Journey Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino, translated by Alexander O. Smith

My year of reading Asian fiction had a really great start so far, with a clear focus on Japan thanks to #japaninjanuary.

In the past few months, I have fallen in love with Japanese mysteries and Keigo Higashino is hailed by many as the master of the genre. If the two books, I have read by him so far are anything to go by, then I can see where his reputation comes from.

Normally, I would stay clear of gritty crime. I prefer my mysteries to be neat and tidy, more in the Golden Age tradition. Yes, I want good characters, but I am mostly there for the puzzle.

It’s fair to say that the fact that I love this book came as a big surprise to me. It’s gritty, there are things in this book that are hard to swallow and tropes I normally stay clear from, the portrayal of women is often flat… yet, I found myself pulled in and flew through these nearly 500 pages in the span of two afternoons (don’t you love the Christmas holiday).

First of all, I liked the puzzle. A murder happens in a construction site ruin, the victim: a pawnbroker. Quickly some suspects emerge but they have to be eliminated due to airtight alibis. It’s fair to say that as the reader you have your suspicion fairly early on, much like the detective, but there is a part of you that thinks: Surely not. In the course of the novel and during the following decades, we follow the lives of some of the involved people and slowly but surely the whole grim tale unfolds.

What impressed me the most was how Higashino placed everything in front of us. All the details were there, but what they meant becomes clearer much later. If you were in my house while I was reading it, you may have heard me utter: “oh, sh*t” a few times in sheer astonishment.

I have another Higashino book waiting for me, but it will be a while before I pick it up. As much as I enjoyed my second book by him, I don’t think they lend themselves to be read one after another. Yet, I love that it sits there on my shelf. It may well come on holiday with me, I can see myself curled up somewhere in Scotland (hopefully) at Easter and the open fire going and reading another Higashino. Bliss.19256975

Paperback, 539 pages
Published October 8th 2015 by Little, Brown (first published August 1999)

 

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto, translated by Megan Backus

As mentioned in a previous post, January is Japan In January month, an instagram readathon hosted by Lauran aka End.Notes. With my ambition to read my way all through Asia this year with a strong focus on Korea, China and Japan, I was keen to join in. I created a modest TBR of 4 books, but hope to get to about 8. After all, there is no shortage of Japanese lit on my shelves.

The first book I picked up was Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto. I have been aware of this book since about the mid 1990ies when it came out in Germany. I have seen it on booksellers’ tables for over two decades, yet, for some reason I have never picked it up. And that’s not because I did not read much in terms of translations, I always picked up a fair amount of translated fiction, but for some reason this book always stayed on the bookseller’s table no matter how many times I looked at it.

Last year, with my descent into the rabbit hole (Asian Literature) of epic proportion, I finally picked it up. And what a good decision this was because I absolutely adored it. Kitchen is made up of two stories, one entitled Kitchen, which is a novella and the second is Moonlight Shadow, which is a short story. Both stories have themes of transsexuality, mothering, what makes a family, love and grief. Stories about love and grief in particular always get my attention, I am fascinated by how one cannot exist without the other and I love when literature explores this. In Kitchen, I loved how the love language was food, the preparation of meals, being in the kitchen together, meeting each other in the kitchen as one person passes into the apartment, the other person leaves. In particular, a scene will stay with me where Mikage cleans out the old flat where she had lived with her grandmother and cleans the kitchen and the sadness of a kitchen that is not in use. It is quite the writer that can pack so much meaning in a few short sentences.

There is a notion that a book tends to find you at the right time. I know that if I read this book in 1994 when it was published in Germany, I probably would have not appreciated it that much. Now in 2020, I have loved and lost a lot more, embraced grief and got out the other side, I guess you could say that life experience has made me a better reader of this book.

The only problem is now which book to pick up next by her, she has written so much that I am certainly spoilt for choice.

