six.

the Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1860)
 Walter Hartright has got the job as a drawing master to two young girls, Ms. Laura Fairlie and her half-sister, Marion Halcombe. On his way there, he helps a woman dressed in white to escape from her followers. When he finally met Laura, he is struck by how she looks like the Woman in White. He (as all good heroes) falls in love with Laura, but she is engaged to Sir Percival Glyde and decides to marry him. Sir Percival Glyde is a terrible man with a terrible plan along with his Italian accomplice Count Fosco.

The book is narrated by the person who has most insight at that time, and the best is that the narrations are different. I was laughing hard when reading Laura’s hypochondriac uncle’s narrative.

Based on the cover and the title I thought this would be a ghost story, but instead it is one of the first sensations novel; a mix of Gothic literature and the psychological realism of the domestic novel. It is also said to be one of the first crime novels. It is entertaining, as all Gothic novels are, and one can write pages about the female portraits. Marion is the smart spinster, completely devoted to her Laura. And Laura is the stereotypical weak blonde who cannot see danger when it’s in her face. But Count Fosco is definitely my favourite character, despite being the villain.

I think it’s a tie between the Moonstone and the Woman in White as my favourite Wilkie Collins novel. I just downloaded about 7 more of his works to my Kindle and I hope they are as good as his famous works.

fifty-seven.

the History of Love by Nicole Krauss (2005)
 “Once upon a time, there was a boy. He lived in a village that no longer exists, in a house that no longer exists, on the edge of a field that no longer exists, where everything was discovered, and everything was possible. A stick could be a sword, a pebble could be a diamond, a tree, a castle. Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived in a house across the field, from a girl who no longer exists. They made up a thousand games. She was queen and he was king. In the autumn light her hair shone like a crown. They collected the world in small handfuls, and when the sky grew dark, and they parted with leaves in their hair.

Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.” 

Alma Singer is named after the woman in a book called the History of Love, which her mother is translating from Spanish to English. Alma is trying to figure out who the Alma in the book is. The other main narrator is Leo Gursky, an old man who went to America to look for his love after they got separated in a small Polish town during World War II. When he finds her, she is married to another man, but Leo is the father of the oldest son. Devastated, he spends the rest of his life alone.

There are plenty of other characters and their stories, and they are all fascinating. But the way all the stories eventually become one is the best thing about the book. And Alma Singer. I definitely loved it, and as always with books I love, I have a hard time coming up with smart things to say about them. Read it and find out for yourself why it’s great.

This was this year’s final book in Line’s 1001 books reading challenge.

fifty-four.

Ali and Nino by Kurban Said (1937)
“And for me this was the bell that went wrong; my first impulse to go to war as soon as possible. Now I had time to think. The caravan was wandering eastwards over the soft sand, lost in dream. The train was pushing westwards along its iron rails, mindless and mechanical. Why did I not raise my hand to pull the communication cord? This was where I belonged, to the camels, to the men leading them, to the sand! What was it to me, this world behind the mountains? These Europeans with their wars, their cities, their Czars, Kaisers and Kings? Their sorrows, their happiness, their cleanliness and their dirt – we have a different way of being clean or dirty, good or bad, we have a different rhythm and different faces. Let the train rush to the West. My heart and soul belong to the East.”

Ali Kahn is a Muslim of noble heritage, yet he falls in love with a Georgian Christian princess, Nino. They have been friends ever since they met on the way to school. Their worlds are completely opposite, Ali loves the eastern traditions and loathes the Russian dominance, while Nino loves Europe. Despite their differences, they love each other, and Nino says yes to Ali’s proposal on two conditions; he must never force her to wear the veil or put her in a harem. Nino’s parents give consent to their marriage on two conditions; Nino has to graduate and it must happen after the war.

The war happens to be the first World War, and it brings a lot of change to Baku. Ali wants to fight, but he doesn’t want to help Russia, so when Turkey goes to war against Russia, a lot of the Muslims of Baku decides to rise up against the Russians. But the uprising goes wrong, and they are forced to flee to Persia, where life changes completely for Nino.

This book will give you a crash course in religion and the history and geography of the Caucasus. It is also an intense love story. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it away. It is a great story and the language is lovely. In the beginning, I felt that the contrasts were too obvious and forced, but fortunately as the story gathered speed, they became less important.

Although Ali is the narrator in the book, Nino is in my opinion the real hero. I loved the parts where she fought with the eunuchs in Tehran. She also sacrifices everything for love. I have more mixed feelings for Ali and his beliefs. And why couldn’t this book have a happy ending?

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.

fifty-one.

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan (1997)
Joe and Clarissa are on a picnic, celebrating Clarissa’s return. Suddenly they see a hot air balloon in trouble, and they, along with some other men, rush to the rescue. The accident ends tragically with the death of one of the rescuers as he didn’t let go of the rope and was carried upwards.

Although the accident is very unsettling for the couple, the affairs which take place in the following months are worse. Shortly after the accident, Joe receives a phone call from one of the other rescuers, Jed. Jed claims to be in love with Joe, and stalks him. For unknown reasons Joe hides the fact for a while from Clarissa, and when he finally tells her, she believes that he is imagining it as she never she or hears Jed and his handwriting is awfully like Joe’s.

