trust me, I’m telling you stories.

the Passion by Jeanette Winterson (1987)
 Henri is the man who prepares chickens for Napoleon. And because of that he gets to see the battlefields of Europe, all the way to Moscow. Meanwhile, in Venice, a web-footed girl named Villanelle works at a casino. At work she cross dresses to flirt with the customers and she falls in love with a married woman. Years later, Henri and Villanelle meet on the outskirts of a burning Moscow and they decide to desert together, making their way to Venice where Henri has to find Villanelle’s heart.

I’m amazed by the fact that this book is a mere 180 pages long, but has so many stories within the story. I loved the setting, and if I could time travel, Venice would be one of the places I’d visit (but not now, as it is a tourist trap). I also learnt more about Napoleon. All in all, it’s a great read and that was a pleasant surprise as I didn’t enjoy Orange is the Only Fruit when I read it years ago.

(Why is it always so hard to write a lot about the books you have come to love?)

This was my choice for Hedda’s off-the-shelf 2016 reading challenge; a book with a red cover. I’m months behind in blogging.

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.”

eighteen.

the Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (1984)
 Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different reasons than I’d disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim. That’s my score to date. I haven’t killed anybody for years, and don’t intend to ever again. It was just a stage I was going through.” 
 Francis and his father are the only residents on a small Scottish island. Francis’ father never registered him as a new born, so he doesn’t officially exist and has therefore only been home schooled. He spends his days running around the island, blowing up his dams and killing animals. His older brother, Eric, who has spent the last years in jail for killing dogs and scaring children, has escaped and is on his way home, which worries Francis. In addition to have killed three young kids, Francis has many other secrets. The Wasp Factory is a huge machine which gives him the answers in the times of need, and he uses this machine to figure out what to do about Eric. 

I think the Cauldhame family just won the award for creepiest family ever. Two brothers, where one kills dogs and the other children with a mad scientist as a father. I haven’t come across any worse in my time of reading. And the funniest thing is that despite all the awful stuff Francis does, I manage to feel sorry for him. Because after all, he is a product of his father. 

The book is both wonderful and awful at the same time. There was one scene, involving the brain of child, that made me sick to the stomach because it was so easy to picture the scene. It is definitely a book you should read if you can stomach it. And Iain Banks is making his way onto my favourite author list, such a shame that it happens after his death.  

fifty.

the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
“I almost gasp: he’s said a forbidden word. Sterile. There is no such thing as a sterile man anymore, not officially. There are only women who are fruitful and women who are barren, that’s the law.”
The republic of Gilead is a strict religious society where the women are divided into groups. The Wives, dressed in blue, are on top of the chain, while the Daughters dress in white. The Econowives are married to men of lower statuses, and wear multicoloured dresses. The Handmaids dress in red and are surrogates for the infertile Wives. Then you have the Aunts in brown dresses who teach the Handmaids how to behave and the domestic servants, Marthas dressed in green.
Offred is the narrator who tells her tale while living in a house of a Commander and his wife, Serena Joy. Her daily life is a routine, and the only joy is the shopping round with an other Handmaid. But although she has been taught this new life, how can she forget her old life, when she was free, and had a man and a child? She doesn’t know if they are dead or alive at this point. 
I think this is one of the most provoking books I’ve read. The society is so anti-women that it made me quite mad. And of course it made me feel grateful for my freedom. It is brilliantly written, but to be honest, the end really disappointed me; I wanted more answers. I never seem to get enough answers when I read dystopian novels, I’m really fascinated with the societies and histories. 
I think this is the best Atwood book I’ve read. And it has placed her very high up on my list of favourite authors. Read it! This was also October’s read in Line’s 1001 books reading challenge.

seventeen.

Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid (1985)
 Annie John grows up in St. John’s, Antigua. She is a smart girl, but also naughty which makes her popular amongst the girls in her new class. Annie loves her mother, but she is very strict, so Annie has to hide and lie about things like playing with marbles and spending time with the very dirty Red Girl at the abandoned lighthouse. 
Although it is fun to read about Annie’s adventures in Antigua, I was disappointed when I finished it. Was this all? I kept expecting a turning point somewhere and it all seemed too fragmented. And reading the Wikipedia page, I found the reason why; the chapters were published as stories in the New Yorker before they were put together in a book. And when you read them as individual stories they make more sense than a novel. They are witty and Annie’s world is an interesting place. But I just wish this book would be more than it is. 
I blame my high expectations on the fact that it is on the list of 1001 books you should read before you die. It made it onto the list in 2008 after the list in 2006 was criticised for having too many dead old white men. I do see the point of a more diverse list, but I know a lot of other books I’d have put on the list instead of Annie John. I have the Autobiography of my Mother on my shelves, so I will give Jamaica Kincaid another chance later on. Her newest novel, See Now Then, also seems intriguing. 

forty-eight.

the Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (1984)
  “Chance and chance alone has a message for us. Everything that occurs out of necessity, everything expected, repeated day in and day out, is mute. Only chance can speak to us.”

Tomas met Tereza by chance and they quickly moved in together. But despite his love for Tereza he continues being a womaniser. When the Soviet Union invades in 1968, they move to Switzerland, but his mistress, Sabina, is there too. Tereza knows about Tomas’ infidelities, but she is too much in love to leave and instead has horrible nightmares about competing with his mistresses.