36053646._SY475_

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto,  Megan Backus (Translator)

Paperback, 160 pages
Published March 1st 2018 by Faber Faber (first published January 30th 1988)

 

Vea Kaiser – Makarionissi oder Die Insel der Seligen

In 2018, I only read 6 books in my native German. This shocked me to the core because it was the lowest number I ever achieved since moving to the UK and mostly reading English books. A lot of it has to do with accessibility, I lack a German library (although the Onleihe by the Goethe Institut is great), I lack German bookshops (yes, one can order through the internet, but browsing in bookshops is what informs you about what is coming out etc.) and I just stopped reading reviews in newspapers and magazines (mostly because I don’t have access to magazines and also because I ended my Spiegel subscription). So I set out into 2019 with the firm conviction to read more German books again. In came a subscription to Skoobe, sort of like scribd but in German, which allowed me to browse, try things out and abandon books if I don’t like them. I also started reading reviews again and watched German-speaking literary TV programs. This resulted in 31 books read last year, which is quite the improvement.

However, I have been around long enough to know that you have to keep the effort up if you want to maintain an achievement. It is too easy to rest on your laurels. So this year, I started with my fellow booktuber and fellow German Britta Boehler a year-long “reading challenge” (I personally prefer the word “project”, but who nitpicks at words… surely not I) to Read More German Books in 2020. We have set up a Goodreads group because public accountability and all that shenanigans but also we felt that people should generally read a few more German books, I always think that German classics and contemporary fiction does not get enough airtime on YouTube, heck, it does not even get enough airtime on German Book TV shows, but that is a rant for another blog post.

My aim for 2020 is to read at least 25 German books, that would account for about 10% of my reading, however, my secret goal is to not just surpass the 31 from last year but to get to 50 and thus making German books account for 20% of my reading. In the lofty realms of future me, I would like to get it to 25%. I also plan to read more books translated into German from languages other than English (because I read them in English naturally), but I won’t count these in the German-language category for obvious reasons.

So what better way to start the year than by reading a German-language book and so I finally picked up my second Vea Kaiser: Makarionissi oder Die Insel der Seligen. Her Blasmusikpop (Oompah Pop – you can read a translated excerpt here) was one of my favourite reads in 2018, so it is fair to say that expectations were high and I am happy to report that my expectations were justified because I loved the book.

In essence, the book is about family bonds and migration and what happens to a family when parts of the family have to leave the home village to make their way in the world. This is a topic that fascinates me seeing that I am someone who does not live in the place where I was born and have not done so for nearly 30 years.

The story starts in a Greek mountain village and takes us to Hildesheim in German, St. Poelten in Austria, Chicago, Switzerland and to a Greek Island. I think the best way to describe this book is that it is a Pop-Melodrama in the Greek Heroic tradition. Yes, that’s definitely it. I also loved Kaiser’s look at migration, she presents us with various forms of migration: Economic, political and personal. Naturally, many Greek left the country in the 1960ies for economic reasons, many came to Germany, but then with the advent of the military Junta, many left-leaning or outright communist Greek had to flee the country to save their lives and became political migrants. Another character much later in the book leaves the country because of a broken heart. She presents us with these migration stories without bashing us with them around our heads, yet, they really left a deep impression on me and will be what I will remember about this book.

I also loved the characters in the book, trapped in a cycle of always never quite making the right choice yet somehow finding a bit of happiness here and there, but life always messes it up just when things are going ok. I think Vea Kaiser wants to say that life is a tragedy with happy moments, which naturally makes those fleeting times all the more precious.

I am pretty sure that 2020 will see me reading Rückwärtswalzer oder Die Manen der Familie Prischinger and that would then mean that I have read all her books, leaving me hoping dearly that she will soon bring out a new novel. 

23883032

Makarionissi oder Die Insel der Seligen by Vea Kaiser

Hardcover, 464 pages

Published May 11th 2015 by Kiepenheuer&Witsch

Yeoyu – New Voices Korea

It’s been roughly 6 months now since I ventured into the giant rabbit hole that is Korean and Asian fiction in general. I happily report that I plan to stay in the said hole for the foreseeable future. This January, I am taking part in “Japan in January” hosted by the lovely Lauren (End.Notes on instagram) and I am rather enjoying myself. Next month, I plan to read a huge amount of Korean books. Life is good, life is good.

