Lunarreader in 2016
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Here again :) with only one good resolution: read some nice books and share some thoughts.
To all of you: i wish you and your beloved ones all the best for 2016. May there be some good books to be enjoyed.
To keep things easy, this message will be updated with the books read
1. Voorbeelden van verdriet by Annelies Verbeke - Jan, 4th - ***
2. Illusies voor gevorderden by Maarten Boudry - Jan, 23rd - ****'
3. De Jonge Bruid by Alessandro Baricco - Jan, 25th - ****
4. Zijde by Alessandro Baricco - Jan, 28th - ****
5. Anna by Niccolo Ammaniti - Feb, 11th - ***'
6. Het pad van de spinnenesten by Italo Calvino - Feb, 16th - ***
7. De Gioconda Glimlach by Aldous Huxley - Feb, 17th - ***'
8. Aan de oevers van de Bosporus by Irfan Orga - Mar, 4th - ***'
9. De duivel op de heuvels by Cesare Pavese - Mar, 12th - ***'
10. Het Volle Daglicht by Graham Swift - Mar, 27th - ****
11. Een Noodlottig Diner by Ismail Kadare - April, 8th - ***'
12. Neem En Lees by Stefan Hertmans - April, 8th - ****
13. De Tien Merkwaardigste Monumenten in Wetteren by Guy Jooris - April, 24th - ***
14. Het Tumult Van De Tijd by Julian Barnes - April, 24th - ***
15. De Spoorzoeker by Kamiel Vanhole - May, 3rd - ****
16. Masterclass Single Malt Whiskies of Scotland by Bob Minnekeer - May, 27th - ***
17. De Wreedheid by Nicola Lagioia - June, 7th - ***
18. Is dit een mens by Primo Levi - June, 14th - ****
19. Aan de rand van de wereld by Michael Pye - July, 24th - ***'
20. De Jongen Die Het Paard Van Attila Stal by Ivan Repila - July, 26th - **'
21. Zwaarbewaakte Treinen by Bohumil Hrabal - July, 31st - ***'
22. Mooie Antonio by Vitaliano Brancati - August, 7th - ****
23. Lijmen ; Het Been by Willem Elsschot - August, 18th - ***'
24. Het Fiasco by Imre Kertész - August, 29th - ****
25. Moeders Zondag by Graham Swift - September, 1st - ****
26. Ik Kom Terug by Adriaan Van Dis - September, 10th - **
27. Palmloos Gebed / Massamoord Refrein by Stephen Winter - September, 20th - **
28. Verontwaardiging by Philip Roth - October, 1st - ****'
29. Blindelings by Kris Van Steenberge - October, 18th - ***'
30. Zeldzame Aarden by Sandro Veronesi - November, 13th - ****
31. Verdriet is het ding met veren by Max Porter - November, 19th - ***
32. Over God by Etienne Vermeersch - November, 20th - ****
33. Ons Soort Mensen by Juli Zeh - December, 18th - ****'
34. Slapeloos by Jon Fosse - December, 28th - **
As last year i started again with a free book, a very short novel, by a local author Annelies Verbeke, entitled Voorbeelden van verdriet.
This little book is a gift from the network of independent bookshops in Flanders, Belgium and so will probably never be translated. In english the title would be "Examples of grief".
A very short story on a boss and his secretary, the boss has a huge plan, the secretary wonders why she still works there, the plan turns out to be complete rubbish and the end kind of stays open but on the personal relationship it leaves a kind of bitter, or sour, aftertaste.
Not as well written as the gift we got last year. This year's author is new to me, although she is from my smalll linguistic region Flanders in Belgium, i didn't read anything from her before. Sometimes whitty and smartly written, but not enticed to start buying her other books.
2: Illusies voor gevorderden by Maarten Boudry, non-fiction, the first of this year. A great book with a very audacious statement: the truth is always better. The author, a doctor in philosophy, explains in great detail and with meticulous motivation why illusions are unhealthy, even dangerous. All kind of illusions, including religion, illusions in yourself and other collective illusions. Sometimes very funny and whitty (like 90% of people in Europe believe they are better at car driving then average, which is impossible), sometimes also very serious in argumentations that a lot of people, believers in one of the great monotheistic religions, will absolutely not like and most probably disagree.
Very intriguing are the pieces where the author explains how modern interpretation of religion is like an evolution to get the most absurd out of it, because otherwise even the current believers would abandon because they would have no other choice then to recognize that the 2 most known monotheistic religions, christianity and islam, are full of violence towards the others.
Very intriguing and with a lot of very deep scientiific reasoning, reading and documenting that must have been done to build the logic that leads the reader to, yes, the truth.
>5 SassyLassy: Yes it is a nice idea, and this association of independent bookshops has another side effect, it makes more people start with a new bookshop! I visited one this evening for a reading workshop on Alessandro Baricco, one of my favourite Italian authors, his last novel De Jonge Bruid. The fix translator of his books into Dutch, Mss Manon Smits, was there and it was a lot of fun.
On Maarten Boudry, you are right, his book is not translated (yet). If i would hear something about a translation into English i can keep you posted.
Number 3: De Jonge Bruid by Alessandro Baricco. This latest novel from Baricco is a must read for all who love the dreamy narrative style on one hand and the precise, meticulous phrasing on the other hand. A story set in no time, without named protagonists, with an unclear time spend, very little information on the place of the action .... like a dream.
As i already stated about Baricco: the stories are like dreaming with your eyes open.
An allegory on power, sexuality, family relations, old habits, gentleman and servants, repeating history, the lost son and .... fun, lots of fun.
Baricco references widely to his older work, but in a very subtle way, and also to other works from Hamlet to some of the newest authors, mixes narrative viewpoints from the protagonist to "the writer", works with timelapses and .... well with practically everything.
