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Sanne

Sanne

I like to read classics, historical fiction and world lit. Oh and I love short stories.

SPOILER ALERT!

Feral Youth (Polly Courtney)

Feral Youth - Polly Courtney

The author has been kind enough to provide me with a copy of this book to review.

I really enjoyed this book. It met the expectations I had before I started reading. I was intrigued by the subject matter, as it offered a story from the perspective of one of the many youths who rioted in the London riots. The character of Alesha is certainly the strongest point of this book. You get a real insight into her life, her way of thinking and her view of the world. It isn't pretty, and it helps to understand why she does the things she does.

I also really liked the voice of Alesha. And by that I mean that I absolutely loved the writing. Courtney has done great research and talked to kids like Alesha to get her way of speaking, her slang and her grammar right. This adds flavor and depth to the book, and helps pull the reader into Alesha's world. It's like Alesha's talking to you, like there's no author inbetween to convery her story and her thoughts.

I was drawn to Alesha's relation to JJ. I thought it was really intriguing how they'd do anything for eachother and regard eachother as the closest person in the whole world, yet at the same time there's loads of things they don't tell eachother.

Alesha has to guess about some of JJ's exploits, and JJ hears about Alesha's expulsion from someone else (and she never goes into details about what she and Miss Merfield are up to). JJ's story made the ending bittersweet.

(show spoiler)



Overall, though this book has anything but a happy subject, it is a feelgood story. Alesha's struggling for survival and you're rooting for her to grasp at the opportunity given to her to escape a life of crime and misery. At some points, the feelgood vibes got a bit too clichéd for my tastes, For instance,

in the scene where miss Merfield told Alesha she failed her piano exams and her teacher told her not to give up and she passed her next exams. All so Alesha could realise she shouldn't give up either.

(show spoiler)

though overall the story balanced nicely between the happy ending we're all hoping for and Alesha's struggles to break free of her old world and her old way of thinking.


Another minor point I did not like was the few times the author switched to phonetic writing to convey accents and dialects. I've a personal dislike to it, as I always struggle to read what it's supposed to mean. I don't think the effect of the book or the writing would be any less if those few (and they were luckily very few) lines of dialect would have been written normally. Now I had to skip those lines as it was impossible for me to decode - I have no frame of reference how people with those accents talk, so there's no way for me to read what is written there. Those minor points is why the book is a four star instead of a five star book for me. I'm definitely interested in checking out the other works of this author, as she's clearly a very capable writer who's able to convey the voice and experiences of someone so very different from the reader in such a convincing way.

Showa: Japanners onder Hirohito

Showa: Japanners onder Hirohito - Tessa Morris-Suzuki, Marina van der Heijden Showa: An Inside History of Hirohito's Japan - Tessa Morris-Suzuki

**ENGLISH BELOW**

Zeer goed verslag van drie levens in het Showa-tijdperk. Morris koos ervoor drie zeer verschillende mensen te interviewen die aan het begin van het Showa tijdperk zijn geboren, om zo hun levens te volgen met op de achtergrond de dramatische ontwikkelingen van Japan in de twintigste eeuw.

Dit boek pretendeert niet hét verhaal van de gewone Japanner van de jaren dertig tot de jaren tachtig te vertellen. Maar deze drie persoonlijke verhalen geven toch een goed beeld van hoe het was om tot die generatie Japanners te behoren.

De levensverhalen worden verteld door Morris en doorspekt met beschrijvingen uit krantenartikelen, en geplaatst in de bredere context van de historische gebeurtenissen.
Goede non-fictie en een echte aanrader!

 

- - - - - -

Very good account of three lives during the Showa period. Morris has chosen to interview three very different people who were born at the beginning of the Showa period. Their lives are told with the dramatic changes of Japan during the 20th century in the background.

 

This book doesn't pretend to be THE story of the common Japanese person from the 1930's until the 1980's. However, these three personal and very different stories do give a good image of what it was like to belong to that generation of Japanese people.

 

The stories are mixed with fragments from newsarticles and are put in the larger context of historical events. This is a very good non-fiction. I really recommend it to everyone interested in this time period!