Instagram is truly a wonderful social media platform for readers. By using hashtags to label pictures of books you allow other readers with similar interests to find you and thus recommend books to you. I love this aspect of social media so much and thus any thought of going offline and deleting all the apps are usually short-lived.  It was through such a recommendation, that I came across the Yeoyu collection published by Stranger Press and as luck would have it, the Husband asked me the same day if there are any books I specifically want for Christmas. So naturally, this is what I asked for.

This may take the element of surprise out of gifts (although I still had a couple of surprises) but it ensures that I get something I want. Win-win. And yes, I read them all already. What I liked about the stories is that they introduced me not just to Korean authors, but also to translators of Korean. I read work translated by Deborah Smith before and I have already Emily Yae Won’s translation of “I’ll go on” by Hwang Jungeun (who also had a story in this collection) waiting for me.

You could say this type of collection works almost like a business card, a “nice to meet you, now I shall remember you, maybe we can have a coffee some time.”  A few of the authors have no other work translated as of yet (Cheon Heerahn and Kang Hwagil) – or at least as far as I could find out – but all the others are available with other works. Most notable Bae Suah’s new novel “Untold Day and Night” is getting some great advance press and I, for one, cannot wait to get my fingers on a copy.

The set comes with 8 titles, you can buy individually, but who would do such a thing?

These are the titles

EUROPA by Han Kang // translated Deborah Smith

FIVE PRELUDES… by Cheon Heerahn // translated  Emily Yae Won

LEFT’S RIGHT… by Han Yujoo // translated Janet Hong

MILENA, MILENA… by Bae Suah // translated Deborah Smith

OLD WRESTLER by Jeon Sungtae // translated Sora Kim-Russell

KONG’S GARDEN by Hwang Jungeun // translated Jeon Seung-Hee

DEMONS by Kang Hwagil // translated Mattho Mandersloot

DIVORCE by Kim Soom // translated Emily Yae Won

I love the production value of them a lot and I know that is not what counts or should count, but I appreciated that they reminded me of the zines of my teenage years in the 80ies. They are lovely to hold and read which definitely makes me happy. It is the content, however, that matters and here the collection absolutely convinced me: It was just wonderful. There was not a single story that I hated. The Old Wrestler is probably the one I liked the least, but I still liked it a lot. On the other end of the spectrum was Divorce and Five Preludes and a Fugue, which I loved so much that I cannot stop thinking about them. In particular, I admire the ease of the translation in Five Preludes so much, sheer brilliance.

I also think that in general publishers should always provide information about each translator in each translated book, some already do, but often we have no information at all, especially for older works when books are republished. When I like a translator, I want to read more by them, in many ways this is no different than finding an audio narrator you like: Yes, you are here for the novel written by the author, but it is the voice of the narrator that pulls you in just as much and any lover of audiobooks will know how a bad narrator can utterly destroy an otherwise brilliant book. With audiobooks, we have the option to pick up the print version, however, with a translation we are totally at the mercy of the translator: their voice is the one we hear and that either works for us or not.

I have already asked The Husband to get me the Japanese collection for my birthday in May… if I can wait that long. Stay tuned.

Reading Women Challenge 2019 – How did I do?

Like many readers, each year I try to improve on the year before – mostly on the quality of books, i.e. how much do I enjoy the books I read, but also with regards to pushing myself out of my comfort zones. We all have them, so it is good to try and stretch ourselves a little. The Reading Women Challenge is like a good helper along the way, that is, if you are using it that way. Sadly this last year, I did not check in with the challenge, so all the books listed below will have happened accidentally.

I decided to write this post, to check on all these happy little accidents and tick off the challenges, that I did complete. My guess is that I did about 50%, so let’s check if this assumption is right.

All books read for this challenge must be by or about women.

