all the lonely people, where do they all belong?

Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell (1936)
 “Their combined ages were two hundred and sixty-three years. None of them had ever been out of England, fought in a war, been in prison, ridden a horse, travelled in an aeroplane, got married, or given birth to a child. There seemed no reason why they should not continue in the same style until they died. Year in, year out, nothing ever happened in the Comstock family.” 
 Gordon hates money so much that he left his good job and started working for a small book shop. At night he writes poetry while glaring at the hated aspidistra on his shelf in his rented room. And always thinking about money and the fact that he is too poor to do anything.

So goes his life, until one day when he receives a letter and a cheque for 10 pounds from an American magazine that will publish one of his poems. He is going to give half of it to his sister who has always given him a hand, but first he is finally going to invite his girlfriend and a friend out to dinner. But the perfect night turns into a drunken stupor that ends in jail.

Orwell is a master in portraying the life on the dirty, poor streets of London. And as in all of his novels, the political aspect is close to the surface. Although Gordon is a miserable character, Orwell writes with an excellent sense of humour, and it is hard to feel sorry for  Gordon as he can only blame himself for his position. After all, the war against money is a battle that he is doomed to lose. The way the book ends is another plus, although I predicted it.

This was the remaining Orwell novel on my shelf, and that is a little sad. But he has written some very interesting non-fiction books, so I have something to look forward to. If you have only read Animal Farm and 1984, I highly recommend his other works.

Folkens! Lines 1001 bøker lesesirkel har gjenoppstått fra de døde. I januar leser vi en bok vi har lenge hatt lyst til å lese. I februar er det en 1001 bok fra en nobelprisforfatter som står for tur. Sleng deg på!

performing Shakespeare at the end of the world.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)
 A pandemic has wiped out most of the world’s population and has left the towns and cities desolate. The Traveling Symphony is a troupe of performers travelling through a vast area around the Great Lakes. Kirsten was a child actress in a production of King Lear in Toronto when the pandemic broke out, but doesn’t remember much of the years before she found the Traveling Symphony. But what she does remember, is that an actor, Arthur Leander, died on stage that last night, and ever since she has been obsessed with him; and searches empty houses for magazines and other memorabilia. 

The post-apocalyptic world is a dangerous place, and the town St. Deborah by the Water has really changed since the last time they were in town. A Prophet has taken over and banished all non-believers. When they leave the town, they discover that a young girl has sneaked on board, and they find themselves in danger as the villagers are trying to get the girl back as she is to be married to the Prophet.

In addition to follow the Traveling Symphony, the book also has flashbacks to the world before the pandemic, and it especially focuses on Arthur and his wife, Miranda, but also on the man who tried to save Arthur on the night he died. I think the most interesting part is the difference between the now and the then, and how quickly everything we are used to just vanished. I had a burning question all through the book and I’m glad it was answered at the end and that it was the answer I was hoping for (and no, I won’t tell you what it is as it sort of spoil things). The only person I would love to get to know better is the Prophet, what happened in between his childhood and becoming the Prophet?  It is a really interesting read, perfect for long sleepless summer nights.

the year before the storm.

1913 by Florian Illies (2012)
the Year Before the Storm
 
1913; The year before the Great War. Hitler, Stalin and Tito are once at the same time in Austria. Franz Kafka is hopelessly in love and writes countless letters to his object of desire. Freud and Jung argue about psychology while the stunning Alma runs from artist to artist. Do they have any idea of what is coming? Written in monthly instalments, we follow a bunch of famous people through 1913.

The notes are interesting, funny and thought-provoking.  Especially those which involve things that are to come, like a Leonardo DiCaprio reference when talking about Titanic. The book is also interesting because we know what will happen. But I didn’t really get to truly enjoy it as I had no idea who most of the characters are. Although I understand the point of just following the characters through the year, I wish there would be some sort of summary or conclusion. Read it if you’re interested in cultural history, drop it if you’re not.

murderess?

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (1996)

Grace Marks was just 16 in 1843 when she was first sentenced to death, then life for the murders of her employer, Thomas Kinnear and a housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery. James McDermott, who also worked on the estate, was hanged for the murders. Grace is placed in an asylum, where she does work for the family who runs it. There she is having conversations with a young doctor, Simon Jordan, who wants to examine her psyche.  Did Grace really partake in the murders?

