september-december.

It’s been a dark and long autumn and I haven’t done half of the things I was supposed to. Like writing here. My reading has been mostly good, I finished my 50th book two hours before the new year. I haven’t been good at writing about the books I have read in the past few months.

The first book, read all the way back in September, was All the Rage by Courtney Summers (2015). It is about a teenager being raped at a party and no one believes her because he is the popular girl. And they bully her. The book gave me a lot of feelings, and especially the raging kind. This is a book that should be taught in schools worldwide. If you’re curious about what rape culture is all about, this book will give you an idea.

The 7th Vera Stanhope novel, the Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves (2015) was also read in September. I wasn’t entirely won over by the last Vera novel, so I’m happy to report that she’s back on track with this one. Ann Cleeves is my go to crime writer and I regularly check when she has a new book coming out.

From June to November I have been chasing Moby Dick (Herman Melville, 1851). My chase has been as hard as Captain Ahab’s. It should have been a great read for me, but all the detours made it boring. And that’s a shame because I was totally into it until the ship left the harbour. Oh well, at least now I can understand all the references to Moby Dick. I’m hoping Ahab’s Wife will be better.

I finally got around to reading Cannery Row by John Steinbeck (1945). I should have read it before visiting Monterrey back in 2012 (possibly the most touristy place I have ever visited – we ended up with a quick stroll and an expensive Mexican restaurant before continuing to Big Sur). Anyway, it is about a group of young men in Monterrey trying to work as little as possible and party as much as they can. It is a short, entertaining read and I wanted more. I’m glad I still have a lot of Steinbeck’s work unread on my shelves.

Book #49 was Career of Evil by J.K. Rowling (as Robert Gailbraith (2015)). I haven’t been too happy about the previous Comoran Strike books but this was bloody near perfect. It is surprisingly and delightfully dark, nearly grotesque and I was unable to put it down. I hope Rowling will never stop writing!

The final book of last year was Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata (1952). I chose it because of its length, 147 pages. It is about a young man attending a tea ceremony with 3 sexually frustrated women (okay, that was maybe taking it too far, but you can definitely feel the sexual tension between him and the women). It is a beautiful book and I fear I didn’t give it the attention it deserved as the clock was ticking towards midnight. Kawabata is an author I will definitely read more of, having won the Nobel prize and all.

Noon at the darkest day of the year in Jarfjord, Norway.

Happy New Year!

fourteen

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky 
Unfinished, published in 2004
“It’s a truism that people are complicated, multifaceted, contradictory, surprising, but it takes the advent of war or other momentous events to be able to see it. It is the most fascinating and the most dreadful of spectacles, she continued thinking, the most dreadful because it’s so real; you can never pride yourself on truly knowing the sea unless you’ve seen it both calm and in a storm. Only the person who has observed men and women at times like this, she thought, can be said to know them. And to know themselves.”
Storm in June, the first part, tells the story of a handful Parisians who flee the city during the German invasion in 1940. Their escapes are chaotic and many families are split up on the road. The second part, Dolce, describes the everyday life in a small rural community after the ceasefire and the villagers are forced to have Germans living in their houses.

Irène never got to finish her book as she was deported to Auschwitz and died there in 1942. I couldn’t help wondering what a great book it could have been if she had been able to finish it. In the appendixes she describes the occupation and her plans for the book. Reading the first part was as chaotic as the chaos the characters felt when they fled from Paris. There were a lot of characters and I had problems with who was who. I definitely liked the second part better, and I found that I had time to reflect on the story yet the feeling that I was reading an unfinished work never went away.

I liked Iréne’s style, and I have put the Wine of Solitude on my wish list because I want to read something that was published during her life time, along with a biography about her.  I’m also questioning the need to put this unfinished work on the 1001 books you need to read before you die list as I don’t think it’s a masterpiece.

This was the February read in Line’s 1001 books challenge.

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. 

eighty-five.

And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac (1945)


In 1944 both Burroughs and Kerouac were charged as accessories to murder, after one of their friends murdered a much older homosexual suitor. After the event, the two, then unpublished author, co-wrote a book based on the days before the murder. They couldn’t get the book published in the beginning, and later on they also promised the murderer that the book wouldn’t be published. It was finally published in 2008, long after all the people involved were dead.

The story is narrated by Will Dennison (the chapters are written by Burroughs) and Mike Ryko (the chapters are written by Kerouac), and follows them around New York in the days before the murder. Will Dennison is occasionally working as a detective, but also deals on the other side of the law. Mike Ryko is trying to find a ship to work on, but drinks too much. The pretty boy, Phillipp, is fed up with his much older suitor, Al, and wants to ship out with Mike, but the trouble is that they never find a suitable boat for their plan to run off to France.

It was great to read a not confusing story by William S. Burroughs. I read Naked Lunch a few years ago, and it was so confusing that I have been dreading to pick up Junky, although it has been on my shelf for too long now. Jack Kerouac is, as always, brilliant.

The afterword by James Grauerholz explains the real circumstances concerning the murder and gives a great insight in the life of the Beat generation.

eighty-three.

the Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton (1947)

“London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs, held there for a number of hours, and then, in the evening, exhaled violently through the same channels.
The men and women imagine they are going into London and coming out again more or less of their own free will, but the crouching monster sees all and knows better.
The area affected by this filthy inhalation actually extends beyond what we ordinarily think of as the suburbs – to towns, villages, and districts as far as, or further than, twenty-five miles from the capital. Amongst these was Thames Lockdon, which lay on the river some miles beyond Maidenhead on the Maidenhead line.
The conditions were those of intense war, intense winter, and the intensest black-out in the month of December.”
Miss Roach, a woman around forty, had to flee from London during the Blitz. She seeks escape in a boarding house, the Rosamund Tea Rooms, which is occupied by a bunch of lonely souls. All meals are either eaten in silence or follow a strict, polite pattern led by Mr Thwaites. Miss Roach loathes Mr Thwaites, they often quarrel about everything and anything. He has a way of speaking in his own language which sounds like something out of Shakespeare, and it takes a while for the people around him to understand what he is actually saying. Miss Roach has an American lieutenant who takes her out to drinks and kisses in the park now and then. Miss Roach is also friends with a German girl, Vicki, but when she moves to the Rosamund Tea Rooms, Miss Roach is filled with hatred for her.