  1. A mystery or thriller written by a woman of colour I did it. In fact many times over. Most notable mentions for this section are:

     

The Good Son by Jeong You-Jeong, translated from the Korean by Kim Chi-Young.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder

The Art of Theft (Book 4 in the Lady Sherlock Series) by Sherry Thomas

I loved all three of them for very different reasons. Jeong’s book is essentially the coming of age tale of a psychopath, absolutely loved this one. The Memory Police is a dystopian novel with a very poetic feel. The Art of Theft is the fourth book in a series exploring: what if Sherlock Holmes was in fact a woman posing as a man.

2. A book about a woman with a mental illness

The Deutsche Buchpreis Longlisted title by Austrian author Angela Lehner was just perfect for this prompt, but it was a total accidental pick. I adored this book and it was my favourite from the Deutsche Buchpreis Longlist this year.

43205085._SY475_

3. A book by an author from Nigeria or New Zealand

Big Fail on this one, despite having read three African women this year…

4. A book about or set in Appalachia

Also a big no.

5. A children’s book

785453

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. I read this prize winner by fluke, my obsession with Korea led me down a rabbit hole where I came across this book. I thought it was ok, a tiny bit patronizing with regards to its message.

6. A multigenerational family saga

34051011

I wonder just how many Korean/Asian authors will make this list. Erm, this obsession of mine is real and all engrossing. I finally read Pachinko by Min Jin Lee this year, I liked it but I think my expectations were way too high.

7. A book featuring a woman in science

334176

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is such a beloved book by many, but for me, it was just a bit meh. Still, I think it can count for this prompt. Just. Well, maybe a bit of a stretch. Oh well, life is hardly ever perfect

8. A play

Nothing. I really don’t like reading them that much, so this was never going to happen.

9. A novella

23674576._SY475_.jpg

I am not much of a romance reader, but dipped my toe in with this novella by Alyssa Cole “Agnes Moor’s Wild Knight”. Was a fun, quick read.

10. A book about a woman athlete

Nope, nothing.

11. A book featuring a religion other than your own

36660586._SY475_.jpg

This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik was a great book for me about a Muslim family who moved to rural England and the possible building of a Mosque. I definitely will read more by Ayisha Malik.

12. A Lambda Literary Award winner

also a no.

13. A myth retelling

Nope, starting to worry I may not make 50%.

14. A translated book published before 1945

62779._SY475_

Read this for the Read Around the World Bookclub, Carmen Laforet’s Nada was published in 1944 in Spain. One of the most haunting books I read this year.

15. A book written by a South Asian author

91LOZaW9pQL

Oh, I do feel like I am a tad cheating with this one. The Widows of Malabar is a mystery set in 1920ies India written by Sujata Massay who has Indian heritage. Does that count? I shall count it because I have read nothing else by a female South Asian author… which is amazing really considering that there is usually at least one, after all, it’s one of the biggest publishing markets in the world.

16. A book by an Indigenous woman

292706 (1)

The Read Around the World Bookclub is saving my bacon or rather tofu rasher… I enjoyed Monkey Beach a lot, our Canadian pick written by Eden Robinson. Eden Robinson is a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations.

17. A book from the 2018 Reading Women Award shortlist

Looks blankly into space…

18. A romance or love story

40554709._SY475_.jpg

Strictly speaking, A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn is a mystery, but let me tell you, I am here for the slow-burn romance between two characters in the book. I cannot wait for the next book in the series. If I feel sad, stressed, worried about the state of the world, nothing, absolutely NOTHING can pick me up and entertain me like Raybourn’s books.

19. A book about nature

There have been many, but the most notable for me has been probably Jessica J. Lee’s Two Trees make a Forest. Lee tracks her family’s heritage and connection with Taiwan and has written almost a love story with the place whilst at the same time pondering about belonging, language, family relationships. Definitely, would make my personal Top 10 if I did such a thing.

47112443._SY475_

20. A historical fiction book

Now, I read a lot of historical fiction, but of all the ones I read, really only these two stood out for me for different reasons.

Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton was an absolutely brilliant novel and in my humble opinion should have won the Women’s or at least be shortlisted. Set in 1910 in Philadelphia, it follows the events after a Black man drove a streetcar into a shop front. The story unravels both in the present and the past. Haunting and absolutely beautifully written.