Do not read this book for the story or the plot.
DO read this book because of its creativity, pleasure of reading, laughing and most of all, because if you love reading, you will get a treat you'll not lightly forget.
I will go for a re-read now of Zijde by Alessandro Baricco as i went this evening to a reading workshop on Baricco's work. The author will receive an honorary doctorate degree at the University of Leuven here in Flanders, Belgium.
On this occasion 5 reading workshops are organised, the first one was this evening on his latest novel De Jonge Bruid. The day after tomorrow (Thursday) is the second one on Zijde and it is some time ago that i did read this short novel.
Only 120 small pages, so i'll give it a go tomorrow. :)
4: Zijde by Alessandro Baricco, as announced i re-read this short novel to be able to participate to the Baricco reading workshops organised in Leuven (Flanders, Belgium) at the occasion of the honorary doctorate degree that Baricco will receive at the University of Leuven on the 10th of February.
This novel stays intriguing, dreamy, rythmic and repeating, like a children's verse to be learned by heart. But, beware, the content is not childish at all. It is amazing, well constructed, with surprising twist and turns amidst the repeating, mantra-like phrases and recurring colours, actions, thoughts, ....
In a few words : it is vintage Baricco.
Number 5: Anna by Niccolo Ammaniti
(LT is apparently not yet able to recognize this title in touchstones, it always shows as Anna Karenina by Tolstoy and is not amongst the alternatives)
A very strange, very hard Ammaniti, this one. A combination of the hilarious scenes out of some of his works and the hard Italian reality out most of his works. It plays in the future and depicts 2 children, sister and younger brother, trying to survive when a virus wiped out all people older than 14 years. Weird, hard, violent and touching at the same time. Not my favorite Ammaniti but still worthwile albeit for the intensity of the human interaction.
And of course, children get older....
Certainly a lot of allegories in here, probably worth a re-read to discover them all, but my first reading was the story with its human emotions. That's already tough enough.
6: Het pad van de spinnenesten by Italo Calvino, his debut at the time (1946) and it is dated. Story of the resistance in World War II against the Germans in the North of Italy through the eyes and by the adventures of a 10 year old boy: Pin.
By moments moving, sometimes funny, sometimes sad. It shows the opportunistic Italians in that period, chosing rather for food and comfort than really knowing what they want: be with the Germans or be their enemy. As Italy itself, as they were first with the Germans and then again against them.
Calvino was reknowned to be communist after the war and still, he shows the group of resistance fighters as what they are: an assembly of lost souls, guys who didn't know what else to do, doubtful people, and some hardliners.
An interesting read without any doubt for Italians in that time, kind of looking in the mirror, but outdated now. Pleasantly written with nice attention to details in all characters. Hence the 3 stars in my evaluation.
>16 AlisonY: Oh, that's a bit of a surprise to me as I'm not scared is for me one if his better books. If you try another one you should go for his best book which is, in my (not so) humble opinion As God Commands.
This one was first edited in english under another title, i think The Crossroads.
Really good, hard realistic but with a smile from time to time.
Interesting to see Baricco's name here as he's not often mentioned on LT. I've only read his Silk but I loved that book. I must have read the lover letter a few dozen times including out loud to my boyfriend of the time. I've had a French copy of Oceano Mare on my TBR pile for over a decade now though as for some reason I haven't revisited him yet. But perhaps soon. I just recently read a title by a French author I hadn't read in a decade so maybe it'll be Baricco's turn soon.
>21 lilisin: Thanks for your comment. Here, in Flanders, Baricco is hot now with his latest novel De Jonge Bruid and the honorary fellowship that was granted to him by the oldest university here in Flanders, Belgium. I went to 5 lectures on his books and Zijde was the topic of one of those lectures. Given your interest in Japan, it is of course nice to see this theme coming back in Zijde, along the rythmic elements, the black and white opoosition, the attention to flowers ... All these elements point in my humble opinion towards dreaming. Like Oceano Mare, which is even more like a dream.
If you like short novels like Zijde you should also try Novecento by Baricco.
Thank you for those recommendations. I'll look for them next I'm in France or I'll get someone to purchase them for me.
8: Aan de oevers van de Bosporus by Irfan Orga, a very gripping novel about the tragic family history of a young boy, later a young man, in Istanbul and other places of Turkey. All classic themes come by, father - son, mother - son, brothers, grandparents, all grief big and small. And then the first World War starts and all changes. And again a can of themes is opened: wealth, poverty, togetherness, religion, anxiety, ....
Near the end the story gets lengthy when the author tells about his own affairs in the military, while for me the depictions of the family, and especially the authors mother, are the best parts. The authors mother is a young beautiful wife at the start of the story and she gets confronted with the worst scenario in war. The relentless search for a new attitude, one would even say a new identity, after this tragic event is without doubt very courageous.
Masculin viewpoints by the author, with his cultural background, do prevent him from being completely aware, so it seems, of this journey his mother has to go. Only in the end comes pure sympathy but then it's too late.
Could have been written a bit more dense, a bit less selfcomplaining, and then it would have had more than the current 3,5 stars. Still very well worth your time.
9: De duivel op de heuvels by Cesare Pavese. One of Pavese's more sensuous novels, about young men, studying but for the rest kind of lost in life, aware of so many things and yet not much at all. Friendship, love, sexuality, jealousy are the classic Pavese themes but now even more on "how to live". Be honest or be brave, be loyal or in for anything, be true to nature or give preference to pure hedonism ....
There are no answers in the end, just confusion.
The way Pavese depicts the land, the earth, the farming, via the main character, seem like to give away his personal preference but he also falls for the power of seduction in the end and of course loses his morality, or just not that ....