Based on real events, Atwood has given life to Grace and painted a picture of her life before and in the asylum. And it is definitely interesting, I enjoyed the story and all the details. There are so many fascinating minor characters like Jeremiah the Peddler, Jordan’s landlady and her servant. I also got really interested in Susanna Moodie, so I need to read her account of migrating to Canada.

Despite being so good, it took two months to read this one. I have no idea why. Maybe it was because the book is so rich in details and prose. Atwood is still my favourite to win the Nobel prize and I’m glad I still have many books yet to read by her.

I’m left with some questions after finishing the book. Was she really guilty or not? If you have read it, what do you think?  And what really happened after she finally was released from the asylum? There’s a historic mystery waiting to be solved.

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

in the midnight hour she cried more, more, more.

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)
 “Who what am I? My answer: I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’ve gone which would not have happened if I had not come. Nor am I particularly exceptional in this matter; each ‘I’, every one of the now-six-hundred-million-plus of us, contains a similar multitude. I repeat for the last time: to understand me, you’ll have to swallow the world.”
Saleem Sinai is born at the strike of midnight when India gained its independence, and then he is switched at birth. He discovers that he has a superpower, telepathy. He can communicate with the other children with superpowers whom are born in the midnight hour of India’s independence. Saleem’s life is influenced by the events that shape India’s history.

The book is high up on the list of the most difficult books I have read. I spent nearly three months on the 650 pages, and many pages had to be read over and over so I could decipher some meaning from it. But it was definitely worth it! There’s a myriad of characters, a large dose of magic realism and you will learn a lot about the history of India.

 It’s one of those books which are impossible to explain what it is about and why it is so mesmerising. I guess you have to read it yourself to discover what’s so great about it. I’m actually proud of myself for finally completing a Rushdie. I tried years ago to read the Satanic Verses, but I was way too young. I still don’t think I’m ready for that one yet, but I also have more to choose from on my shelves (and a new one to be published this year).

This was the November read(!) in Line’s 1001 books reading circle.

 “I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’m gone which would not have happened if I had not come.”

Germany between the wars.

the Blindness of the Heart by Julia Franck (2007)
The Würsich sisters, Helene and Martha, have a Jewish mother and a father who is fatally wounded in World War I. While their father is away, their mother becomes the mad woman in the attic. The girls have to take care of themselves, and both of them become nurses. When Martha’s lover, Leontine, goes to study medicine in Berlin and also ends up marrying a man, Martha is heartbroken and starts doing drugs. The economy is bad after WWI, and the girls are struggling to find work that pay well. They end up going to Berlin to live with their aunt.

Their aunt, Fanny, is rich, has a string of lovers and throws many parties. Helene is too young for the parties, but Martha fits right in and Helene must often help her sister to bed. And once in Berlin, Martha and Leontine revived their relationship. Years pass, and then Helene meets the love in her life, Carl. But danger and tragedy loom in the horizon.

A book that starts with a woman being raped by Soviet soldiers and then goes back in time and continues with incest, is a heavy read. And especially when you know because of the setting and characters that something is bound to go wrong. But thankfully, this book has its cheerful sides as well. I especially enjoyed the part  from where the sisters lived with their aunt in Berlin and until the epilogue.

It is one of those books which are entwined with history, and I learnt a lot about Germany between the wars. And especially how they executed the race laws. The only thing that really irked me with the book, was the epilogue. I get the main idea behind it and the symbolism, but it just left too many questions unanswered. And the biggest question of all, was the simple why.  But the book is really well-written, sad, beautiful and dark. I have already put the rest of Franck’s books on my wish list.

the Fox sisters.

Talking to the Dead by Barbara Weisberg (2004)
Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism

Kate was 14 and Maggie 11 in 1848, when they started hearing strange rapping in their bedroom. After a while, they realized they could communicate with the dead through the rapping. Through the communication they learnt that the spirit they were talking with had been murdered in the house they lived. Bewildered neighbours came to watch the seances. Rumour about the sisters’ abilities spread, and they are today known as the symbols of modern spiritualism.

The rapping evolved into playing of instruments, pulling of hair and slaps in the face and the spirits becoming visible. And one of the spirits that often visited them was Benjamin Franklin. Many famous people met the sisters throughout the years, even the Presidents’ wives. All through this, the girls were put to many tests, often scandalously only in their undergarments.  Their much older sister, Leah, was the one who arranged the seances and probably took most of the money as well. But it was the spirits that demanded that they should hold the meetings.