Wolf by Marie Brunnthaler is only available in German at present (if you know any English publishers, tell them to pick it up). Set in the 1820ies in the Black Forest, it’s a dark grim tale of passion and revenge. Loved it.

21. A book you bought or borrowed in 2019

18465509

Euny Hong’s Korean Cool was the first of a long series of books about Korea, by Korean authors etc, I bought this autumn. Obsession is my middle name.

22. A book you picked up because of the cover

46208291

I requested this book from Netgalley and 100% it was because of the title and the cover. Warriors, Witches, Women by Kate Hodges is not coming out until February 2020 but I loved it. Not least because unlike so many books like this, she does not just focus on the Celtic and Greek Goddesses.

23. Any book from a series

Anna Lee Huber is another one of those authors for me, that I turn to when I just want a bit of a comfort read, something that lets me forget whatever is irking me in my real life. I adore both her Verity Kent series as well as her Lady Darby mysteries. They are more serious in tone than the Speedwell series mentioned further up, but that does take nothing away from their entertainment value.

24. A young adult book by a woman of colour

Sadly none. Tempted to use one of the many books my daughter read, but that really would be cheating.

BONUS:

  • A book by Jesmyn Ward – no

  • A book by Jhumpa Lahiri – no

So, how did I do? Actually, not that bad at all if you consider that I did this without a plan and without tracking my progress: 16 out of 24 books, that is 66% or 2/3 of the challenge.

Check in to my YouTube channel later this week, where I will be posting a recommendations video for the 2020 challenge.

Liverpool: A mini adventure

As I mentioned  million times recently, the 4th of May was my birthday and I decided that I wanted to go to Liverpool for the day. I had never been (much to the dismay of my neighbour who is from Liverpool and has been telling me for 14 years to go there… I do listen eventually) and since I wanted to do something, I thought why not.

We decided on the sensible course of action and took the train, better for the environment, better for sanity (the M6 around Birmingham is hell any day of the week) and with a family railcard also a lot cheaper (on this trip we saved 50%, neat).

The first thing that struck me coming out of Liverpool Lime Street was the epic scale of the buildings. Someone once told me that Liverpool is a London in the North of England and I can see now why. Pillars, columns, statues, little parks, grand street and small alleys and buildings from all stages of history. A sight to behold for sure (even though, you have to remember where the money came from to fund all of this, slavery and exploitation of an Empire).

We first went to the Walker Gallery and my husband would have gladly stayed all the day, inspiration for him was lurking around every corner. A nice little treat for me were found in the modernist room, I had no idea that a couple of paintings were to be found here that I had wanted to see in the “flesh” for some time.

Lunch was had at Casa Italia and it was the absolutely perfect pick: It hails back to the 70ies and has the vibe of German Italian restaurants, which made me incredibly happy.

A walk through the streets down to the docks and the Museum of Liverpool, Tate Gallery and RIBA Gallery completed the day. Much art, much food and the soul was filled again.

The plan is to do more of these mini adventures: Hope on a train, travel, explore and then come back home. It oddly felt like a proper break and was the best birthday present I could give myself.

46 things on my 46th birthday

First of all, this Saturday is my birthday. Another year around the sun and it has been a good one. Mostly. And that’s what counts. I am grateful for each and every year on this imperfect planet. Age is a privilege denied to many, so many people will never get to be 46. I say this every year, so get used to it.

I thought I share a list of 46 things. This is stream of thought and it was kinda strange, where my thoughts took me.