Read it, it's 65 years old but still burning.
Number 10 : Het Volle Daglicht by Graham Swift. Again, a gem, a little flickering diamond, an (almost) everyday story but told, unfold, wrapped and unwrapped in the simple but stylish way that became in later novels the trademark of the author. The inevitable drama of falling in love told in multiple ways, turning lives inside out. The complexity of marriage, or should it rather be the simplicity of it but combined with the complexity of the human nature? Hard to tell, even harder to understand, certainly when observing strangers. Or are we all strangers to one another?
Observations on how all these emotions can shape a life, can break it, can end it. Or just turn them inside out. Beautiful.
>28 Lunarreader: Read it, it's 65 years old but still burning.
I like how you phrased this. Encouraging about Pavese (who I don't know anything about except vague name recognition)
11: Een Noodlottig Diner by Ismail Kadare, an allegoric novel, like many of Kadare's work. A main role for his hometown Gjirokastër in Albania, that is so prominent that it looks like the protagonist. Of course Kadare is again joking with the communist regime that dominated for so long his country and this time it's so hilarious that you can only wonder why so many people saw for such a long time a realistic alternative in these oppressive, even stupid, regimes.
Not all ends well, and some mysterious people pass by, die, get mad or simply survive. And this is, maybe, how life was in Albania under that regime: you were lucky, or not, or you didn't want to know anymore.
12: Neem En Lees by Stefan Hertmans. a little booklet, gifted during Poetry Day in Flanders, Belgium.
And what a gift, 10 small pearls, blinking on a string, on remembrance and memories.
Hard to review poetry but what i can say is this: some confused me instantly and one got me wet eyes. Very strong poetry.
13: De Tien Merkwaardigste Monumenten in Wetteren by Guy Jooris, a local edition on 10 remarkable monuments in my birthplace, Wetteren in Flanders, Belgium.
A small historic background on each of them and a very detailed description highlighted with some pictures. One, the most beautiful monument, is a chapel in a school. As i didn't go to that school i never saw this before. Funny, as i live here for 52 years :)
A gift from my youngest brother, this book. Truly nice but a rather dry writing style.
14: Het Tumult Van De Tijd by Julian Barnes. This one is strange. I enjoyed Barnes' latest novels Alsof het voorbij is and Hoogteverschillen a lot, they are true jewels, but this one is ... well, just strange. It is a biography of the adult life of the composer Sjostakovitsj, or is it not? Is it rather a description of dictatorship, more precisely communist dictatorship, with Sjostakovitsj just being the "random" protagonist?
The reader learns a lot about the composer, learns a lot more about the intrigues, the manipulation, the "new" truth under each new Sovjet leader, and so on. But is it a novel? It looks like a series of thoughts, questions, doubts. Not all of them are worked out, some return, some not, .... it is strange.
One thing is for sure, it is a totally different book then the latest novels. You sense Barnes' talent, the going along with the irony, the circular self-reflections of the composer (or are they from the author?), the returning items and the reappearing title phrase.
Barnes is top for me in his novels, i did not realise a true connection and i felt no emotion at all. So, 3 stars, for the beautiful writing, only 3 stars because of the non realisation of my involvement.
Number 15, and a very nice one: De Spoorzoeker by Kamiel Vanhole. Since quite some time on my "to be read" list and now done: a nice kind of travel story across Europe, tracing our literary past as mentionned in the second title of the book. This is perhaps a bit too ambitious as Europe counts of course many more literary traditions than the ones mentionned in this book. But the author also travels to Canada and Iran and gives us some insights in what have been or still are important aspects in literature back when it originated and even until today.
Very beautifully written, melancholic at times, very witty and keen observations at other moments. Sorry for the non Dutch (or Flemish) readers but probably another little gem that has not been translated.
Vanhole is a master in storytelling, with a rich vocabulary and vivacious and compelling writing style: you just want to know how the story will unfold and where it will bring you.
It even gives you a hunger to read the literary examples he mentions, even if they are written by French authors! :)
PS: the last remark is a small joke: some critical readers before me stated that French literature (like French cinema) is more boring than watching paint dry, but for the moment i like very much Laurent Binet for instance.
I just remarked that since i'm on LT i never read 15 books this early in a year. (apart from my professional reading)
So, thumbs up to myself ;)
16: Masterclass Single Malt Whiskies of Scotland by Bob Minnekeer: A nice book with wonderful photography. Written by the owner of the whiskyclub where i am a member since 20 years now. Nothing new under the sun in the texts but the goal is to highlight some distilleries and their history. It are distilleries with a special meaning to the author, a personal selection, and everyone who knows Bob knows that his preferences can change over time. After all, he's human.
A bit sad that the editor could / would not put more effort on the review of the texts which are sometimes a bit weird.
The pictures, the photography, make up for everything and get this book to an exceptional level in Scotland-feeling and whisky-feeling.
After an intensive period of revision of a master paper for University, written by a friend of my daughter, i have resumed reading. I started in the whiskybook mentionned under number 16 (topic 38) and in De Wreedheid by Nicola Lagioia but had to re-read the first 115 pages as it was already 3 weeks ago i started.
Hope to make some progress again now.
I hope this was my weak reading period that i seem to have every year.
17: De Wreedheid by Nicola Lagioia. Oops, a special one. Won the Premio Strega. Compared to the greatest. But confusing. Very confusing.
I did read some hundred pages and then i stopped for a week or two, due to professional duties. I had to restart. All over.
The book turns and twists, in time, in narrating character, in point of view, in writing style. Back and forth, switching until even the cat tells her part.
One thing's for sure: you have to be awake. Very well awake.
