventh Son

102 min.
If you would have told me that this was a movie from ten or even twenty years ago, I would have believed you as well. It’s a b-adventure movie, unoriginal plot with reel-thin plot and pretty people.
seventh_son_poster

There’s an unlikely hero who is found by a rude stranger to be his new apprentice. There’s witches returning you see, and witches have to be fought. Because they’re evil, except when they are the love interest.

What follows is just a lot of destruction and explosions and some semi impressive CGI use. Creatures are gathered to help the witches, while the hero only has his rude master. Nameless civilians are sacrificed, towns decimated, how did it end again? Oh yes, the good guys win, but learn about how every win comes with losing (people) as well. Just pause and stop the VCR when it says The End, there’s no after-credits-anything.

Seventh Son, Universal Pictures 2014

The Museum of Innocence

It was the happiest moment of my life, though I didn’t know it.

Brace yourselves.

Not for this story, but my opinion on it. A Nobel Prize winning author it may be, a deep, emotional romance in the loved city of Istanbul it may be, I only found egoism and sexism, with a dollop of patronizing ideas towards women.

The male main character starts an affair with a much younger, and poorer woman when he’s engaged to a nice, intelligent woman of his age and social standards. He steamrolls his mistress into many things, while not giving anything in return, only to throw a tantrum in any way but yelling when she disappears after his engagement party. There’s moping, pouting, dramatic thoughts and work-omitting behaviour. But don’t view it as that, he all has to do that because he’s so in love!

This goes on for years and years. Whenever there’s an interesting look into (high) society in Turkey of the seventies and eighties, the lens is turned back to the ever-suffering man. How dare she, how dare his mother worry, how dare his brother ask to come to work again, and so on, and so on. After eight years things turn in his direction again, but still there’s the woe-is-me tone.

An exhausting, frustrating novel that is interesting for about 10% of its pages: whenever Kemal Bey deigns to show a look at the world around him, instead of the one inside of his head.

The Museum of Innocence, Orhan Pamuk, Faber and Faber 2009

Beaches

123 min.
Why didn’t I watch this sooner? And why did I had to dig down to the eighties for a Female Friendship Is Awesome kind of movie? How do I get my hair like Bette Midler’s red curls?

beaches-movie-posterBeaches is the story of Hilary Whitney and C.C. Bloom. Two young girls from very different backgrounds start a friendship. Of course, as friendships go, it’s not just roses and happiness. One of them grows up a lot more colourful than the other (Midler’s C.C., who goes all out in outfits and hairdo’s to fit her star studded career path), fights happen and are resolved again. It’s almost completely focused on the two women and how they evolve. Heck, there’s even conversations that aren’t about men, making this a Bechdel-friendly movie.

But? Yes, friendships don’t always end well, even if the people involved don’t want them to. It gives a tad more weight to the happy fluffiness — because it’s so very clear that Hilary and C.C. are the Real Friendship Deal. The movie’s balanced enough to not hurt your teeth, just your heart.  Still, it’s worth the fun and colour of it all. A classic on the softer side of things.
Beaches, Touchstone Pictures 1988

Mrs. Bridge/Mr. Bridge

Maar waarom bespreek ik twee boeken tegelijkertijd? Omdat ik ze alleen als één boek was tegengekomen, tot de Nederlandse versie. Ik ging uit van een twee-kanten-van-dezelfde-munt-verhaal, ondanks dat er tien jaar tussen zit.
Ik had niet helemaal gelijk.

Haar voornaam was India – ze kon er nooit aan wennen.

India Bridge leeft een leven in een gouden kooitje, en niet eens omdat haar man en de samenleving haar daarin hebben opgesloten. Nee, ze is zelf niets, weet niets, heeft geen prikkels om te doen, laten, ontwikkelen. Ze leeft in de jaren dertig van de VS, in een rijke en veilige omgeving. En zodra haar kinderen oud genoeg zijn om voor henzelf te zorgen (en dan is er ook nog de meid), is er niks voor Mrs. Bridge te doen. Het is benauwend en gekmakend. Is zij een creatie van het tijdperk of wordt haar karakter alleen maar versterkt door haar situatie en omgeving? Kan alsjeblieft iemand uit haar cocoon trekken om te ontdekken of er wel een mens in zit? Kleinburgerlijke horror dat zich eigenlijk dus niet eens zo lang geleden afspeelde.

Mrs. Bridge, Evan S. Connell, Viking Press 1959

Vaak dacht hij: mijn leven begon pas toen ik haar leerde kennen.

Is het voor mannen dan veel beter? Nou ja, ze worden in ieder geval niet als porseleinen leeghoofdjes behandeld. Maar het keurslijf van wat moet zit ook aan deze kant goed strak. Is mevrouw Bridge op allerlei momenten emotioneel, meneer Bridge kan alleen met materialisme zijn genegenheid tonen. Opvoeding gaat hem ook niet goed af, want dat is tenslotte een vrouwending. Men leeft naast elkaar, niet met elkaar. Het is een geschiedenisboek dat wederom laat zien dat mannen ook feminisme nodig hebben, dat ‘vroeger was het beter/charmanter’ een term is van mensen die niet verder kijken dan de lak van de mooie auto’s. Eerst de een, dan de ander, of tegelijkertijd met steeds een paar hoofdstukken mixen, beiden zijn het lezen waard.

Mr. Bridge, Evan S. Connell, Knopf 1969

The Imperfectionists

Lloyd shoves off the bedcovers and hurries to the front door in white underwear and black socks.

Oh boy, a novel involving journalists, editors and media. At least the title vouches for a neutral, not-myth-making point of view?

It definitely does. There (still) seems to be such a charm attached to the media making branch, while at the same time having entire populations look down on it. The Imperfectionists need neither, cocking up and showing human weaknesses all too often themselves.

The story is about the going-ons of an English-language newspaper in Rome. Editors, correspondents, even a loyal reader — all get a chance to share their point of view.  Over fifty years there’s not only the societal changes, but also ones in the branch that show that decades of years at the same company isn’t a good idea for many people.
It makes things (all too) recognisable, funny, sad, and the reader possibly left with a craving for a visit to Italy.

It’s a light, quick read that might make you think differently about media and journalists, but definitely will make you feel less like a stubborn fool. There’s this crowd, after all.

The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman, The Dial Press 2010