  1. I wish I could quit Facebook for good; communicating with my Any Book Bookclub is the only reason I am still on there.
  2. I am 10 times failed vegan. I shall keep trying. But I have been vegetarian for 18 years.
  3. I have always been an old soul.
  4. I prefer old things to new things.
  5. Cake is my weakness.
  6. So is bread.
  7. I love carbs.
  8. I love hot beverages, coffee, tea, hot chocolate.
  9. Raspberries with white chocolate, strawberries with dark chocolate.
  10. I love paintings where we look onto a scene through a door/window. Like this painting by Hopper.  41OCGNj2XHL._SX425_
  11. I want to live in Scotland (no surprise to anyone).
  12. I like lists (obviously).
  13. Apart from my wedding ring, I hardly ever wear jewellery.
  14. And I would have never thought that I would wear a wedding ring, either, but I do.
  15. I believe in the “Your wound is not your fault, but it is your responsibility” as in, you cannot go through life hurting other people just because you got hurt.
  16. When I see someone reading in a public place, I will do all sorts of contortions to figure out what it is. I will not walk up and chat unless they put the book down. Never interrupt anyone’s reading time, you don’t know how rare it is.
  17. I prefer mountains to the beach, although mountains and beach both work fine. Beach and flat lands not so much (Sorry Netherlands, you are grand for other reasons).
  18. If you talk about a thing and I know a fact about the thing (or an entire book about that thing), I will have to tell you. Please still like me afterwards. It’s like hiccups, I cannot help myself.
  19. I believe that you can change direction at any point in life, I am currently going through a directional change of sorts and it is painful, but I have done it before and I can do it again. I am not a rock.
  20. Salad without dressing is pointless.
  21. I always plan the next holiday
  22. In fact, I have an entire folder with holiday cottages and other accommodation that I find randomly on the internet.
  23. I have a whole philosophy based on how to find the right holiday accommodation for myself and the fam.
  24. I hate the term “strong woman”. This article shares some of my reasoning. It’s just such a stupid cliche!
  25. I cannot do a flat lay instagram post to save my life and I am ok with that.
  26. I am not a French tuck kinda person. More a “do you have that top also in extra long” woman.
  27. Any recipe stating “one clove of garlic” should not be trusted. Always add at least 5, it’s the way to happiness.
  28. I love roller neck tops but cannot wear them because as soon as I have one on, I feel like I cannot breathe. It makes me sad on a regular basis.
  29. I like spending time on instagram and posting photos and no, I don’t think that time is wasted. Online has brought me some of my most cherished friendships. I work from home, so instagram is my watercooler.
  30. Twitter, however, makes me often depressed and I strictly limit my time on there.
  31. We served Red Lentil Curry at our wedding and sang bad Karaoke in our flat. Best day ever.
  32. I was a wedding and portrait photographer for a few years. It killed all enjoyment of photography and made me realise that I am terrible at peopling.
  33. I was a good photographer though.
  34. Finding booktube was one of the best things ever.
  35. Some days cooking is the greatest stress relief ever. Other days, I would gladly chuck the pans in the bin. I am a person of multitudes.
  36. My love with Scotland began with this book, read while in primary school. 41Hp-E6ajeL._SX279_BO1,204,203,200_ A book about spies during the Cold War set in the high moors of Scotland. I loved everything about it. The English Title is “The Hill of the Red Fox”. I was in love with all things British as a kid. Scotland, England, Wales. Loved it all. I often pretended that I was secretly the child of a British General (I grew up in what was the American Sector, there was no British Army anywhere, but details, who cares about those) and that he would come and take me home to this castle in Scotland. Still waiting.
  37. I was obsessed with Hans Moser and Heinz Ruehmann as a young child. In fact, I loved all the old German comedies. My grandmother would often sing this one and so did I.
  38. If I had more space (as in space inside and outside the house), then I would have more books and more animals.
  39. I have a 100% success rate of surviving stuff.
  40. If I lived before the end of the witch hunts in Europe (which ended roughly in the 1750ies), they would have burned me. Not a cheery thought.
  41. A cheery thought is cake though. And I love all the cake. You bring cake, you make me happy. ( I know I mentioned cake before, but all good lists talk about cake at least twice)
  42. Another cheery thought is chocolate: Milka or Ritter Sport. I miss the crazy Ritter Sport flavours something rotten at times. I never had this Chocolate Brownie flavour, if you have contacts at Ritter Sport ask them to send me some trial packs 🙂 Ha, as if. 100g_BV_SchokoBrownie_D_NEU_800px-640x571
  43. I have lived in the UK for 17 years. Still get homesick from time to time. Like right now, I think it was the talk about chocolate.
  44. I don’t like champagne, I would always prefer a glass of whisky.
  45. When a list is titled “Must read for xxx”, I will never click on it. It shall remain a mystery.
  46. And so this is it. Happy Birthday to me.