The story then. It could've been grasping and intriguing. But it's not, or not enough. Not to me. An entrepreneur in Italy, in the south, the mezzogiorno. Corrupt? Or obliged to be? Wreckens all, and everyone. Untill it is too much. Also for the reader. Too many characters, too many viewpoints, parts of stories unfinished, left in the open. As a mystery? As if nothing ever really ends? Unclear.
And the lives of the characters. I never felt connected. With not one of them. The entrepreneur has children with his wife and one with a romance. The wife .... never really clear what to think of her. Typically upperclass Italian? I wouldn't know. The children: a brilliant doctor with a handicapped career, a stunning beauty in to hardcore sex and violence, a psychotic boy trying to be a journalist (or not really?) and a younger daughter keeping her dead stunning beauty sister - semi prostitute alive on Twitter.
The violence, the corruption, the drugs, .... all so far away to me.
If life in Bari is like this, it's hell. But who knows? The ones who live there? Really? Even that seems hard to imagine to me.
But the writing itself is excellent, i kept reading as you do want to know how it will end, the style of some sentences is that nice, that you want to reread them, and that you can only wonder about the musicality it has without doubt in the authors native language.
And because of this beautiful style i give it 3 stars. Deservedly so.
18: Is dit een mens by Primo Levi. Again an Italian author, from another generation and what a different story. Horror. Devastating. I've been several times close to crying.
Levi tells about his stay in Auschwitz. The humiliations, the random killings, the for no reason random violence, beyond human and not being considered a human being anymore.
How is it possible that people do this to one another? How much hate can there be? And for what good reason?
Levi describes as if he has already left his own body, his own mind, the daily life in the camp. The work, the relationships, the mind numbing routines, the complete approach to make you feel less than nothing.
My thoughts are very basic after reading this book: how can one live on? How could the SS even catch sleep? How could Levi find any sense of being alive to hang on, in the camp but also afterwards? These mysteries will for ever be in my head.
The novel is a collection of short descriptions and they are written, not just like a journalist telling what happened, but with a real sense for litterature. Some passages are, hard to imagine, poetic. Levi must have been a true intellectual to be able to reflect so soon after this events, so calmly, so reflective, so ... pure.
A must read in these times where civilisation is again challenged by another kind of doctrine, a religious one this time but equivalent in its brutality, its atrocity and most of all senselessness.
Some time ago, but here is 19: Aan de rand van de wereld by Michael Pye. A cracking history book on (like the subtitle) How the North Sea shaped us. The author illuminates a series of inventions done in the North of Europe during the so called "dark" Middle Ages. In fact, these Middle Ages was not that "dark" a period but it was overshadowed by the Renaissance that came afterwards and that has its origins in the South of Europe.
This book kinds of sets the balance right again. Although sometimes a bit long in descriptions and some of the topics handled seem a bit "pulled" towards the North it does corrects some overall misunderstandings, so worth reading.
And surely, some chapters, are really well written, hence the 3,5 stars.
Now that the busy period on my job is a bit over again and that i have re-fitted my garden a bit after some spring storms ... hopefully more time to read again. :)
>45 dchaikin: , great to read here that a history book "sounds fun" :)
And yes, some chapters really are. Especially if you are from Flanders (near the North Sea) with a Viking heritage ;)
Levi is very good. I hope you'll find the time, and courage, to read this masterpiece.
Meanwhile, your 2016 read list is nothing less than impressive, very impressive. You must be a historical library of knowledge.
Number 20. Hurray! :)
De Jongen Die Het Paard Van Attila Stal by Ivan Repila.
A Spanish author wrote a very metaphorical book about two boys in a hole in the ground, a deep hole. With no way to get out of the hole their situation deteriorates quickly and then the downfall of themselves, physically and mentally, begins. Without any doubt full of allegoric stuff, metaphors, parallels, and other references to the real world. For many reasons a lot of people will see very philosophical stuff in it. Certainly there is a lot of stuff i missed.
But, hey, i don't really care. As from some chapters i lost all connection. It's too bizarre, too weird, too unrealistic. So, yep, i missed probably all the intellectual stuff.
The style of writing is OK, the tension build up is OK till somewhere half of the book, the "numbering" of the chapters is original (no, no spoiler), but .... it didn't get a grip on me. Sorry.
>48 dchaikin: interesting point of view, that is. :)
I'll look for some more...
21: Zwaarbewaakte Treinen by Bohumil Hrabal. A short novel by this special author. Reflections on being a man, how to handle woman, resistance in the war and so forth. Kind of ridiculous at times, reflective on other moments, slapstick in the rest. Not clear to me if the author meant it to have comical aspects, but probably yes.
Sarcasm on the state's organisation, fear of the German soldiers occupying Tsjecho-Slovakia and in the same time taking up courage to sabotage them and laughing with them in rare moments. The protagonist is not easy to catch, neither is the author. Giving signals to the passenger, army and other trains is the finest allegory i saw on getting all things in your life sorted out.
another curiosity. This one has an English title (Closely Watched Trains) and several English language reviews, but I haven't heard of it, or the author.
...ah, I see it's on the 1001 list.
>51 dchaikin: yes, albeit on the 1001 list (i would have thought that from this author it would have been Too Loud A Solitude on that list) you could also ask here in Europe to a hundred people "who is Bohumil Hrabal" and receive 0 correct answers, if any. :)
Eastern European writers from the era before the iron curtain fell aren't well known.
But i'm rather fond of some of these guys so i keep looking on websites for second hand books and now and then i'm lucky.
Note: some of these weird authors did win big prizes like Imre Kertesz who won the Nobel Prize.
Reading a weird Italian now: Vitaliano Brancati. My daughter did her master degree on his allegorical work.
