Oh, Alberta.

the Alberta Trilogy by Cora Sandel
(Alberta and Jacob 1926, Alberta and Freedom 1931 and Alberta Alone 1939)
 
“The truth was Alberta only knew what she did not want. She had no idea what she did want. And not knowing brought unrest and a giddy sensation under her heart. She existed like a negative of herself, and this flaw was added to all the others. To get away, out into the world! Beyond this all details were blurred. She imagined somewhere open, free, bathed in sunshine. And a throng of people, none of them her relatives, none of whom could criticize her appearance and character, and to whom she was not responsible for being other than herself.” 
 Alberta is a young woman living in Northern Norway with her brother, Jacob, and their parents. Alberta is unable to continue her education, and spends her days at home helping out, while her friends have either moved south or are busy getting hitched. She is constantly cold, both physically and emotionally.

In the second book, we find Alberte a few years later in Paris, where she sometimes works as a model for painters. She lives in the cheapest hotels and is constantly broke. She hangs with a crowd of international artists and their muses. She has changed a lot from the one she used to be in Norway, and she is independent and hates running into fellow countrymen, as she is worried about what they’d say behind her back. I’m not going to say anything about the third book, because then I’ll spoil the essentials of the second book. But it is set a few years later, just after World War I. 

Alberta definitely found a special place in my heart. She reminded me a lot of my younger self, especially in her insecurity and constant coldness. And the whole part about finding yourself. Cora Sandel also writes well, and I was surprised that there weren’t more quotes on Goodreads. I’d definitely have written some there myself if I had read it in English. I have a feeling that this book was controversial when it was published, and especially the second book where there are sex and even an abortion. I know that during World War II, the German regime in Norway banned the third book because they believed it to be anti-German.

I liked the second book best of all, and I believe that it should be on the 1001 books you should read list instead of Alberta and Jacob. And I would have loved to be in Paris in the that time period myself. Alberta and Jacob was April’s read in Line’s 1001 books reading circle, and although I read it then, I wanted to read the whole trilogy before writing about it.

And oh, does anyone know why the names have been changed from the Norwegian version (Alberte, Jakob) to the English one (Alberta, Jacob)? I have only seen that in children’s books before. 

fifty-three.

the Hours by Michael Cunningham (1998)
“We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in Canada; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep. It’s as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out windows, or drown themselves, or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us are slowly devoured by some disease, or, if we’re very fortunate, by time itself. There’s just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) know these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more. Heaven only knows why we love it so…” 

In 1923, Virginia Woolf is working on a new novel, later to be named Mrs Dalloway, while trying to pull herself together. In 1949 in Los Angeles, Mrs Brown is pregnant with her second child and it’s her husband’s birthday, but all she wants to do is lay in bed and read Mrs Dalloway. In present day New York, Clarissa, who is called Mrs Dalloway by her former lover, Richard, is holding a party for him as he’s dying from AIDS.

The book starts with the suicide of Virginia Woolf, and that really sets the mood for the rest of the book. I kept wondering whether both Clarissa and Mrs Brown would kill themselves as well. It is beautifully written, and I really like how Cunningham has included passages from Mrs Dalloway. It was a perfect read for my current mood, and it really hit home. Save it for your blue periods.

Another thing I discovered while reading this, is that I totally didn’t understand Mrs Dalloway at all. I definitely need to read it again, but it needs to mature for a couple of years first. I also need to watch the film again.

This was November’s read in Line’s 1001 books reading circle.

thirty-six.