 

Fled by Meg Keneally

43252694

It is a rare thing to read a historical fiction novel with a female main character that is truly a main character in her story (well, unless she is a Queen). And more often than not, when we have such a story, it comes entirely from an author’s imagination. I guess that is because so little is often known about women’s lives in the past, but I think it’s also a sign of publishing trends that there is simply not much published along these lines. A few each year, but more likely then not, women are portrayed in their relationship to the men in their lives, but I am glad to report, that Meg Keneally’s book could have never been called the Fisherman’s Daughter.

Jenny’s father was a fisherman and after his death, his daughters and wife are left to struggle on. The 18th century was brutal to women in general, but especially when left behind without “male” protection and income, society was simply designed for women to be dependent on men, so without that, Jenny’s life soon spirals into financial misery. Somehow she falls into becoming a robber on the highways, which inevitably ends her in court and then on a transportation ship.

Jenny has not been given many choices in life, but her will to survive and struggle for liberty is second to none. Even as a prisoner, Jenny rarely wavers in her sense of self and keeps a level of agency many female characters in novels lack: She is the engine that drives this story and this is what made it such a fantastic read. The book is harsh, unjust and brutal in places, but also just so full of hope.

The story is based on the life of Mary Bryant and the author outlines in the afterword the similarities and inspirations for the story and the reason why she decided to base a character on Mary rather than trying to tell Mary’s story. And I appreciated that a lot. I always prefer if a story is told in that way, as I find myself otherwise unpicking fact from fiction. But a word of warning: Try not read anything about Mary Bryant’s life as this will spoil some of the major plot points in the novel. And you would want to enjoy them without expecting them to happen.

Meg Keneally is an Australian author who has co-authored books with her father Tom Keneally, these books are highly rated and I shall get my hands on them soon. Fled is her solo debut.

Certainly a book, you should pack into your suitcase and take with you on your summer travels, or read it at home with a cup of tea and be grateful that you don’t live in the 18th century.

Published April 15th 2019 by Bonier Zaffre
Paperback, 400 pages

 

Underland by Robert Macfarlane

41817481

I was wary of Underland at the beginning, as I normally reach for Macfarlane’s books when I cannot go exploring myself. Sort of a stand in adventure while bound to my desk for work or asthma keeping my indoors in winter. How would it work reading about him exploring terrain that I have absolutely no interest in exploring myself? Would I love it or would I be detached and disinterested?

Right from the beginning, I was greeted by the high level of writing. It is a bit like meeting up with an old friend, you sit down and pick up where you left off, even when it has been years. The writing is sublime. And the introduction to the Underlands is gentle, sharing his fascination, his motives for writing, he slowly guides us into the book. I loved visiting underground spaces in this way without the need for myself to get uncomfortable, wet or in a dangerous situation. Armchair travelling at its best.

Not all journeys take you literally underground, some are just left you wondering what’s underfoot and I certainly took that with me on my walks last week on holiday in Scotland. Oddly, I thought most about his words after climbing the hill to an old Iron Age Hillfort, pondering what lay beneath me and what memories the stones held that I was standing on. I don’t think, I ever really gave that much thought to what is under my feet than that what lies before my eyes when out walking. And quite frankly that change in perspective was refreshing.

It also got me thinking about my own place in the world, what legacy I will leave behind. What impact I can have to safeguard, to protect and to pass on. And this is where the real strength of any good book comes from: The moment you put it down, it still occupies your thoughts, you carry its wisdom with you and phrases pop into your head when you are doing other things.

Certainly a book for me that I will revisit over and over again, preferably reading out passages to my husband, because the writing is just so wonderful. And we shall keep going out and find beauty and be still.