Although the girls were famous, their lives were sad. Both had broken hearts after love affairs gone wrong, and they both got addicted to alcohol and drugs. A few years before her death, Maggie confessed that it all had been a hoax and she travelled around showing how they made the raps.

It was an interesting read, and I learnt a lot about life in the late 1800s. But somehow I still felt like I couldn’t quite get under the skin of the Fox sister. I’m also glad that the book wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be, and I definitely believe that it was all hoax. I would never have read this book if it weren’t for Ingalill’s biography reading circle which was about alternative lifestyles this round. I chose the Fox sisters after listening to a radio programme about spiritualism, and I was curious about how it all started. And now I know.

who was Harriet Burden?

the Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt (2014)
 Harriet Burden; struggling artist, mother of two and the widower of Felix Lord, a famous art dealer. Fed up with the sexist art world, where a man is more likely to get praised than women, she plots a project where a man should play the role as the artist behind her art. The unfolding of Harriet Burden and her project is done after Harriet’s death by a professor Hess through a number of interviews and Harriet’s notebooks.

Harriet chose three very different men for her maskings project. The first was a black gay man, the second a young man, and the third was an already quite famous artist, Rune. The project went well until Rune, and no one believed that Harriet was behind it all.

I have been having a hard time with this book and I think I finally can put my finger on why. I think it’s because it simply became too technical for me. It is written in a very scientific way with footnotes and references to both fictional and real work. For people interested in psychology and neuroscience, this must be a great read, but I’m not. And that’s why I couldn’t really enjoy this book, despite it being well-written (especially towards the end) and I rather enjoyed the feminist approach.

The Blazing World is on the Man Booker Prize 2014 long list, the first year the prize includes American authors as well. This was the first book out in Clementine’s Booker reading circle, and I’m excited to read the short list in the coming year. And this will not be the last Hustvedt I read, despite not quite getting into this book.

the birth of a nation through a child’s eyes.

A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz (2002)
“When my father was a young man in Vilna, every wall in Europe said, ‘Jews go home to Palestine.’ Fifty years later, when he went back to Europe on a visit, the walls all screamed, ‘Jews get out of Palestine.'”

  Amos was 9 when Israel became a nation. And 12 when his mother committed suicide. In his memoir, he tells the story of his family and how they suddenly found themselves in the Holy Land. He also gives an insight about what it was like being a child in Jerusalem under the making of Israel. But most importantly, it’s about the joys and sorrows of a family.

 Beautifully written, it’s both tragic and funny at the same time. I have had a hard time coming up with something clever to say about it, and that usually means that the book is great.

What I liked best about the book, is that it doesn’t feel like a memoir at all. I think it’s because the story isn’t chronological, but jumps back and forth in time. I also learnt a lot from the book. The most eye-opening information, at least for me, was the British involvement when Israel was created. It also reminded me how much I need to read Jerusalem. Needless to say that I have definitely added more books by Amos Oz to my reading list. I’m also excited that Natalie Portman is making this book into a film. 

I read this as a part of Bjørg and Hedda‘s off-the-shelf challenge, this time the theme was Asia. And A Tale of Love and Darkness has been on my shelf since 2011, so about time.

Thirty-one. Not old. Not young. But a viable die-able age.

the God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997)
“As Estha stirred the thick jam he thought Two Thoughts and the Two Thoughts he thought were these:
a) Anything can happen to anyone.
and
b) It is best to be prepared.” 
Rahel and Estha are twins that have returned to their childhood home. Estha hasn’t been there since he was sent to his father after the terrible event of their cousin Sophie Mol’s death, while Rahel stayed with her grandparents as her mother was sent away as well for loving the wrong man.

The story moves between the now at the twins’ return and the then with the death of Sophie Mol as the main event with a couple of twists and turns. But what really makes this book is the beautiful prose. Sometimes a mere sentence could make me laugh out loud or just sigh. It’s definitely a slow-reading book. Although it’s beautifully written and I enjoyed the story, I felt that there was something missing, but I cannot put my finger on exactly what. It is also a hard book to write about. But it is definitely worth a read!

The book won the Man Booker Prize in 1997 and is also August’s read in Line’s 1001 books reading circle.

“And the air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. Big Things lurk unsaid inside.”