Monstermenneske by Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold (2012)
Kjersti has ME and has been sick for years. So sick that she is so exhausted that she cannot even sleep. But she cannot give up, and decides to put one of the stories she has in her mind, onto the screen. Even if all she can manage is a few sentences every day.
Skomsvold debutated with the Faster I Walk, the Smaller I am in 2009 and her second book is about ME, the writing process and what happened after she finally managed to finish her first book. But it is also about heart breaks, hating yourself and your looks, fascinating people, literature and wonderful friendships. It is painful to read about Kjersti’s view of herself and her condition, but there are so many amazing and funny observations.
 I really enjoyed the book despite it being sad and hard to read at times and I’m definitely going to read her first book!

thirty-five.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (1995)
 “…there was another, gorier parturition, when two nations incarnated out of one. A foreigner drew a magic line on a map and called it the new border; it became a river of blood upon the earth. And the orchards, fields, factories, businesses, all on the wrong side of that line, vanished with a wave of the pale conjuror’s wand.” 
Dina Dalal’s life hasn’t been easy after her husband died after just three years of marriage. Refusing her brother’s pleas for her to get remarried, she has to support herself. When her eyes are failing her, she hires two tailors to do her job, Ishvar and Omprakash and takes in a boarder, Maneck, as well. And she hopes that the landlord won’t notice the three extra people in her flat.
A mesmerising read from the first page to the last. The story takes you through the history of India from its independence through the eyes of its people. It mainly focuses on the four people in Dina’s flat, but also the people they meet. There are many wonderful stories within the story. There are so many tragic stories, but it is written in a dry witty style. 
The only thing I didn’t like with the story was the ending. Why did it have to end that way? But I guess it’s one of those books that just don’t work with a happy ending.
 
“You see, we cannot draw lines and compartments and refuse to budge beyond them. Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping-stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.’ He paused, considering what he had just said. ‘Yes’, he repeated. ‘In the end, it’s all a question of balance.”

thirty-four.

Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner (2001)
 Cannie discovers that her ex-boyfriend is writing a column about their love-life in a popular magazine. Most furious is she about the way he is describing her big body. Humiliated, she realises that she is not over Bruce yet and tries to get him to stop writing about her and get him back at the same time.
Cannie, why are you so angry? I definitely didn’t like her personality, and although she is meant to be snarky, I found her whiny and bitter. Yet there were many things I could identify with (and I guess every girl can). Still, she isn’t the kind of heroine I need or want.
Not my favourite genre by far, I read it because I had it up to here with wars and other sad and difficult topics I usually read about.  It is an entertaining story for sure, sort of a modern fairytale and quite predictable. Love the cover and I loved the author’s introduction more than Cannie.

thirty.

the Twins by Tessa de Loo (1993)
 Anna and Lotte are twins born in 1916 in Cologne. After their parents die, at the age of 6, they are separated and Lotte grows up in the Netherlands, while Anna stays in Germany. They don’t see each other again, except on two brief occasions, once during the war and once after, until they suddenly meet each other at a peat bath in Spa, Belgium, 70 years later. 
The meeting brings up painful memories for both sisters, and they tell each other stories, mainly from when they got separated and until World War II ended. It is easy to see that the sisters hold a grudge against one other, and that the war has made them enemies.
This is one of those stories which suck you right in and keep you there. I loved it from the beginning to the end, and it is such a fascinating read. I really like how the war is the background, and how Anna and Lotte blame each other sides for letting Hitler carry on. The history of Anna was the one which I found most interesting as I haven’t read much of ordinary life in war-time Germany before. 
A definite must-read if you’re interested in European history or just want a really good story. I have put the film version (and another book by Tessa) on my wish list. 

fifteen.

the Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (1999)
“Charlie” has just started high school when he starts writing letters to an unknown person. He is bothered by his mood swings and he is one of the unpopular kids at school and is called a freak by most of his classmates. Then he befriends some older kids and the rest of the school year is a series of high school drama, sex, drugs and rock ‘n ‘roll. 
Charlie is a bright boy who loves asking questions. His English literature teaches gives him extra books to read and assignments to write and these books influence Charlie a lot. He is also discovering music and films through his new crowd. But Charlie still has his problems with connecting with people and reality and he is trying the best he can to be out there and participate.

