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
Oh dear, what is this? A mockumentary, although the people starring are small-mindedly human enough to be straight from reality. And what is it about? Sport mascots, the people that dress up as animals (and other things) at sport games. The featured mascots are preparing for a world championship of mascots and accompanying con. The people attached to that are ..maybe even weirder, and in the worrying way.
Especially when sex and furries are added. It moves the not-documentary from ‘people very passionate about an unfamiliar hobby’ to ‘how many weirdos can we gather’.
In the end this made me more curious about the people in mascots, the real ones. Surely they’re not as annoying and frown-worthy as this lot. And hopefully they perform without a dancing poop.
Mascots, Netflix 2016
‘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
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.
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
It was the happiest moment of my life, though I didn’t know it.
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
She came by way of Archer, Bridgeport, Nanuet, worked off 95 in jeans and a denim jacket, carrying a plastic bag and shower shoes, a phone number, waiting beneath an underpass, the potato chips long gone.
It took me four days after finishing this before I felt like I could shape an opinion about this story. At first I was just hugely relieved that I was done.
This novel is closer to a news bulletin, a history story or a sociological essay. This isn’t entertainment or escape, it’s too brutal and slogging, the number of light and happy moments much too little.
So why would you? How many people pick a book that will darken their day considerably? As with non-fiction: to know. To remember that there is a world outside the familiar one. And in Zou’s path there can be find a little spark of motivation, while Skinner’s fall just shows the urgency of supporting veterans mentally. With my previous reads of De Gele Vogels and Terug naar normaal this month’s themes turn out to be mental health and war.
I agree with other reviews that the addition of a certain character is unnecessary, and his chapters could be skipped. They just add more violence, despair, and lack of reasons for existence.
Preparation for the Next Life, Atticus Lish, OneWorld 2014
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