Underland by Robert Macfarlane
Hardcover, 280 pages
Expected publication: May 2nd 2019 by Hamish Hamilton

 

Thoughts on writing, reading, Brexit and other stuff (April 2nd)

What no one tells you about writing is how utterly frustrating it can be. Who am I kidding. How utterly frustrating it is. Today, I have mainly wanted to throw the laptop out of the window and I have not done so, otherwise, I would not sit down here and bore you with meaningless thoughts, but I wish I had. Instead I am here, grumpy, total written word count 50 words, total deleted word count 500. One does not need to be an accountant to realise that this is an awful balance sheet. I tried to read the “Writing Down the Books” last week and I found it so annoying that I stuffed it into the charity bag and took it away. Maybe I should have read it.

You see the thing is, that the characters in my book are really annoying me today. The woman insists on doing things that I believe she wouldn’t do. And then when I change it, she does not sound like the person she ought to be. Does that sound like a mad couple of sentences? I am not sure. I am also not sure if the male character is too butch. I don’t want him too butch, but then he threatens to get into a fight and there we are, I feel like I am writing male stereotype no. 1008, right out of the character stereotype manual. Hurumpf.

The Walter Scott shortlist has been announced. Feeling so-so about the shortlist, but that is nothing new, plus I only read 3 of the 6 books so far. I was so certain Dark Water would be on there, but alas, no. Still Ondaatje is on there and it is my personal favourite, but alas I think Western Wind will win it. Books with interesting structure seem to always win Walter Scott. Went to the library as my hold for another of the now shortlisted books came in “The Long Take”, it has pictures, interesting. It is also very thin. I am probably the only person on booktube who has the compulsion to not trust a book that has less than 340 pages. I know naturally many novels that do brilliant things in very little space (hello Elizabeth Taylor) but sadly I know more novels where I felt that they could have fleshed things out a bit. The argument “… but at least it was short” never really worked for me. If you read 10 novels of 150 pages and they are all disappointing that’s a lot of disappointment. I rather read 3 500 page novels and they are all brilliant. But I guess, us readers are a demanding lot, always wanting brilliant books when everyone knows that books are not diamonds, there is no universal value that can be measured and traded against. Beauty is after all something that is totally in the eye of the beholder.

Part of the morning was spent hunting for a white blouse for the child’s spring concert tonight, so she can conform with the black and white dress code. She was nice enough to inform me last night at 7 pm that she has outgrown the previous blouse (and about another bin bag full of clothes). She is 12 and nearly as tall as me. So blouse hunting I went. I have lots to do, translation work, trying to write (and failing), there is never ending stream of laundry, but here I was at 9.30 hunting down a white blouse the child would wear. Mission accomplished, hope someone sends me that mother of the month medal in the post. I still have the pleasure to come tomorrow afternoon of going clothes shopping with her. This is sending shivers down my spine. Did I say pleasure, no, want I meant is horror. Clothes shopping is torture at the best of times, clothes shopping with a 12 year old who has a clear sense of what she will wear and what not but will not articulate it but just quietly reject proffered items with “too itchy”, “too clingy”, “too <<insert any word here that makes no sense>>” and you are destined for an argument with aforementioned tweenager. I shall try my utmost tomorrow to not go into argument mode. I shall think of cake. Wish me luck.

Oh, I have not mentioned Brexit in a while. So yes, we still don’t know what’s going on. At this point, I don’t feel I can say anything anymore other than shake my head. I feel like Yoda. “Heading for doom, we do. Stone like hurtling, we do.” He never said this, but he would have, had he lived in Brexit Britain.

On a cheerier note, I am about to finish a rather brilliant German crime novel and it has been translated into English, you lucky ducks. Set in 1947 Hamburg, coldest winter in memory and amongst the bombed out city a serial killer is on the loose. The English Title is the Murderer in Ruins by Cay Rademacher and the translation has been done by Peter Millar and is published by Arcadia Books. I think, I may immediately pick up book 2 (there is currently 3) and read on, Rademacher depicts what a bombed Hamburg must have been like so well. A bonus if you know Hamburg and are able pick out the place names, but if you don’t it does not matter, the place will become alive in your head anyway. A brilliant Schmöker.

31075934