China in World History (New Oxford World History)

China in World History (New Oxford World History) - Paul S. Ropp

Chinese history simply has the coolest names. What do you think about names such as the "Spring and Autumn period" or the "Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove"? Or what about the elusive "White Lotus Society"? Piqued your interested? I'm hooked too! Thanks to this book I've got a list of subjects I want to dive into.

Introduction to Chinese history – 5 stars

This book proved to be an excellent and thorough introduction to Chinese history. It's very easy to follow for those who know nothing about the subject. Also, Ropp knows how to entertain the reader by providing salient details and stories about several historical figures. When I started this book, I wasn't too sure about reading a book on Chinese history. I already had quite some knowledge of modern Chinese history, but the more ancient stuff always appeared to me as a dizzying list of dynasties where I had no idea what was going on at all. Ropp's setup is to explain the different era's in Chinese history and how society changed from one era to another in a clear manner. This made it possible for me to get a basic understanding for the first time of Chinese history pre-19th century.

Ropp chose not only to tell about the political and military events important for the development of Chinese history, he also discusses important literary works, scholars, artistic developments, and schools of thought. This gives a frame of reference for major cultural heritage sites, such as the Great Wall and the terracota warrios, but also gives an overview for influential works of literature and philosophy which are still widely known in Chinese culture today. This was very interesting to read about and gave me some further insight into how the Chinese view their own history.

Futhermore, I liked the tracing of the position of women throughout the different eras in Chinese history. As women are not traditionally at the forefront of political and military events, it's nice that some light was shed on what their role in society was or was supposed to be.

Global perspective – 1 star

I do not feel Ropp accomplished the premise which he set at the beginning of the book at all. In his foreword he states that he wants to “narrate the long history of China within the larger context of world history”, whereby he wants to compare the development of Chinese civilization with other, contemporaneous civilizations. Another point he wants to address is Chinese relations with foreign cultures and peoples. I feel this is done in an unsatisfactory manner. Three reasons:

1) The context of China in world history given throughout the book is constantly Western-centric. There's a little about India, but only when it becomes relevant in the history of Buddhism spreading through China. Yet overall, the only true comparisons Ropp makes are with Western civilization – comparing ancient Rome and the Han dynasty, a parallel between Machiavelli and the work of Han Fuizi, etc. Africa and the South- and Mesoamerican cultures are conspicuous in their absence.

Also, there is very little about the bordering civilizations. The only civilization discusses are the nomad tribes who have a strong influence on Chinese history. Nothing about Japanese, Korean, South-East Asian, Tibetan, etc. So while Ropp feels the need to mention comparisons between the West and China, and to emphasize the influence of the silk road at both end destinations, the influences and interactions with more immediate civilizations remain untouched. Perhaps those were negligible, but now, I just feel these were cut out entirely in favor of Western-centric analysis and – especially in the case of Japan – that might have been entirely unjustified.

2) America-centrism in the chapters dealing with the history of the late 19th century to modern day was disproportionate and completely overshadowed the roles of other countries in this period of Chinese history. Ropp's patriotism is shining through whenever his country involved in the events of Chinese history. He made a strange selection of what he chose to tell about WW1 or the aftermath of the Opium Wars (America is there to fight for peace, freedom and democracy, ahaha). Also, post-WW2 Chinese foreign relations are entirely about Chinese-American relations. That is hardly the most important thing that happened on that subject. Once again I ask you: where is Japan? If there's one relationship influenced deeply by their common history, it's between those countries. It's strange that's missing from this overview. I also found his statement that there's still scholarly discussion about the Nanking massacre a gross understatement. There's more going on.

3) To Ropp it's oddly important to mention the religious details of any historical figure who ever converted or thought about converting to Christianity. Also, missionaries are saints who did awesome work and it's a crying shame the Chinese population turned hostile to them after Western countries raped their country during and after the Opium wars.

I picked up on those three elements because the emphasis was overdone, and clearly because of the author's own background, though those are not the obvious choices when you look at what needs to go in a quick overview of Chinese history in a more objective manner.

I would recommend this book to people who want a quick and solid introduction to Chinese history, but I'd warn them to take the "global perspective" with a kilo of salt.

