forty.

the Honorary Consul by Graham Greene (1973)
Charley Fortnum is the Honorary Consul in a small northern Argentinian town. He is old enough to entire, a heavy drinker and an embarrassment to the British Foreign Office. The small town has only two more Englishmen, Dr. Humphries, an English teacher, and Dr. Eduardo Parr, a real doctor. Dr Parr is half English and half Paraguayan, his father was too involved with politics in Paraguay and sent Eduardo and his mother across the border to Argentina. Eduardo hasn’t seen his father since then, and has no idea if he is dead or alive, or a political prisoner. 
It is the politics which will cause problems for both the Consul and Eduardo. A group of revolutionists makes an error and kidnaps the Honorary Consul instead of the American Ambassador. And as the kidnappers manage to hurt the Consul in the affair, Dr Parr must get involved.
Another great book by Graham Greene. I enjoyed it more than Our Man in Havana, mainly because this book has more developed characters. I felt that I really got to know them. Greene is also an expert on painting the perfect picture of expat-life in South-America. The progress of the story is also very good, and the ending was not what I expected. I’m glad I have more Graham Greene to explore!
 

fifty-nine.

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood (1972)
A young woman goes back to the remote community in Quebec where she grew up to look for her father who has gone missing. She brings with her her boyfriend, Joe, and an other couple, David and Anna. She hasn’t been back for years but nothing much has changed on the desolate island where just her family lived.

Going back opens a lot of wounds. The fact that she has been married before and carried a child places a strain on the current relationship. David and Anna have their own problems which surface during the stay on the remote island. The search for the father is unsuccessful and towards the end of their stay she goes feral.

This is one of those slow-reading book as there’s much to absorb from each sentence. Reading it was easy in the beginning, but unfortunately for me, I quickened the pace as it got more exciting which made it a lot harder to understand. And then it was too late and I understood nothing towards the end. I had to google it after to check if I had missing out on something (so much easier than rereading the book), and after reading this, I got a little wiser, but still have some questions.

Fourth Atwood, and yes, she is a great read, but not the easiest. I read Oryx and Crake years ago, and there the confusion was at the beginning, but once I got through many pages I understood more and more. Cat’s Eye is one hell of a book, and the Robber Bride was also good. I’m glad there are many other books by Atwood to figure out.

thirty-four.

Suttree by Cormac McCarthy (1979)
“”They rowed far downstream. Leonard saying Hell, Sut, any place is good and Suttree rowing on. They looked like old jacklight poachers, their faces yellow masks in the night. The corpse lay slumped in the floor of the skiff. The lamp standing on the stern seat with its thin spout of insects caught in its light the wet sweep of the oars, the beads of water running on the underblades like liquid glass and the dimples of the oarstrokes coiled out through the city lights where they lay fixed among the deeper shapes of stars and galaxies fast in the silent river.””
Cornelius Suttree has made his home in a houseboat on the Tennessee River close to Knoxville. He gets by by fishing and spends most of his days either in solitude or with his friends getting drunk. He is also in and out of jail a couple of times.

Cormac McCarthy has a wonderful way of telling about the outcasts. I love his language. I also liked how much the river itself is a character in this book. And Suttree does have some weird friends, and the relationships he gets into are not very successful. And although the setting is very grim, there are some very funny parts. Like the boy who got sent to jail for molesting watermelons.

I’m glad I have more books from Cormac McCarthy to look forward to reading. 

twenty-three.

Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi (1975)
“All the men I did get to know, every single man of them, has filled me with but one desire: to lift my hand and bring it smashing down on his face. But because I am a woman I have never had the courage to lift my hand. And because I am a prostitute, I hid my fear under layers of make-up.”
Fidaus is waiting for her death in prison, after murdering a man. The man she murdered was her pimp. Firdaus has spent many years being a prostitute in Cairo. After growing up in poverty, an abusive uncle and an abusive husband, she realises that by selling her body she is able to free herself from abusive men.
I wanted to almost underline every line in this small, beautiful book. Firdaus is a strong woman who takes each opportunity to free herself from terrible men, although it means that she has to sell herself. Because as a prostitute she has the power to say no to men she doesn’t want. And with the money and the connections she gets, she is able to have a luxurious house. 
Nawal El Saadawi has written a few books about women in Egypt. I have already put some more of her works on my wish list. 
‘Everybody has to die. I prefer to die for a crime I have committed rather than to die for one of the crimes which you have committed”.  

seventy-five.

the Shining by Stephen King (1977)
 Jack Torrance is the winter caretaker of the Overlook hotel, high up in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado. He brings his wife, Wendy, and their 5 year old son, Danny and they will spend the winter in solitude. But Danny is not a normal boy, he can read minds and see the future, and he has very bad visions about the hotel.