What drives this beautifully written slow story forward is the madness, and the fact that it’s unclear who the mad one is. I, as always, am never right. Joe is the perfect narrator, and I really like how a lot of the story is left untold. The only thing I disliked about the story is that it felt too rushed towards the end.

I have been holding off for years reading a new McEwan book after I read Atonement in 2008, as I loved that book and I have heard that McEwan can be a hit or miss. But I know he must be a great author as no less than 8 of his books are on the 1001 books list. I’m glad I picked Enduring Love as it didn’t disappoint. Read it if you are in the mood for a passionate story with a crazy stalker.

forty-eight.

Jordmora by Katja Kettu (2011)
(Kätilö)

Villøye is the midwife in Petsamo during World War II, and the place is crawling with German soldiers. Villøye falls in love with one of the soldiers, Johannes, and although he has got another girl pregnant, she follows him to a POW Camp with Soviet prisoners where she becomes a nurse. But the war is at its turning point, and Villøye and Johannes have to flee and they end up in an isolated hut in a remote Norwegian fjord.
Ohmygodthisbook! It has everything and so much more. It gives an excellent portrait of the complex Barents region, and the terrible war which devastated the area. It is a gruesome story, and really shows how people deal with the worst situations. And the choices Villøye makes have terrible consequences.

I really liked the language in the book, and the way it’s a mix of Finnish, Russian and Sami words in the translation. And it’s always interesting to read about the place where you hail from. I really regret that I gave up on learning Finnish because I’m really curious how this is in its original language. The translator, Turid Farbrergd, did a hell of a job and I have learnt so many new words. I also got a better picture of what it was like during the war, and I definitely need to read more about the war in the Barents region.

I hope it will be translated into English soon. If you get a chance, read it! It is definitely the best book I have read this year and on the list of my favourites and I already need to read it again. And Katja Kettu is an author I will definitely read more of. 

Ps: I think Villøye might be the horniest woman I have come across so far in literature, and I love it!

forty-seven.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869)
“”How can we fight the French, Prince?” said Count Rostopchin. “Can we arm ourselves against our teachers and divinities. Look at our youths, look at our ladies! The French are our Gods: Paris is our Kingdom of Heaven.””

It is 1805 and Russia and France are about to go to war. In the Rostov household, they are concerned about three things; money, marrying off their children and war. The Bolkonskys’ estate is out on the countryside where the old Prince holds the rest of the family in a tight clutch. Pierre Bezukhov is the illegitimate son of one of the richest counts in Russia, and he unexpectedly inherits the money and climbs on the social ladder. He marries one of the important ladies, Helene Kuragina, but the marriage is colder than ice.

Napoleon and his army destroy the Russians, and even the aristocracy suffers horrible losses. The war changed the lives of the noble families, and they lived through tragedies, but also had some happy moments during the war. 

War and Peace is said to one of the best novels ever written. I cannot say that I agree, although I really enjoyed the story. But the bloody philosophical essays in between, and especially in the final epilogue. That really ruined the book for me. And Tolstoy sure takes his time to get to the point, and I believe that it would have been a lot better if only he had a strict editor. If you plan to read it, I suggest you go for a good edition which has put all the essays in an appendix.

But luckily, Tolstoy’s genius shines through, and those parts which deals with family life, and especially love, are brilliant and as good as Anna Karenina. I just wish he would have kept to those subjects, as the strategies and details about warfare don’t interest me at all. I do, however, see why many men list this as their favourite book. I’m just glad that I can tell the world that I have read War and Peace. 

This was September’s read in Line’s 1001 books reading challenge (and yes, I needed another week to finish it).

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-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-two.

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1934)

“‘ When one writes on psychiatry, one should have actual clinical contacts. Jung writes, Beuler writes, Freud writes, Forel writes, Adler writes – also they are in constant contact with mental disorder.’ 
‘Dick has me,’ laughed Nicole. ‘I should think that’d be enough mental disorder for one man.'”

Dick Diver is an American psychiatrist working in Switzerland where he meets a charming young rich American patient, Nicole Warner. Baby, Nicole’s sister, suggests that a doctor should marry Nicole so she would always have help. Dick then decides to marry Nicole, and they go to the French riviera to live. They live splendidly, with drunken parties and amazing friends. One of the people they meet, is Rosemary, a young American actress, who falls in love with Dick at the first sight. And Dick is not able to resist her, and he has to choose.

Fitzgerald is a master of writing about the rich and famous and intrigues. And this book has everything from love affairs to duels and the cover-up of a murder. I really enjoy reading about the Jazz Age and the glamourous lifestyle. The plot is also intriguing, and it is interesting to see how the characters change. My favourite scene was the break-up in the midst of Tour de France. Hilarious and sad at the same time. And what was the unspeakable thing Mrs McKisco witnessed in the bathroom?

A perfect book for lazy summer afternoons!