Walewein ende Keye

Walewein ende Keye - Anonymous,  Marjolein Hogenbirk,  Wim Gerritsen

A project to make the text of Walewein ende Keye digitally available for all. This medieval Arthurian romance is accesable through the link in the description, where you can read the complete text as well as the scholarly work done by the editors (which has also appeared in a print edition), as well as view every page of the original manuscript. Pretty awesome project!

Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)

Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe

I feel horrible for the low rating, but I really tried. Twice. Got stuck on the same part, twice. Abandoned it and I do not feel any desire to pick it up again. And it's not even that big a book! Perhaps the second half of the novella is a-ma-zing, alas I'll never know its brilliance.

SPOILER ALERT!

Insurrection (Robyn Young)

Insurrection  - Robyn Young

Insurrection is the romping start of the epic life story of Robert the Bruce. The story is high pace and told with passion and eye for detail. I was immediately drawn into this retelling of the eventful life of the Bruce, after it won my heart in the prologue. I'm such a sap for medieval knighthood and here was a wonderful scene of a 13th century tournament to start me off. The rest of the book did not disappoint either. Full of political intrigue, military campaigns and wonderful battle scenes alternated with tales of magic, Arthurian myth and a mysterious knightly order... I especially like Young's inclusion of (parts of) the Arthurian myth. I thought it added an extra dimension to the story.

Young is a master in writing about the complex political and military events of late medieval Britain. She manages to capture it all, clearly, making it easy to grasp even for those not familiar with this period of history, without simplifying the events beyong recognition. The action scenes were very well written and I found myself on the edge of my seat when reading them. Yet other parts of the story felt underdeveloped.

I was disappointed with the glossing over of Robert's marriage to Isobel. There's a build-up in the story as se assumes he'll marry Eva, but upon arrival home, he discovers it's her sister Isobel. Next chapter, Isobel is five months pregnant, and a few pages further she's dead. What an anti-climax! Not even a paragraph or a page dedicated to their marriage or Robert's thoughts on what just happened (he thought he was marrying the other sister! He's bound to have some thoughts on it!). In the end, all Isobel was good for was providing Robert with his daughter. So why the complicated construction of inventing an older sister and have Robert fancy her? A case of raising the wrong expectations.

(show spoiler)


Another aspect of the story that could have been developed better was the character of Robert in the first half of the novel. There's a lot happening to Robert in his youth, and the people around him steer him in certain directions. Yet I had no idea what Robert wanted. I missed a sense of urgency in him, or an inner drive that made him do what he did in the first half of the novel. That's the reason that in the first half of the novel, I liked king Edward a whole lot more. He had a clear goal and drive to get what he wanted. In the second half, Robert is presented a dilemma:

he has ties of loyalty to both sides, who will he be loyal to?

(show spoiler)

I thought that dilemma was worked out nicely, with a good built-up and dramatic resolution. I felt the story pick up pace, and the character of Robert became more interesting as he was forced to start making choices himself.

THE WRITING
I like Young's style. She's very descriptive, at times flowery, with loads of detail of medieval life. However, there were instances where it didn't work as at times her descriptions get away from her. For example: "He could see ladders being carried by lines of men and the weapons in their raised fists weren't swords or spears, but axes, hammers and picks, as if they were a mad horde of labourers rushing in to start a day's work." (p. 243)
The image conjured up by that description is quite funny, but probably not the feeling she was going for when describing the enemy storming the castle.
Futhermore, forgetting at times that descriptions are used to evoke images, and are not to be used for description's sake only, some descriptors are turned into empty phrases by their repeated use. All medieval halls are "cavernous" and oodles of things are "garish in the sunlight". Red wine is "scarlet", "ruby-red" or (my favorite) "plum-dark". Why can't red wine be just red?

Though most of the time, her writing evokes the period very well, and is able to grip the reader. I spend a few nights staying up late, unable to put the book down before going to sleep. I'm on the look out for the other books in this series, and might check out her Templar series as well.

SPOILER ALERT!