22: Mooie Antonio by Vitaliano Brancati, an old novel, Brancati deceased in the fifties, but still vibrant story about Italians, so beautiful, so sexy, so .... unable to do what seems to dominate their life. Set behind the background of the uprising of fascism in Italy and eventually WWII, it's all about arranging a job, a marriage, an affair, a ... whatever.
It's Italy, more specific Sicily, as we all know it from the past where nothing was done in an ordinary way but everything was arranged.
And then comes this man, the most beautiful of all and ..... he's not able to "perform". The world keeps on turning but for our protagonist everything stops.
Written with vivacity, humour, long and winding monologues full of Italian bravery and then again with hilarious scenes, confessions, bluffing.... Every page of this book breathes the south, the Italian style of living, having conversations and avoiding reality.
Read this book.
23: Lijmen ; Het Been by Willem Elsschot: A classic (1938) about a guy who meets a businessman to become his successor and tells the unimaginable story of the business itself and of the businessman. The business is more or less a scam, depending on your own interpretation, and brings them fortune as well as trouble and most of all a worried mind. The book has an unusual double title reflecting 2 different episodes in the life of the successor. The story feels a bit old now but the whitty sentences and high brow classical vocabulary still make it an interesting and by moments hilarious book.
24: Het Fiasco by Imre Kertész. An intriguing book about a writer who has to write, has written or will write a novel. Mysterious, yes? :)
The author tells about an author that has written a book and later the book itself appears and has as subject .... an author needing to write a book. Towards the end, the book is written, past tense and present tense get together and the author (the first, but also the second) drops dead.
Kertész uses this story in a story to tell another one: the oppression by the communist regime, the past horrors by the nazis in Budapest, the not so free speech, telling each other messages in a cryptic style like "things have changed" .... "why has it changed?" .... "will we ever find out?" .... "you're right, we won't" .... "anyhow, it's not important ..."
It is clear that there is a lot of mocking the system ongoing without ever really mentionning it and leaving unexplained if the story is really in Budapest or somewhere else, brilliantly formulated by Kertész.
So this book is rather brilliant in it's setup, but gets sometime a bit tiring for the reader. Not your five minute read on a bus, but a true masterpiece for the lovers of political and social irony, books on book writing, and observations of the human, twisted, mind.
And 25: Moeders Zondag by Graham Swift. A beauty, his best work, a moving elegy. These are some of the reviews the author got for this book. And OK, it is beautiful, but not as beautiful as Wish you were here. But not OK on it being his best work, not for me in my humble opinion. And a moving elegy it is, but not as moving as Tomorrow.
Does this mean this novel is rather mediocre? No, certainly not. But i get a little bit deranged by superlatives when all of a suddes some people discover an author who has already written a lot of very beautiful stories, or when such an author gets a new publisher (in the tiny Dutch speaking part of our world) and ... kaboom ! .... all is great all of a sudden.
Swift is a master. He can tell stories as if he was himself the protagonist. In Tomorrow he already did it, and now he does it again: the protagonist is a woman. In fact, now a very young woman. And still, as Swift is no woman, and not young, it is a masterpiece to tell such a story with such "embedded" feeling.
So yes, this is a piece of art, like we are used to from Swift. This story about a girl, a maid, in a unusual lovestory, so dense, so restrained, so ... secret. And yet, free and unbound the girl lives her live and will move on even when ... all dissolves and disappears.
The book is a rather easy read, but gripping and exciting from the first pages. To read in one time as you will probably not be able to put it aside.
Thank you Graham Swift for this new gem.
26: Ik Kom Terug by Adriaan Van Dis. Oops. A reminder that writers from The Netherlands can write in a language that - albeit officially the same as here in Flanders, Belgium - can be very different. The author tells the story of his dying mother, who never loved him and vice versa, and takes the (last) occassion to get to know her better. Her past, her personality, her irritating habits.
What could become a story of compassion and understanding stays a harsh and difficult coming together, full of doubts, little remorse, lots of nervosity. And that can be the case, i know. But this is not a good book in my humble opinion. It did win an important literary prize, but .... it's too much. Too much of the same. Yes, she's weird, we know after telling us 10 times, it should not be told 20 times, it should be clear from the situations described. Yes, she's arrogant, we know .... after telling us lots of times......
No, i prefer Sprakeloos from Flemish author Tom Lanoye or Gestameld Liedboek by Erwin Mortier, also hard stories about dying mothers, but empathic, well written, open to reflection.
In this book, the author Adriaan Van Dis is too arrogant, too selforiented, and he doesn't succeed in keeping my attention.
>57 Lunarreader: I've been reluctant to read Adriaan Van Dis' books because I'm afraid that the attitude he shows on television will be reflected in his books. After reading your comments on Ik kom terug, I don't feel inclined to start reading them now.
I'm curious what you mean though by A reminder that writers from The Netherlands can write in a language that - albeit officially the same as here in Flanders, Belgium - can be very different. Is it actually the language you are referring to or rather the style? Or both?
Btw, I love your choice of books and your personal comments. So inspiring!
>58 MGovers: Thank you for your kind words. On the different languages, i am referring to the vocabulary, the words used, and also to the style. The words used aren't the same as we would do in Flanders and i had to look up some of them in the dictionary just to understand them. On the style, i would say it is the arrogance, the starting point being the author himself, that puts me off. Of course, he is one of the protagonists in the book but even then, it's showing off: me as a writer, me as having lived in Paris for so long, me ... , me....
Some love Van Dis, but i'm not part of them. You can't love them all. ;)
I reached my first goal, 26 books in 52 weeks and i've got some time left before the year's over ;)
So i added a few numbers on my list at the start of this topic and i hope now to reach 30 books. Optimistic, as the period coming is the busiest one at work, so ... let's see.
number 27 is a Flemish, self published book, the author being a friend of my first daughter: http://www.librarything.com/work/18408712/book/134506100 by Stephen Winter. He "translated" his real name into an anglo-saxon version, but he is Flemish.