Poor Danny and his visions! He tries to keep them to himself as his father really need this job so he won’t start drinking again and his parents won’t get divorced. When coming to the hotel he meets the cook who is leaving for the winter, and the cook explains to him how he has the shining and that the terrible things at the hotel can’t hurt him because they’re just images of the past.

I was surprised how complex the book is, there’s a lot of background information on the characters and family drama, and the hotel’s history is also interesting. But I also like how it doesn’t explain everything, the events at the end are still a bit fuzzy, but there’s no way I’m reading this book again.

I read a few Stephen King books in my youth and then I stopped because they really frightened me. Yet, I think the Shining is the most frightening of them all. I got a few nightmares thanks to this. And about ten times worse than the film adaptation. I need to see the film again, just to compare it to the book.

fifty-eight

Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Jr (1979)
And so the city became even more savage with the passing of each day, with the taking of each step, the breathing of each breath. From time to time a body would fall from a window and before the blood had a chance to seep through the clothing hands were going through his pockets to see what might be found to help them through another moment of being suspended in Hell”
 Harry, his girlfriend Marion and their friend Tyrone are heroin addicts. Harry and Tyrone get money from delivering newspapers and pawning Harry’s mother’s television set. Marion is spending the money her parents give her for her shrink on a variation of drugs. Tyrone and Harry also try to sell drugs, but they always end up using more than they sell.
Harry’s mother, Sara, receives a phone call with a promise to be on tv. She decides to start dieting, but it’s hard when the food is so tempting and comforting. She sees a doctor who gives her diet pills, she is to take four a day, each with a different colour.
As the days turn to weeks and weeks to months, the situation for all four is getting worse. Harry, Tyrone and Marion is suffering because of the drug drought and high prizes and Sara is suffering from paranoia and other side effects from the drugs, and is eventually given Valium. 
It is definitely not a happy read, the four are doomed from the start and Hubert Selby Jr does a splendid job describing the downfall. The only issue I had with the book is that a great deal of it is written in Bronx slang which made it harder to read and the teacher in me wanted to find a red pen and mark all the spelling and grammar errors! 
Having seen the film more than once, I actually prefer it to the book. It could be because the film has a few happy moments while the book is very bleak. I also like that the book is so timeless, it didn’t feel like it is over 30 years ago since it was written.

fifty-three, fifty-two, fifty-one, fifty: poirot


Lord Edgware Dies (1933)

Lady Edgware, a famous actress who left her husband years ago, asks Hercule Poirot for assistance. She wants a divorce so badly that she utters that she will even murder him. And then the murder happens, and witnesses say they saw lady Edgware at the scene, but she has an alibi.

The ABC Murders (1936)

Hercule Poirot receives a letter warning him of a murder in a town called Andover. After the murder happens, he receives another one, warning of another murder in the town of Bexhill-on-Sea. Will Hercule Poirot catch the murderer before it’s too late?

Dumb Witness (1937)

Poirot receives a letter from an old lady who believes she has had a narrow escape from death. When Poirot and Captain Hastings go to investigate, they learn that the lady passed away months ago. The lady has also changed her will just before dying, and everything went to her companion and not her relatives.

Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case (1975)

Captain Hastings and Hercule Poirot, now a cripple and on his deathbed, have returned to Styles to solve a final mystery together.

These four stories can be found in the Complete Battles of Hastings volume 2 omnibus.

Having read the last of the Poirot stories, I feel kind of sad. Hercule Poirot (and Captain Hastings) has been a great companion for a long time. I am still shocked over how things ended in Curtain, but at the same time that’s the first time Agatha has disappointed me.

I have been trying to compose a list over my favourite Poirot stories, but that has proven to be impossible; I seem to get a new favourite every time.

twenty-nine.

The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer (1974)


A black man is found dead on Mehring’s farm and none of his boys know who the man is. Because he is black, the police doesn’t care and they bury the body right there because they can’t take it with him.