De scharlaken stad / the Scarlet City (Hella Haasse)

De scharlaken stad / druk 26: verzameld werk (Verzameld werk Hella S. Haasse) - Hélène Serafia Haasse The Scarlet City: A Novel of 16th Century Italy - Hella S. Haasse

"Borgia, it's like the warning sign on the door of a pestilence house."
orginal Dutch: "Borgia, dat is als het waarschuwend teken op de deur van een huis waar de pest woedt." (p. 14)

- - - - -

Finished! What a wonderful read. It's been a long while since I read anything by Haasse, but this reacquaintance reaffirms why she is my favorite author: interesting historical topics, meticulous research, and beautiful writing. What more could a hf fan want?

Summary
"The Scarlet City: a novel of 16th century Italy" is a literary historical novel which starts in 1525, shortly after the battle of Pavia. Giovanni Borgia finds himself, for the first time since his childhood, in Rome. He is in search of his identity. He bears a name which, more than twenty years after the death of the Borgia pope, people still associate with corruption, intrigue, lust for power, as well as the rumors of incestuous relationships within the family. His name marks him. Yet Giovanni is struggling with that identity. He wants to find out exactly who his parents are. How is he related to Cesare, Lucrezia, the pope?

Giovanni's search for his identity and his place in the world is set against the background of a crucial phase of the Italian Wars. German, Spanish, French soldiers all invade the Italian peninsula, accumulating in the bloody, horrendous sack of Rome.

Haasse does not only give an insight into the life and thoughts of Giovanni Borgia, but also describes the actions and lifes of several key players in 1520's Rome and Italy; Machiavelli, Michelangelo, but also lesser known people such as Vittoria Colonna and Tullia d'Aragona. Each chapter she switches to another one of her characters, who all have a different insight into the complicated politics of Italy and Rome. In total there are 5 different points of view. This structure allows Haasse to give a far more complete picture of the events of 1525-1527 than she could have done if she restricted herself solely to the point of view of Giovanni Borgia.

Haasse presumes some background knowledge from the reader. She's not going to explain who the Borgias were, or the geographical and political divisions in 16th century Europe. The reader is thrown immediately into the events after the battle of Pavia. Though with a vague idea of who the Borgias were and a rudimentary knowledge of 16th century Europe (the emperor ruled Germany and Spain, Italy was a patchwork of independent regions constantly at war with eachother), I was able to grasp what was going on.

My judgement
Haasse does what she does best. With clear prose she writes about the events of the first quarter of the 15th century, and uses those events to get into the minds of some fascinating characters who populated the corridors of the Vatican in 1525. Her portrayal of life in Rome and the Vatican for those who are not the pope nor his most intimate counsellors is vivid and intriguing. Each character who has his or her own point of view has their own distinct voice and their stories are multilayered. I enjoyed the chapters of Giovanni Borgia, Vittoria Colonna and the correspondance between Machiavelli and Francesco Guicciardini the most.

Machiavelli's correspondance gave me some new insights into this historical characters. In popular culture he is usually portrayed as a scheming politician. Someone who can manipulate anybody to do anything. Yet Machiavelli in the last years of his life, as portrayed by Haasse, is shown to be a man with ideals, and with a dream for Italy. Possibly a far more accurate description of the man.

I loved reading Giovanni's chapters as they mostly recounted his life as he tries to reconstruct childhood memories and tries to hold every encounter with his family in a different light. What did Lucrezia mean with what she said in their conversations? Why did several members of the family act towards him the way they acted? It's a nice little puzzle, and Haasse tells it well.

I didn't like the chapters of Michelangelo, mostly because his voice was one of a suffering artist, which was not as focussed nor as strongly linked to the events in the novel as the other points of view. I think the novel would be just as strong if she'd cut him out completely. Luckily, it was only two chapters.

I'm still mulling over whether I like the ending. Vittoria Colonna's final chapter felt a bit too grandiloquent at places, and there's a major twist in Giovanni Borgia's quest.

While the final solution of the puzzle of his identity as suggested in the final chapter is quite likely plausible (I suspect Haasse has done extensive research on the trial for the rule of Camerino), it feels like a bit of an anti-climax to think that Giovanni wasn't a Borgia after all - or was he? Though I quite like her portrayal of him being elated and clinging onto his new identity for dear life. Quite fits his character.