The book being written in Dutch, i will do my review also in Dutch, apologies to all my LT followers in non-dutch speaking parts of this planet. ;)
The possibility that this book, awfully written, will be translated into English is less than zero, hence my decision.
For those that would be interested in more details: do not hesitate to leave a note here.
The actual review will be written on the level of the book itself, see the hyperlink at the start of this message.
Next time back in English, thanks for your understanding.
>63 Lunarreader: - After reading your review, it is unlikely I'll look for this book. One can be lenient towards young authors, but there are limits to what a reader can bear. Suddenly I'm ever so grateful for the existence of publishers and editors. Self-publishing is not always a good thing.
>59 Lunarreader: - Indeed, you cannot love them all, but sometimes I like to wallow in a bit of exasperation over a book, just for the fun of it (I know, it's weird). I have Tikkop in my e-library, so I might take a look. And after all, it's good to have read the book before criticizing. Who knows, one can always be surprised.
>64 MGovers: - I can understand, even if it is a bit weird, your view on books you don't like, or authors you don't like, certainly if they are very visible aside from their books through television, radio, shows... :)
On the book by Stephen Winter, I had in fact recently a chat with him in which he specified a few choices: the exaggerated language is inspired by the mythical words used by religions, the open ends and unexplained stuff is because also religions do not explain, they ask for your "belief".
So, he has a point there, but I told him that this is still not enough to convince a reader that has no knowledge of the author's deliberate choices. And if the author makes choices it should be more clear, and not so exaggerated and .... better written.
He's starting a second book and I invited him to take (a lot) more time, to reflect, to rewrite, to rethink, to .... and then I will give him a second chance. :)
>65 Lunarreader: - I don't like it when books need instructions to be understood or enjoyed. It's different with books from the past which sometimes need a bit of an explanation to be able to understand the context and circumstances in which they were written, but with new books, no way. A book should speak for itself. That's why I'm a bit wary of authors in talk-shows etc. I prefer authors like Elena Ferrante who are invisible to their readers but let their books speak for themselves.
Stephen Winter seems to be a prolific writer :-) I hope he listens to your advice!
>66 MGovers: Wait and see on the advice part. :)
On your "instructions" part: i could not agree more. Books should speak for themselves. I just read one. :)
Book number 28, and oh my, what a book! Verontwaardiging by Philip Roth. A bombshell.
I must admit, i was scared. I bought this book years ago and it stayed on my "to be read" list because i didn't like at all Bedrog by the same author. How wrong was i? Terribly wrong. This book, Verontwaardiging is like a high speed train rushing through your veins. Roth describes the coming of age of Marcus Messner, son of a Jewish butcher and trying to get independant, trying to do university in a catholic small town, while he comes from the already more open New York atmosphere.
The backdrop of the terrible Korean war, the "indignation" on injustice, the low self esteem combined with the high intellectual powers, the mistrust, the .... everything an 18 year old sholar goes through: girls, sex, humiliation,.... it all culminates in a few furious last months.
I have seldom ever read a book at the speed i did with this one, it's vivacious, it's a rush and it seems to me like one big dealing with the past. Is Roth dealing with his own past? Probably. The engagement is too high to be purely fictional.
I only see now, googling on Roth's life that this book has been transformed into a movie only recently. The book is anti-religious with some beautiful quotes and statements, so that is already a little shock even in the USA of today. But the movie will need to be very hard boiled to reach the adrenaline level of the book. Let's see.
A passionate and repetitive writing style make this book a top notch read. Do it.
Anyone who has recommendations for me in Philip Roth his oeuvre? I dare to ask as one is absolute superb to me, another one not at all.
>68 Lunarreader: I forget how prolific Roth is. I have not even heard of either of the two books you've read! I am unsure if I can really recommend Roth's De menselijke smet -- I don't know how the uniquely American racism that is the theme of the novel translates. And one also has to be accepting of the blatant sexism, as well.... But I am always fascinated with novels that explore the creation of identity, so I quite liked it.
I'm not familiar with that title of his but I've read & enjoyed a couple. I'd probably suggest The Plot Against America of those I've read.
>69 Lunarreader: - In my opinion, Philip Roth is a very American writer because he focuses on American issues and the American way of life and he is not sparse with words. His style somehow reminds me of Peter Buwalda's Bonita Avenue.
So far, I've only read American Pastoral, Everyman and Nemesis. Of these three, I loved the last one, but quite liked the other two as well. American Pastoral is a trilogy and I plan to read the other parts, but I need more time first.
>73 MGovers: Thanks for the useful information. Great. Now find some time as well. :)
29: Blindelings by Kris Van Steenberge. First my review in English, for a Dutch translation, see next item in this topic.
The authors second novel, after his brilliant debut Woesten. And of course, a brilliant debut sets high expectations. Which are not immediately met. The first chapters, all chronological, all in one day, are too slow. Too slow for me, at least. But slowly and steadily the characters take form, the situation gets set, the story unfolds. In a 24-style concept (like the tv-series) every small chapter gets situated and timed.
The plot goes around a boy who's live looks dominated by all around him, be it by being overpresent or just not, by too much or not enough attention, by the absence of drama or the overwhelming presence of it. Flashbacks in his mind and reflections by all others involved show how we came to this day and of course all comes together in the end and no one will ever be the same afterwards.
Pyschological warfare, indifference, love, honour and conscience, the author isn't scared of the big questions in life and the human attitudes.
