fifty-two.

the Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (2013)
 Walter Moody, fresh off the ship in Hokitika, the booming gold town in Southern New Zealand, wanders into a gathering of 12 men. The 12 men are talking about a curious case, which they all have some information about. The curious case involves the death of one man, a suicidal whore, forgery, shipping crates and, of course, gold. All the men present have something to add to the story. They have all witnessed one thing or another, and they take turns explaining what they have seen.

I have been struggling for three days now to come up with something clever to say about this book. It is simply a brilliant old-fashioned mystery novel with plenty of intrigues. I really love the design of the book, something which is definitely lost in the Kindle edition. But I discovered the X-ray tool on Kindle while reading this, and it has plenty of information about the places mentioned in the book. It also has a feature where you can see how much a name or place is mentioned in the book. Fun for book nerds!

The Luminaries won the Man Booker Prize 2013 and I have yet to read the others on the short list to see if this is a worthy winner. But it is definitely a great book! 

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!

thirty-eight.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1963)
(first published in 1980)
Ignatius J. Reilly spends his days eating junk food, writing notes and screaming obscenities at the telly and his mother. After a series of unfortunate events which puts his mother in debt, he has to go out in New Orleans to look for a job.

Is it possible to like a book if you hate the main character? I really disliked Ignatius, and I know I should feel sorry for him because of his obvious mental state, but I just can’t. His obnoxious character annoyed me so much that I was at several occasions tempted to give up. I often skimmed the parts which were all about him, and especially his notes and letters. But luckily the rest of the characters made this book worth the read.

And yes, it is an absurd tale with some very interesting characters. All my sympathies went to Mrs Reilly and I also found her friend, Santa, hilarious. The rest of the characters make the story interesting, but some of them I found as annoying as Ignatius himself. The ending certainly made me think. And it almost made me root for Ignatius.

This was July’s book in Line’s 1001-books reading challenge.

thirty-seven.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by J.K Rowling (2013)
(As Robert Galbraith)
A famous model, Lula Landry, fell off her balcony and the inquest ruled suicide. Her brother, John Bristow, is convinced that his adopted sister, despite having a mental illness, never would have killed herself. He hires the private detective Cormoran Strike to investigate the case.

Strike is an ex-military with just one leg after a landmine blew off the other. The detective business is not making much money and his creditor is constantly on his back. Still he hires a temp to do his secretary work, Robin. And together they make a brilliant detective couple.

After finding out that J. K. Rowling wrote this, I instantly bought it on the Kindle. And I instantly fell in love. Her characters are amazing and I just love Strike and Robin. I also like how she manages to describe the layers of the society, from the rich skinny models to the homeless. And the solution of the murder is just crazy. I also like how this is one of those old-fashioned types of a crime story, its style reminded me of Agatha Christie.

And finally, it’s a perfect portrait of London and as I’m there right now, just a stone’s throw away from the streets described, it was a perfect read on my way to London.  I hope that Rowling will continue with the series despite the raised expectations from being found to be the author.

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! 

nine.

the Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)
“That was it. Send a girl off with one man. Introduce her to another to go off with him. Now go and bring her back. And sign the wire with love. That was it all right.”
Jake Barnes is an American journalist living in Paris. He spends his days working and his nights drinking with his crowd, including Lady Brett Ashley, a stunning English woman who falls in love easily, but is engaged to a Scot, Mike Campbell. And men fall as easily for her. One of them is Robert Cohn, a writer who has a steady and jealous girlfriend, Frances.

Jake has known Brett since the first World War, and they have had their moments, but Jake is one of the persons Brett can trust the most. Jake is planning to go to Spain to do some fishing and then do the bullfighting festival of Pamplona with his friend coming over from America, Bill, and Robert. But Brett and Mike also come along and the wine and festival bring out the worst in everyone.

Paris in the roaring 20s must have been magical and Hemingway portrays the lost generation perfectly. The tension between the characters are present, but you also feel that you don’t know the whole picture. Some things are revealed as the story goes on, but a lot of things are left to the imagination.

I had a hell of a time reading this novel. It might be because I was under the influence of some excellent Italian red wine while reading most of it. But how can you read a novel soaked in wine without actually drinking some?

“It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was much wine, an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening. Under the wine I lost the disgusted feeling and was happy. It seemed they were all such nice people”.

eight.

Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton (1941)
 “Then he remembered, without any difficulty, what he it was he had to do: he had to kill Netta Longdon.”
Earl’s Court, London, 1939. George Harvey Bone is obsessed with Netta Longdon, an obsession which sometimes is love, other times hate. Netta has starred in some minor films, but now she spends her days drinking other people’s money and doing little else. And George, who is one of the silent types and a little dumb, is the perfect tool for Netta. 
George has always been a bit awkward, and he has this mood, he described it himself as dead, other use the word dumb, which occasionally comes over him. It always starts with a crack in the brain and then his mood alters to the worse and he often doesn’t remember what happens when he is in this mood. In this dead mood he plans to kill Netta.
I have seldom rooted for a possible murder as I have done in this book because Hamilton has portrayed Netta as a horrible woman and George as a man to pity. The fact that she secretly found fascism, Hitler and Mussolini sexy and the way she calculated every move when it came to money and men, made me really dislike her. 
Patrick Hamilton is one of the best authors I have stumbled upon and I really wish more people would do the same. And Hangover Square is possibly his best work, but it’s been a while since I read Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky so it’s hard to tell. And the Slaves of Solitude was also great. I’m glad I still have the Gorse Trilogy to read. 

sixty-four.

the Monk by M.G Lewis (1796)
Father Ambrosio is the most popular priest in Madrid because he is so pure. His church is full of people who want to listen to his sermons. His monastery is wall to wall with the St. Claire cloister where the terrible Domina who rules with an iron hand. Lorenzo and his friend Raymond are attending one of Ambrosio’s sermons when they spot a really beautiful young girl, Antonia, and Lorenzo falls head over heels. Lorenzo’s sister, Agnes, is at the St. Claire cloister and she has a secret relationship with Raymond. But the relationship is found out on the same day that Father Ambrosio discovers that one of his favourite monks happens to be a female.

Mathilda is the monk’s real name and she has been in love with Ambrosio for ever. She manages to corrupt his innocence which leads Ambrosio down a path of destruction which includes rape, sorcery and murder and eventually a meeting with the Devil himself.

Once you get through those first hard chapters (why is it always so with the classics), this is a hilarious account of the corruption of the Church. There is so much more to the story than the life in the cloister; a good dose of the old fashioned tales about damsels in distress and quite a lot of sex and ghosts. Just the perfect end of the year read I needed.

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

sixty.

the Last of the Vostyachs by Diego Marani (2002)
They came out silently, without exchanging a glance; unhurriedly, expecting to be shot at any moment, to crumple on the spot, on to that mud they’d traipsed over so often.” 
Ivan has been living almost his entire life in a gulag in Siberia. After his father was shot while they tried to escape, he hasn’t uttered a word. Then one day the guards have suddenly disappeared and Ivan is free to walk. And when he realises that he’s free, he utters a long cry, a sound which stirs all the animals.
When Ivan returns to the place he grew up, he discovers that he is alone. Driven by hunger, he eventually makes his way into a small village where he meets a woman, Olga. Olga is a linguist and is shocked to discover that Ivan speaks a language, Vostyach, which is believed to be extinct.  She learns his language and persuades him to come along with her to the Finno-Ugric languages conference in Helsinki.
Don’t judge this book by its cover! Which is certainly one of the ugliest I have seen. The story within is amazing. It starts on the desolate Siberian tundra and journeys to Helsinki where it turns into something resembling pulp fiction with pimps and whores, a murder plot and the release of zoo animals. But it also deals with the loss of languages and although Vostyach is an invented language, the theory behind it is true. 
Diego Marani turns out to be the perfect December read for me. I read New Finnish Grammar last year and it was a linguist’s take on the English Patient; small, beautiful and powerful. And the Last of the Vostyach is like a book by Arto Paasilinna, but with a linguistic twist. I hope that Diego Marani’s works will continue to be translated so I can continue to read them in December.

fifty-six.

the Casual Vacancy by J.K Rowling (2012)
“Cobbled streets and no shops open past six o’clock, a communal life that seemed to revolve around church, and where you could often hear bird song and nothing else: Gaia felt as though she had fallen through a portal into a land lost in time.” 
Pagford is a small drowsy village, but when one of the parish council members suddenly dies of an aneurysm, the inhabitants have something to gossip about. Who is going to take his chair at the council and will it decides the faith of the run-down council housing project, the Fields?

Pagford has some interesting characters which take turns as narrators. All of them have their own problems and secrets and when the Ghost of Barry Fairweather starts posting accusations of the runners for the council elections, they all are concerned. My favourites were definitely the teenagers and they were the ones that really made the book an awesome read.

J.K Rowling uses the same observations and details as in the Harry Potter series, but the language is much more mature. It took a while before the plot thickened, and I spent a lot of time wondering what the book really was about. But around page 200, I became really interested and read the remaining 300 pages in one sitting. And the story of Krystal and her family really broke my heart. Some of the characters got what they deserved, while others really got away with things. I like how this wasn’t some sort of happy ending fairytale book, but a criticism of municipal spending and politics. I just wish she didn’t have to go about killing my favourite characters. I cried buckets at the end.

I hope J.K Rowling continues to write brilliant stories, whether they are meant for kids or adults, I will definitely be reading them.