(show spoiler)

Perhaps I don't know what to think of the final twist because it seems to be too rushed after 300 pages of build-up.

My ambiguous feelings about the ending as well as my dislike for the Michelangelo chapters are the reasons why this book is a four star and not a five star read for me. That being said, Haasse definitely peeked my curiosity about all characters in the novel. I want to know more about this period in Italian history!

SPOILER ALERT!

De schaakmachine / the Chess Machine (Robert Löhr)

De schaakmachine - Robert Löhr, Henriette van Weerdt-Schellekens The Chess Machine - Robert Löhr, Anthea Bell, Robert Löhr

I really wanted to like this book. Robert Löhr chooses unexpected, off-the-beaten-track subjects for his historical fiction. Unconventional and obscure historical events are right up my alley, so this novel promised to be a blast. Sadly, the book did not deliver.

This was Löhr's debut novel and it shows. He didn't get the pacing right, nor was he able to give his characters any depth. The story revolves around a mechanical chess machine. The first machine able to think and play chess - or that's what everyone believes. In reality, it's all a hoax. Inside hides a man who controls the machine and plays the games. The story has all the elements for a great thriller: a mysterious machine with a secret, its ambitious "inventor" ready to defend the secret at all costs, the people around him trying to uncover said secret. It has spies, murder and jealous lovers. And yet Löhr doesn't construct this exiting story in a skillful way, resulting in a flat, unexciting novel about a dwarf in a cabinet.

All characters are cardboard cut-outs whose actions you can see coming from miles away. Their emotional journeys are not fleshed out. I was especially disappointed with the shallow treatment of Tibor, the main character. He had so much good things going for him that would make for an interesting character, but Löhr didn't take any opportunity to give him any depth or any believable quality. There's no sense of personal journey about Tibor, even though the author clearly intended for him to have one. If and when the author describes some changes in his character, they seem to come out of nowhere, as there's no build-up.

 

For instance, Tibor is a de facto prisoner when staying with Kempelen. He cannot leave the house for fear that someone might see him and guess the machine is a hoax. Yet, there's absolutely no sense of the claustrophobic quality of his stay whatsoever. There's never any mention of Tibor feeling locked-up. In fact, most of the scenes describe him sneaking out in a ridiculous disguise to have random adventures whenever Kempelen isn't home. Then all of a sudden, Tibor makes a spare key so he can go out whenever he likes and he "doesn't have to feel locked up anymore". I didn't get the impression at all that he disliked being indoors all the time, so why should he make a copy of the key?

Other elements that aren't fleshed out are his elation that for once he isn't shunned for his appearance, but that he's the celebrated center of attention; the build-up of his relations with Jacob and Elise is non-existent. On top of that, his religious journey completely unbelievable, almost slap-stick, and his sexual encounters are really random and serve no purpose (would the publishers have pushed Löhr to put in more of them, because "sex sells"?).

(show spoiler)

 

In short: just about any element in the book that could have given it an interesting dynamic and could have pulled a reader in.

Because of the poor characterization, there's next to no tension. The events are recounted, but the characters do not seem affected at all. A shame, as this novel leaves me with regret for what could have been a brilliant story.

Too Much Happiness (Alice Munro)

Too Much Happiness - Alice Munro

Well over a year ago I heard the name Alice Munro for the first time. Immediately followed by what the literary world seemingly unanimous thinks about her: Someone who's said to be the best living writer today. Someone who's a "writer's writer" - as if she's some well guarded incrowd knowledge which the public at large is not supposed to know about. Someone who is also claimed to be the favorite author of just about anyone who made a name for him/herself in the literary world. There're falling over eachother to say so, as if you have to say to love Munro, else your literary reputation is gone.

I wanted to know what the fuss was about. I bought this collection over a year ago, but it stayed untouched on my shelf until last week. Fiction that is characterized as "describing the human condition" isn't something I will pick up easily. That just sounds too grand to start on a saturday afternoon. (and I might have been a bit sceptical about such a pretentious claim).