This author can write! Brilliant sentences, long and winding very beautiful descriptions or staccato when needed. Now and then a bit overdone? For my taste, not every noun needs an adjective, and sometimes especially in the first half of the story it slows down the reading. But the style can also make you smile, the subtle depicting of small characteristics of the protagonists, the sharp or just absolute blunt reactions in dialogues, it's a fine line for the author and he finds the balance in the rather fast evolving second part of this novel.
The final outcome is somewhat half predictable but the pieces of drama lived by all protagonists take some twists and turns.
Woesten did shake me up, how was it possible that this author who wrote so powerful and so beautiful had never written a novel before? And i was deeply moved by the story. This one, Blindelings is a very good book. But less original in characters, less surprising, maybe caused by the expectations, who knows? The concept looks well thought off, but maybe a bit in the way of the beauty of the story?
Should you read it? Yes, you should. Don't let my small remarks put you off, it is a very good book, i would give too much away if i told you more but i can tell you this: you don't want to be one of the protagonists. Not one of them. Go, find out.
This book is yet another time living proof that the game between reader and writer is complex. After my first Philip Roth i didn't expect anything, after my first Kris Van Steenberge i expected the world. And i got a nice part of it.
29: Blindelings door Kris Van Steenberge: bespreking in het Nederlands.
De tweede roman van deze auteur, na zijn briljant debuut Woesten. En natuurlijk, een briljant debuut zet hoge verwachtingen neer. Die hier niet onmiddellijk ingelost worden. De eerste hoofdstukken, allemaal chronologisch, allemaal binnen één dag, zijn te traag. Althans toch voor mij. Maar traag en zeker nemen de karakters wel vorm, wordt de situatie geschetst, ontvouwt het verhaal zich. In een concept dat doet denken aan de stijl van 24 (de tv reeks) wordt elk hoofdstuk gesitueerd en getimed.
Rond een jongeman vormt zich de plot en zijn leven wordt gedomineerd door allen rond hem, door hun overaanwezigheid of juist afwezigheid, door te veel of niet genoeg aandacht, door de afwezigheid van gebeurtenissen of door de overweldigende dramatische gebeurtenissen. Flashbacks in zijn geest en herinneringen van anderen tonen de lezer hoe het op deze dag zo ver is kunnen komen en op het einde komt alles samen, zoals verwacht, en geen enkele betrokkene zal nadien nog dezelfde zijn.
Psychologische oorlogsvoering, onverschilligheid, liefde, eer en geweten, de auteur schuwt de grote levensvragen en vooral levenshoudingen niet.
En deze auteur kan schrijven! Briljante zinnen, lang en meanderend in mooie beschrijvingen, staccato als het nodig is. Nu en dan een beetje erover? Naar mijn smaak moet niet elk zelfstandig naamwoord één of meerdere adjectieven hebben, en soms, in de eerste helft van het boek, vertraagt het de leeservaring. Maar de stijl kan je ook doen glimlachen, de subtiele ontleding van kleine karaktertrekjes van de protagonisten, de scherpe of juist lompe reacties in dialogen, het is een fijne lijn voor de auteur en hij vindt de balans in het eerder snel evoluerende tweede deel van de roman.
De finale is half en half voorspelbaar maar de kleine drama's die beleefd worden door de protagonisten nemen onverwachtse wendingen.
Woesten destabiliseerde me, hoe was het mogelijk dat deze auteur die zo krachtig en overdonderend mooi schreef nooit eerder een roman had geschreven? En ik was diep ontroerd door het verhaal. Deze Blindelings is een heel goed boek. Maar misschien minder origineel in karakters, minder verrassend, misschien veroorzaakt door mijn verwachtingen, wie weet? Het concept lijkt goed doordacht maar lijkt soms wat in de weg te zitten van de schoonheid van het verhaal.
Moet je dit boek lezen? Natuurlijk wel. Laat je niet afschrikken door mijn kleine opmerkingen, het blijft een heel mooi boek. Ik zou teveel van het verhaal weggeven, maar dit kan ik je wel zeggen: je wil echt niet één van de hoofdfiguren zijn. Niet één van hen. Lees, en weet waarom.
Dit boek is nog maar eens het bewijs dat het spel tussen lezer en auteur complex is. Na mijn eerste Philip Roth verwachtte ik niets meer, na mijn eerste Kris Van Steenberge verwachtte ik een wereldboek. Ik kreeg een heel mooi werelddeel.
It's probably very hard to match Woesten anyway, so I am pleased to read that the author did write a very good second one. Although I'm not too fond of very slow books, your review has made me curious.
Number 30: it took a while but here it is: Zeldzame Aarden by Sandro Veronesi. A story about a guy (Pietro Paladini, protagonist in Kalme Chaos) who's life falls to pieces after some events, partially outside of his will, partially not wanting to know, not willing to see. But does it really falls to pieces? Or do the pieces actually come together like they never did before?
Veronesi wrote this "sequel" to Kalme Chaos because he was surprised, so did he tell himself on the occassion of a visit to Brussels bookshop Passa Porta, that 95% of the people only saw one aspect of Paladini's character or behaviour in that book. And he wanted to explicit the other side.
Now, this seems far fetched for me, it really looked as a kind of marketing stunt to promote this new book, but that was maybe because i myself was also so sucked into the "standard" recognition of the Paladini character.
Anyhow. This Zeldzame Aarden is a very nice book, at the start it looks like a mixture of the absurdity typical for Niccolo Ammaniti mixed with some cheap Italian action movie, but slowly it evolves towards the possible double twists, double layers, and certainly possible double interpretations that are so strongly present in other books by Veronesi. (see XY as best example)
Read this book: it contains again some very beautiful written passages, the end of the book is incredibly strong, it made me think about my own life and the people around me and it leaves you in astonishment: do we ever really know who we truly are?