The start of the book was easy to follow, then it all got in to a blur. Someone’s thoughts are all over the book, I was guessing it was the farmer, but then at the end I was no longer sure and I can’t remember the last time I read a book that made me this confused. And I don’t like reading books that I do not get, but because this was a part of Ann Helen‘s reading circle, I didn’t throw it away, although I should have.

Nadine Gordimer won the Nobel Prize in 1991 and she was brave for writing about the apartheid at the time it was going on and many of her books were banned in South Africa. The apartheid is present in this book as well as it deals with the relationship between the white farmer, his black workers and the Indian shop owner nearby. And the setting and the first part of the book are interesting, but there’s no continuity in the story and it is too full of someone’s bloody thoughts and memories for my liking. But at least I can cross another Nobel Prize winner off my list. I also have July’s People in my bookshelf, but I won’t be picking that one up in the near future.

fifty-eight, fifty-seven, fifty-three, fifty-one: poirot

the Third Girl by Agatha Christie (1966)


Hercule Poirot has a young girl waiting for him in his office, when making the appointment she said “I think I have committed a murder” to Ms Lemon, his secretary. But when she sees Poirot, she says that she cannot tell him because he is too old. Despite being very offended, Poirot decides to get to the bottom of this case, even if the girl refuses to cooperate. Together with Mrs Ariadne Oliver he gets to the truth.

This story is written in the 1960s, and it is weird having Poirot in the same time period as the Beatles, LSD and computers. But the plot in this one is truly awesome and I really enjoyed reading this one.

Hallowe’en Party (1969)

Mrs Ariadne Oliver is visiting a friend on the country side when a child is found murdered at a Hallowe’en Party. The child had said that she had witnessed a murder shortly before she herself was murdered. Mrs Oliver calls up Hercule Poirot and together they do not just solve one murder, but several.

Elephants Can Remember (1972)


Mrs Ariadne Oliver is asked the strangest question concerning her god-daughter at an event; Did her mother kill her father or was it the father who killed the mother? The couple had been found shot and the investigation at that time concluded with double-suicide. With the help of Mr Poirot, Mrs Oliver starts looking for clues among her friends for a tragedy that happened fifteen years earlier. And the truth is more spectacular and tragic that anyone could guess.

the Pale Horse (1961)

An old Catholic priest is found murdered and in his shoe a list of names is found. When Mrs Oliver is told the story of the peculiar findings, she recognises one of the names on the list and says that the woman died recently of an illness. Her friend, Mr Easterbrook also recognises some names, also dead persons, and they start to look into the case. Mr Easterbrook quickly discovers that the clues lead to an old inn, the Pale Horse, that is now inhabited by witches.

This story doesn’t involve Mr Poirot at all, and it was written in a different style than the rest of the novels I have read by Agatha Christie. Confusing in the beginning and no surprises at the end when it is all solved. But it is brilliant and I really enjoyed reading it.

All these novels are found in the Complete Ariadne Oliver volume 2 omnibus. I really grow fond of Mrs Oliver and is sad that there are no more stories concerning her.

thirty-six.

A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul (1979)

“Small things can start us off in new ways of thinking, and I was started off by the postage stamps of our area. The British administration gave us beautiful stamps. These stamps depicted local scenes and local things; there was one called “Arab Dhow”. It was as though, in those stamps, a foreigner had said, ‘This is what is most striking about this place’. Without that stamp of the dhow I might have taken the dhows for granted. As it was, I learned to look at them. Whenever I saw them tied up at the waterfront I thought of them as something peculiar to our region, quaint, something the foreigner would remark on, something not quite modern, and certainly nothing like the liners and cargo ships that berthed in their own modern docks”

Salim grows up on somewhere on the East Coast of Africa, but his ancestors came from India. Looking to get away from the place, he buys a shop in a city by a bend in the river in the heart of Africa. He arrives in the midst of decolonisation. He watches the city growing, first slowly and then very rapidly under the new government. The new president (or Big Man) must be popular, his face and people are everywhere. Salim admires him and ignores the signs that tell him to leave while he still can.

I could quote every passage from this book. It is a marvellous story about post-colonial Africa and feeling out of place. In some ways the writing style and theme reminded me of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, but I definitely liked this book better.