Last week I put it in my bag, so I'd have something to read on the train, forgetting that this was supposed to be about the "human condition". I haven't been able to put this collection of short stories down. I found Munro every bit as amazing as they make her out to be. Unpretentious stories, naturally flowing from scene to scene, wonderful descriptions of rural life in Ontario, and yes - perhaps these stories deal with was is called the "human condition". Though what I enjoyed most about my first encounter (it will certainly not be the last!) with Munro's stories is her evident craftsmanship. She creates her stories with amazing skill. If you're a fan of short stories, get your hands on one of her collections. You will not be disappointed.

This particular collection holds 10 short stories, of which the title story is a bit different than the rest. The other 9 stories are all set in rural Ontario, while Too Much Happiness is not only the longest of them all, but also the life story of Sophia Kovalevsky, a 19th century Russian mathematician and quite an extraordinary woman. My personal favorites in this collection were Child's Play and Fiction.

Harry Potter: The Prequel (Harry Potter, #0.5)

Harry Potter: The Prequel (Harry Potter, #0.5) - J.K. Rowling

This story leaves me wondering whether Rowling knows what a short story is. This certainly isn't one; it's a scene or a snippet of writing, but it doesn't have the proper build-up that makes a short story.

She gets two stars for being a childhood hero. But this "story" isn't worth the trouble rating one a scale from one to five.

Granta, The Magazine of New Writing / 92: The View from Africa

Granta 92: The View from Africa - Granta: The Magazine of New Writing, Ian Jack I read Binyavanga Wainaina's essay "How to Write about Africa", included in this issue, online. He parodies the portrayal of "Africa" in fiction and the media in "the West". Funny, witty and undeniably true. The image given to us by the media is one of amazing nature and starving people, who sporadically go on a murder frenzy and kill eachother (if not dead from disease and starvation). Yet, there is more to this diverse continent, and this picture we have of it, might not apply to the entire continent.
In addition to this article, you might be interested in this TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie, which I came across when reading the comments on Wainaina's article. Adichie is such an impressive woman! I'll see if I can get my hands on one of her novels or her short story collection.

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency) (Alexander McCall Smith)

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #12) - Alexander McCall Smith

In this twelfth book of the series, we can once again enjoy the adventures of Mma Ramotswe and her closest friends and collegues. Consistent with the rest of the series, McCall Smith has written a light-hearted and sunny book portraying life in Botswana.
What I admire McCall Smith for is his way of portraying Batswana everyday life. While the problems that the country (and most of Africa) faces are also touched upon - such as the devastating poverty of most of the population -, it is balanced by Mma Ramotswe's reflections on life, the traditional lifestyle and her love for her country. One of her cases in this twelfth book takes her into the traditional countryside to investigate a case of cows that have been attacked - a most serious case in a country where cows are your most valued possession! Important themes in this book on which Mma Ramotswe reflects and discusses with her closest friends are the differences between men and women (especially with the upcoming marriage of Mma Makutsi and Charlie's latest problems), as well as how different employers treat their employees.
Then there are the everyday preoccupations of the quirky set of characters; when Mma Ramotswe sees the ghost of her late van, she and her opinionated assistant-detective Mma Makutsi discuss whether it is possible that vans have ghosts and whether or not they could be seen in broad daylight.

All in all, once again a fun and quick read about the new adventures of Mma Ramotswe.

SPOILER ALERT!

Azincourt (Bernard Cornwell)

Azincourt - Bernard Cornwell

I finally caved in and picked up one of Cornwell's book after incessent claims that he's one of the best historical fiction authors. Someone who does good research to create his novels, or so they say. I wanted to read one of his medieval fictions, as that's my favorite period, and due to the poor selection in my local bookshop, I ended up with the only available title: Azincourt.

The overall story of archer Nicolas Hook is a straightforward one about flat characters, which is fine for the purpose they serve. After all, Cornwell uses them as a vehicle to tell the story of Henry's campaign and the battle of Azincourt. The characters are likable enough and their personal story arcs are pleasant breaks from the battlescenes that make up the rest of the book.