31: Verdriet is het ding met veren by Max Porter: a poetic short novella, rythmic writing, noise, sounds, combined with long and winding sentences, all in all very atypical. A bit of a hype this little book and understanding why but not top notch for me.
It describes the broken, unlogical pieces of life someone goes through when suddenly a beloved person is lost. Mourning is not logical, not linear and this is what the author tries to let the reader live through when reading this novella.
It's gripping by moments, absurd in others, it's people trying to pick up their lives. In this aspect you could say that the author is succesful in his setup.
But, it does not stick, it doesn't makes you feel sick, i didn't get empathic or emotional and so it stayed a nice poetic narrative, weirdly unfolded and wrapped together again. But not moving, not strangling you like for instance Sprakeloos by Tom Lanoye on the loss of his mother did. Not the wild emotions and sucking in that De H Is van Havik by Helen Macdonald did.
Nice, that's the correct word. Nothing more, nothing less.
32: Over God by Etienne Vermeersch. A short statement and comments on the non-existence of the god of christianity, islam and jews. Professor emeritus in philosophy Vermeersch arguments in a very rational way that god, as described by christians, jews and muslims, can not exist.
Beginning with a statement, explaining the statement, and even going through the different argumentations of new theologists, the statement stands as a rock.
Or god is not almighty, allknowing and endlessly merciful, and if he would be all of that he is a fake as all religions excused, tolerated and even approved atrocities as slavery, lower position of women, child abuse or neglect and even prosecution of those who do not believe, or worse: who believe in another persona of the same god.
The professor spends an extra chapter on those that would say that he criticises an old fashioned idea of god. The new fashioned ideas of god, without hell, without damnation or inferiority of women, etc., etc., is a "a la carte" idea of god build by those who came to the conclusion that this old fashioned god doesn't respond anymore to current moral standards, but unfortunately for them, this has nothing to do with the official christianity or other official religions.
It is all the more unfortunate for these people that in other parts the professor clearly states and proves with references that moral standards came a lot earlier to development then the historical start periods of these religions.
Being a very kind man, the author understands that these statements can heart people as always with cognitive dissonance related to the education everyone of us received through the persons they love the most in their childhood: the parents. Being religious is for a lot of people an entire part of their lives, told and learned to them from their earliest years in their family and so it becomes a part of them. Receiving then arguments that go against this long standing tradition shared with their beloved ones, is painful. The professor concludes that most of the people their faith has nothing to do with believing or not the arguments pro or contra a god.
From my side, i hope not to shock a lot of people here, although i will not ignore that i am an atheist. I was brought up in christian religion, i even feared god for quite some time. Was it rational arguments that caused the change? Yes, and no. It was even more the other way round, there is no rationale for me in atrocities happening every day combined with an endlessly merciful god. And if he tests us like some say, it is not a "loving" god, because love can't get tested.
33: Ons Soort Mensen by Juli Zeh. What a book. By some told to be inspired by Jonathan Franzen his work, but oh no, not for me. This is much better.
A village in East Germany, quiet, some village stories. So it looks. Until now.
Then comes the announcement of a change and all in the village, ever living there families as well as newcomers are going to see their lives all turned inside out and upside down. Successful for some, or not? Dramatic for others, or was it already dramatic before and didn't they just see it? All is clear: the good and the bad. Or is it just a pose? A game?
Intrigues, and fine tuned arrangements combined with elephant behaviour of the unknowing, it all turns into a catastrophic end. Or in complete rest for others.
Read this book, it takes you slowly in, all main characters tell their story, they all get some chapters named after them and you just feel more and more, this is going to be weird. And weird it ends.
It took me a few weeks, 670 pages in Dutch, but never a dull moment. I started it during a busy period for my job as well, i would read it again in a holiday and just get the story done by in a few days as you are looking forward to the next point of view, told by another character. Strongly written and a good translation into Dutch.
Juli Zeh gets up again in my list of favorite authors. Relentlessly violent in her descriptions of mankind and human society, every one goes under the scalpel. The politicians, the media, the marketing guys with one beautiful phrase: "95% of all publicity is a brutal denial of your intelligence"; and most of all: nobody is what he looks to be: the lefties in society all of a sudden become conservatives, the traders seem to have a soft spot, the agressive farmers and landowners happen to do everything for ....... yep, for what and for whom?
Give yourself a surprise and dive in this book. It's like real life. It's like a bustling city. It's full of events. And, it's only a village.
A spectrum of power, environment, economics, politics, behaviour and society evolution like you will seldom see in one book.
i do wish everyone here a nice festive period. Enjoy your reading, take care of your beloved ones, open your heart. The world out there may be scary sometimes but if we all contribute our smile, meet each other with an open mind and think of the good things first in every person we meet, then the world will already be a lot warmer for all of us.
34: Slapeloos by Jon Fosse. A short novel, allegoric to the christmas tale of a man, in this case a boy, and a woman, a girl in this story, looking for shelter to give birth and welcome nowhere. Reflections to their parents, their situation and the hopelessness of their future. Suggestiont that the boy goes all the way when refused shelter again, entisingly predicted by a man telling "you haven't done anything wrong, yet" .... and still, a new suggestion at the end that all will go well.
In what has to be an exorcizing writing style, full of repetition, endless sentences and a lot of unspoken feelings. But also some things are repeated and repeated, over and over again ... and this takes for me the magic away, it's like the author tries to hard, tries to get the atmosphere too expressive. The effect, in my humble opinion, is that it takes away the power of the events. There are more powerfull gripping short stories out there. Try Silvio D'Arzo for instance.
Wishing you a wonderful and happy new year. Thank you for all the books you pointed out and persuaded me to read. I hope to see you back next year. I've started my own thread in CR, so maybe, hopefully, we will cross paths somewhere.
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