I have said it before, but I will say it again; Patrick Hamilton writes bloody well. The dark streets of Thames Lockdon and the dark mind of Miss Roach are enchanting and the terror of the war is ever present. Yet I didn’t quite enjoy the book, I think it was too detailed for my liking. Yet I loved the detailed writing, the way the sentences are structured. I love the last sentence in the book. And Miss Roach didn’t get my sympathy at all. I also really liked Doris Lessing’s introduction to the book.

sixty-five, sixty-three, sixty-two: poirot

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie (1940)


Inspector Japp phones up Hercule Poirot to inform him that the dentist he just visited, is found dead. The inspector thinks it’s a suicide, but Poirot doesn’t agree. One of the dentist’s patients is also found dead at his hotel room – a lethal dose of anaesthetics. And then one of the other patients on that day, a woman, is missing. Poirot suspects it all to be connected to yet another patient, an important bank man with plenty of enemies.

The background of this story is World War II, and it has a fair share of foreign spies and war time angst. This is also the first Poirot story where I couldn’t focus while reading, maybe it had too many possible plots for my little brain. I didn’t even get it when Poirot was laying it all out.

Five Little Pigs (1942)


A young woman comes to Poirot and asks him if he could investigate a murder that happened 16 years ago. Her mother had been found guilty for murdering her father, but the woman had received a letter left to her from her mother stating her innocence. Poirot goes back in time and interviews the five other people who were on the crime scene, but all evidence points towards the mother.

This is one of the best Poirot stories I have read so far. I thought I would get tired of reading the same account of the murder over and over again, but all the testimonies are written very differently and you definitely notice the minor details which help Poirot solving the mystery.

These two stories both use nursery rhymes as chapter titles and they are constantly on Poirot’s mind while he’s solving the crimes.

Taken at the Flood (1948)

During an air-raid in London, Hercule Poirot seeks shelter at the Coronation Club. Here he hears a rumour about a woman who lost her husband in Africa and then remarried a rich old man in England, but the first husband isn’t dead. Two years later; a man is found dead at a hotel in a small village where the woman, now very rich and very disliked after her second husband’s death during an air-raid, lives. The dead man has been blackmailing the widow by saying that he can prove that her first husband is in fact very much alive.

So many intrigues in this story. There is the pure hatred of the family of her second husband as she inherits everything from him. And her brother who cares more about the money than the well-being of his sister. And I was absolutely shocked to discover that Poirot lets someone getting away with murder!

All these three stories can be found in Poirot: the War Years. I still have four more Poirot omnibuses to read.

twenty-nine, thirty, thirty-one, thirty-four: poirot

Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie (1935)


An old vicar falls dead during a dinner party. Everyone assumes it is of natural causes, even Hercule Poirot. But when yet another man, a famous doctor, dies in the exact same way at another dinner party, mr Poirot and his helpers are certain both cases are murders. But why would anyone murder a sweet old vicar? And whom among the dinner guests is the murderer?

Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie (1940)


A young girl is on trial for murdering her aunt and the girl who used to take care of the aunt. Even her attorney believes she is guilty. But the local doctor believes she is innocent and puts Hercule Poirot on the case. Poirot is not fully convinced of her innocence, because who else has the motive to murder both victims?

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie (1941)

Hercule Poirot is on a holiday on a small island on the British Coast. He and the other guests observe an ongoing love affair between two of the guests, both married. And then the woman in the affair, a famous actress, is found murdered. There are many people who would liked to see her dead, but all of the guests have their alibis in order.

the Hollow by Agatha Christie (1946)


Poirot is invited to lunch but walks straight into a crime scene. He sees a body (a doctor) in the swimming pool and a woman (his wife) holding a gun. The wife swears she did not kill him, she just picked up the weapon. And again Poirot is looking for motives. Could it be the wife, the mistress or the woman he loved fifteen years ago that suddenly reappeared the day before the murder?

These four novels are collected in Poirot – 4 Classic Cases. The one I liked the least is the Hollow but they are all excellent crimes. What I like about Agatha Christie is that her novels are as much about human nature and every day life.

eight.

the Town and the City by Jack Kerouac (1946)

Jack Kerouac was the beat generation apparently. Writing about all those people travelling from one place to another never knowing what they’re looking for. And for someone who has lived in four different countries in four years, he is certainly appealing. I read On the Road in Montréal, while being on the road not knowing where I ended up, and I loved it so much that I regret giving it away.

The Town and the City was Kerouac’s first novel and it is about a family with seven kids and it expands from the children being born in a small town in Massachusetts, follows some of them around the world, moves to New York and ends at the dad’s funeral. I love the way it’s written, so many beautiful sentences and paragraphs. I wish it would focus more on the girls in the family, but that’s just me wishing for too much.

When bookless in Rome, I stumbled into a small used book store with an English section limited to books read for classes, but nevertheless, I ended up buying Pamela by Samuel Richardson. A book some 18th century lit professor once recommended and I hope it is as scandalous as the cover says.

And I just have to show off the beautiful Korean bookmark that arrived in my mail box yesterday. It is my first proper bookmark, no more using postcards I guess.