The action sequences are very well written and are the parts I felt most engaged with the story and the characters. It is clear that the battle descriptions are Cornwell's forte. The other elements of Henry's campaign are less engrossing in their description. Cornwell fails to evoque the despair and horrors the English suffered during the siege due to the dysentery. He only writes - over and over - that shit was everywhere and that people where shitting. The disastrous impact this "shitfest" had on the army - the many many deaths and the impact on their morale - failed to come across to me as the reader.

Yet it is not Cornwell's writing that landed him 1.5 star. It was his research and how he incorporated that into his story.

read more »

Shogun: A Novel of Japan (James Clavell)

Shōgun - James Clavell

I quit after a 100 pages.
The novel starts on a ship full of Dutch sailors speaking German. It goes downhill from there.
This author needed an editor. Badly. He lets boring dialogue go on for pages, in which characters keep on saying the same thing. loose interpretation of 4+ pages of nonsense conversation:
- "I'm scared"
- "what are they going to do?"
- "I want a beer"
- "I'm scared"
- "They're scary"
- "... beer?"
OH MY GOD! This same conversation is repeated a few scenes further. As if the author thinks that's the only way to show a long scary wait, not knowing what is going to happen next. This novel could be done in less than 600 pages, instead of the 1200+ in my copy.

Also, he shows no respect to the reader's intelligence. First, kimono's are referred to as "silk robes". Then the dress of one Japanese character is suddenly called a kimono, only to be referred as a "kimono, the name of the silk robes worn by the Japanese" a couple of pages later. If you're going to introduce us to Japanese culture / terminology, do it in the right order.

I'm open to recommendations of fiction set in the same time and place (feudal Japan is fascinating!), but give me something that at least has seen an editor...

The Boy Who Cast No Shadow (Thomas Olde Heuvelt)

The Boy Who Cast No Shadow - Thomas Olde Heuvelt

This short fantasy story is nominated for the Hugo Awards 2013, so I was curious what it was about. You can download it for free from the publisher's website.

The story is about a boy without a shadow, who meets a boy made of glass. The story starts very slow and I found the language in the first part very jarring. Perhaps it also has to do with it's translation from Dutch to English, I don't know. The last part (from page 20 onwards) finally got me engaged and I thought that part was moving. Unfortunately, the story is only 32 pages long, so for the first 20 pages to be not interesting isn't good.

SPOILER ALERT!

Joe Speedboot (Tommy Wieringa)

Joe Speedboot - Tommy Wieringa Joe Speedboat - Tommy Wieringa

Frankie wakes up and finds himself wheelchair bound after a serious accident. Joe Speedboat tells the story of his coming of age; finding his place in the confined world of a Dutch village now that he is disabled, and his attempts to belong somewhere. He befriends Joe Speedboat, the new kid in town with wild and imaginative ideas. Frankie admires Joe to no end and wants to be part of his world and his crazy projects;

they build a plane, they go to arm-wrestling tournaments where Frankie makes a fortune.

(show spoiler)

At the same time, a girl, PJ, wanders into and out of Frankie's life.


It was a touching, sometimes witty, account of Frankie's coming of age. It was interesting to read from the perspective of a disabled boy, and I can understand his teenage fascination with the energetic Joe. Yet I felt that Frankie was extremely negative about all the women he describes.

There's literally no woman portrayed in a positive way; he has no appreciation for his mother, his crush is the village slut, Joe's mother cannot live without her boyfriend and falls apart when he disappears, etc. etc.

(show spoiler)

That really deterred me from enjoying other aspects of the novel. While I usually don't mind reading about unsympatethic characters, I found that negativity about women crossed a personal boundary, as some of the negative portrayal wasn't only due to the narrator's perspective, but also due to the choices the author made while writing the novel. It makes me wonder whether that negativity is only the narrator's view of women, or also that of the author.

Portrayal of "Dutch village life"
I read Joe Speedboat when I came back to the Netherlands after a long stay abroad. This book was basically my re-integration process. The setting felt extremely Dutch: the landscape, a small village, the river and the polders. But the people and the portrayal of living in a small village? Maybe it is the way people live in a small Dutch village, but there was something about it that felt fake. Like an American watching an American tv-show that portrays "typical" family life; you recognise that it is typical American, yet you know noone whose life is like that.