I have been acquainted with the smell of death.
Like a Creative Writing exercise someone gave up on after a few hundred pages. Or fanfiction, but where’s the line between those two anyway?
Anyway. House of Names is about the characters in Agamennon’s story. His wife Clytemnestra, his daughters Electra and Iphigenia and son Orestes. The sacrifice of one of them leads to mayhem and disaster, and everyone but Iphigenia get to give their point of view on the aftermath of it.
And they do so, and it feels like the build up to regular fiction build on mythological and/or historical figures. But then it’s done. Turns out it’s a slice of life, a collection of character sheets, instead of the creation of a story.
Maybe I should have known seeing that it only had little over 100 pages (in my e-reader). You can pass this one in your search for historical fiction with familiar names.
House of Names, Colm Tóibín, Penguin Random House 2017
I am what they call in our village “one who has not yet died” – a widow, eighty years old.
I allowed myself another book in between the ones school wants me to read. As I started The Catcher in the Rye, I really needed it.
It probably couldn’t be more different from that novel if I’d consciously gone looking for it. Snowflower and the Secret Fan is in nineteenth century China, the main character a girl the reader follows into adulthood. Lily has the firm belief that she isn’t worth anything, solely by being a girl. She will be someone’s wife some day, someone’s mother some day, but herself? Just a burden.
Feet are still bound in that century, and Lily goes through it. Small, beautiful feet will make her chances for a husband better, for starters. Before that relationship is created by planners and family, another connection is laid: with a girl that will become her sister, her other half: ‘laotong‘. With her comes the fan from the title, and that fan is written in ‘nu shu, the women’s language.
And this way, Lily can share her story. There’s ordinary life and hopes and dreams, disease and disaster. Lisa See puts you on her door step, showing a historical reality so incredibly foreign to me.
The story is fiction, the elements used in it not. I’d recommend this for anyone interested in those that move within a women’s constraints. In China, this time.
Snowflower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See, Random House 2005
Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley
I read stories by Naomi Novak before, and definitely loved her way of world building and kind of clean (fantasy sometimes can be quite fussy) tone of voice and writing. Uprooted was mentioned a lot in the past year, so I added it to my list and – when noticed that it was a hefty 600 pages – got even more excited. This author offered good fantasy stories, let’s do this!
Uprooted is a clunky, dull, stuffed C-History story that can’t even be brightened up by cool elements. The characters one sympathizes with are the horses.The victim that is around to give the main character a more human, caring side, is a more interesting character, but is only used for a sympathy vote. There is a romance that isn’t really a romance, and is there anything the protagonist enjoys? Is there something more she does than just being?
I don’t know if Novak wanted to make a Serious, Epic fantasy novel, but she ended up with a brick with some fantasy elements. A few, that is.
Uprooted, Naomi Novak, Random House 2015
I am an artist first, a censor second.
Another recommendation from someone I don’t know. Short stories, which I don’t have the best track record on. But, USSR and Russia as the backdrop of all the stories, and stories interlocking in strange (and maybe amazing) ways. Alright, I’ll give it a try.
What had been the biggest draw remained the biggest plus: stories about Lenin and Stalin Soviet have yet to cease to amaze/boggle me.
As the back flap says: ‘Tsar‘ goes from a government censor to mine fields to space, and every sibling, child, friend ends up being connected to the previous one. It’s the family that never moved beneath the Arctic circle, the soldier, the criminal. All just try to live in the smallest matter, but the Soviet, and Russia, aren’t the creatures to allow that.
It’s neatly done, the connections reaching throughout the chapters, but I couldn’t muster the stranger’s excitement about his book. it’s nice, it baffles, it didn’t change my world.
The Tsar of Love and Techno, Anthony Marra, Random House Canada 2015
Late one evening in 1994, Red and Abby Whitshank had a phone call from their son Denny.
This may be a period in which I unconsciously drift towards family dramas/stories. Or maybe I just want to find another Everything I Never Told You to blow me off my feet. And this is a Pulitzer Prize winning book, sign me up! Right? Sadly, there was no blowing here.
The reader jumps through the time line of the Whitshank family. It’s about Red and Abby and their children, and later their grandchildren, but it’s about young Red and Abby as well, and even Red’s parents. It shows how the most random (little) situations can grow into a family, and that family doesn’t always have to mean love, communication or living (close) together.
So what was lacking? For me, the tone used felt a bit fake to me. Too chipper, too “Here, luv, let me tell you the story of my family, dear.” Combine that with (some) characters that (sometimes) don’t move past twodimensional acting and it quickly falls back to a small town novel, instead of the grand and appealing.
I just didn’t discover the reasons for why I had to care about these people, why I had to support their frustrations (although one character gets a very short end of the stick). It’s a book for a rainy afternoon on your day off, but don’t expect any warmth to come off it.
A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler, Random House 2015
The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there’.
For the category Classic with a capital C It took me a while to get into it, but I liked it tons better than my previous Classic, Despair. I think the very densely printed lines were the biggest struggle to get used to.
As the complete title says, it’s an account of multiple murder. But calling it just a detective, a chronological story of murder and murderers caught, wouldn’t be sufficient, nor complimenting. This is every piece of the puzzle, from the life of the victims to the trails of the murderers, the homes of the police men and the setting of the court.
Truman Capote calmly sets out the pawns and the play-field, sketching a situation only overlay it with ink later. The account is the main character and it all fits needly together. It’s a slow burner that you will keep close after entering the field.
In Cold Blood: a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences, Truman Capote, Random House 1965
Place ten dozen hungry orphan thieves in a dank burrow of vaults and tunnels beneath what used to be a graveyard, put them under the supervision of one partly crippled old man, and you will soon find that governing them becomes a delicate business.
Part three of the Gentleman Bastard sequence. I’m pretty sure I’ve praised Scott Lynch’s world-building before (here and here) and therefore won’t repeat myself.
The Republic of Thieves is the fattest novel yet, very probably due to the flash backs that offer an “intermezzo” between every chapter. On the one hand it’s a nice way to know more about the thieves, it continues world building and gives everyone involved a more human and/or fallible face. It also creates a cliff hanger at the end of every chapter, like it’s a little advertising block intervening, keeping you from the main plot line. Locke and Jean have to make sure a political party wins, with any means necessary. Old friends turn out less-than-friendly and the ways of gathering votes can be called original, entertaining and lethal.
Again, Scott Lynch offers a can’t-put-it-down, silly, sweet adventure in a Mediterranean-inspired fantasy setting. I can’t wait for the final part.
The Republic of Thieves, Scott Lynch, The Random House Publishing Group 2013