I first read this book ten years ago, and I had vague memories about what it was like. And I didn’t remember the book 100% correctly, so it was nice to reread it. It inspired me a lot the first time I read it; I bought This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald and really tried to understand it. And this book got me into the Smiths. In retrospect it’s fun to discover how many of the other books mentioned I have read and that my friends are as into Rocky Horror Picture Show as Charlie and his friends! But it’s still as heartbreaking and tough to read as it was ten years ago.

I’m also curious about the film which will soon be released.

nine, ten, eleven: the hunger games

the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
 (the Hunger Games 2008, Catching Fire 2009 and Mockingjay 2010)

the Treaty of Treason gave us the new laws to guarantee peace and, as our yearly reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated, it gave us the Hunger Games. The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.”

Katniss Everdeen is a 16 year old girl who volunteers to be the female tribute from District 12 instead of her little sister, Prim. District 12 is a relatively poor district, but the Peacekeepers turn a blind eye to the mild lawbreaking done by its inhabitants. Katniss and her best friend, Gale, have kept their families and others healthy with their illegal hunting, and Katniss is superb with a bow and arrows which gives her an advance in the Games. The other participant from District 12 is a boy, Peeta who claims to be in love with Katniss. And their crazy drunk mentor, Haymitch, tells them to play the love card for the audience. But only one of them can survive the Games.

Set somewhere in the future, USA has broken into 12 districts, governed from the Capitol under the name Panem. The people in the districts are poor and working their arses off so the Capitol may prosper. And the Hunger Games is the one event that brings all the people together in front of their tvs.
 
Three days and nights with little sleep, or at least little sleep where not the Hunger Games was present, and I finished the trilogy. And what’s the verdict? It’s bloody good!

I was worried that the killings would be too much, but this is a book for young adults, so it’s never violent and it’s more about surviving than killing. Although the Hunger Games was interesting, I really liked reading about the everyday life in the districts and Capitol. I really enjoyed the second book until the second Hunger Games, and I also liked the third book because of the lack of the Games. And oh yes, my tears were running at the end.

The film is out in a month or so, and it is going to be interesting to see the books played out on the big screen.

This trilogy reminded me how much I need to reread Nineteen-Eighty-Four.

sixty-five.

the Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (2006)
Renée is the concierge at a fancy apartment building in Paris. She grew up in poverty and is satisfied with her easy job, although she is very clever and loves art – a secret she hides from the residents. Paloma is a 12 year old girl living in the apartment building. She is far too intelligent for her own good and contemplates suicide before she turns 13. When a Japanese gentleman moves into the building, their lives change.

It took a long time before I realised that the book was narrated by two persons and not just Renée as a girl and at present time. The story also seemed very dull in the beginning, but the last 100 pages or so were so good. I’m not sure if I liked the end or not, it did seem unfair that it ended the way it did.

The film version (also French) came out recently, and I have a feeling that it might be better than the book.

fifty-seven.

“It takes vast willpower, luck, and skill to be the first. But it takes a gigantic heart to be number two.”

Mattias is happy with his life in 1999; he has a girlfriend, they have been together for 12 years and he works as a gardener and he has a few good friends. And he is going with his best friend’s band to the Faeroe Islands. He is completely satisfied with being a nobody, a number two; just like Buzz Aldrin, his hero. But then, shortly before the trip, he loses his job and the girl leaves him for an other man. The next thing Mattias remembers is waking up in the middle of the road in the middle of nowhere on the Faeroes in soaking rain.

Havstein is the man who saves Mattias. He brings him to his home, which is also a half-way house with four patients. And here Mattias really melts down before slowly starting to recover. The people in the half-way house have all had their own rocky way from and to sanity. 

This book is also about so much more than Mattias and the people in the half-way house. It is about astronauts and Buzz Aldrin and the past forty years. Johan Harstad has written such a beautiful portrait of the Faeroes that it has become almost a character itself. I fell in love with the islands. I also cried a good deal while reading, not sure why, but it is sad in a simple and beautiful way.

Read it!