I have had this book for years, but have ignored it for so long because I thought it would be too philosophical and difficult. The beginning, with all the Nietzsche and philosophy stuff, was indeed hard to grasp, but then it improved. Kundera has this great witty style of writing which is really enjoyable. With the Soviet invasion as the background, it has an important historical aspect as well and I don’t think I have ever got such a clear picture of communism from any other sources.

Karenin, the bitch which Tomas got Tereza so she wouldn’t be so lonely, is named after Anna Karenina’s husband, and I really liked the references to that book and especially because I have finally read it. Karenin is an important character and her death (after a long life) was perhaps the saddest part.

“She loved to walk down the street with a book under her arm. It differentiated her from the others.” 

 

forty-seven.

the Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis (1987)
“and it’s a story that might bore you but you don’t have to listen, she told me, because she always knew it was going to be like that, and it was, she thinks, her first year, or, actually weekend, really a Friday, in September, at Camden, and this was three or four years ago, and she got so drunk that she ended up in bed, lost her virginity (late, she was eighteen) in Lorna Slavin’s room, because she was a Freshman and had a roommate and Lorna was, she remembers, a Senior or a Junior and usually sometimes at her boyfriend’s place off-campus, to who she thought was a Sophomore Ceramics major but was actually either some guy from N.Y.U, a film student, and up in New Hampshire just for The Dressed To Get Screwed party, or a townie.”
Camden, New Hampshire, 1985. Simple version: Paul likes Sean, Sean likes Lauren and Lauren likes Victor. They are all seniors, but haven’t quite figured out their majors yet. But there are always parties to go to, drugs to be taken and people to fuck.
How do you write about your favourite book, a book that you have read so many times that you can quote it? It’s been three years since the last time I read it and yet I know most of it by heart. I’ll admit it is also because the film version is the film I have watched the most. This time around it took about 5 hours to get through the 330 pages.
The film came out in 2002, starred Ian Somerhalder, James van der Beek and Shannyn Sossamon. What I really love about it, is that it differs quite a bit from the book in some parts and then quotes it perfectly in other. I saw the film many times before I realised that it was a book. I’m not sure why I love the film and book so much, nothing much happens except a whole lot of partying. I love the way it’s narrated by many people, but mainly Sean, Lauren and Paul. And the simple fact that the name comes first makes it a whole lot easier to follow than many other books. Some of the chapters are the same scene (or party) seen from various angles and they all reveal something new.  And most of the people in it are mentioned more than once. I love how I connect more dots every time I read it.
I need to see the film again. Now. And read American Psycho so I can get to know Seans big brother, Patrick.

twenty-two.

the Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (1980)
The year is 1327 and Brother William of Baskerville has arrived at an abbey in Italy where he is to attend to a meeting to try to settle the dispute between Franciscans and Dominicans. But when he and his novice, Adso, get there, they are asked by the abbot to solve a murder before the meeting is to take place.
But then more murders take place and there’s a rumour among the monks that it is inspired by the seven trumpets of the Apocalypse. And William is certain that the answer is hiding somewhere in the library, but the library is like a labyrinth.
I hate that I always have the feeling that I have only understood less than half of the books Umberto Eco writes. But the story was at least easy to follow. But for me it was impossible to understand everything about the dispute between Franciscans and Dominicans and all about the heretics. I have a feeling that I would have benefited from knowing the papal history before reading this. And Latin as many Latin phrases are not translated. Some of them I understand out of the context and others I’m sure was some brilliant insults which would be nice to know.
Nevertheless, Umberto Eco is a brilliant writer. And I’m in awe of the way that he has managed to construct an abbey and placed it in the 1300s. The characters are also interesting. And there’s a lot of interesting things that happens in the monastery, and especially at night.

seventeen.

Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami (1988)
 “Dance,” said the Sheep Man. “Yougottadance. Aslongasthemusicplays. Yougota dance. Don’teventhinkwhy. Starttothink, yourfeetstop. Yourfeetstop,wegetstuck. Wegetstuck, gottakeepthestep. Yougottalimberup. Yougottaloosenwhatyoubolteddown. Yougottauseallyougot. Weknowyou’retired, tiredandscared. Happensoeveryone, okay? Justdon’tletyourfeetstop….Yougottadance. Aslongasthemusicplays.”
 A man is trying to find out the truth about his ex-lover and he goes back to the hotel in Sapporo where they had stayed previously. Only the hotel isn’t the same. Instead of the run down small hotel, there is an enormous shiny new hotel. And the staff isn’t pleased when he asks about the other hotel.
But one of the receptionists is nice to him, and they become friendly. She also asks him for a favour when he leaves; could he look after a 13 year old girl on the way back to Tokyo? This girl, abandoned by her famous parents, and the man become friends, a friendship that will take them to Hawaii. And as their friendship evolves, the man is still looking for clues about his ex-lover.
Another great book from Murakami! I don’t know why I haven’t read more Murakami, there are three unread ones in my shelf, but I guess it’s good to save some for later. I don’t think I really got the end right, but it doesn’t matter as the journey there was such a delight to read. 
It is definitely the characters that made this book. He described them so well that they came alive in my head. And yes, the Sheep Man scared the hell out of me.

thirty-seven.


the Most Beautiful Woman in Town and Other Stories by Charles Bukowski (1983)


This book is filled with short stories, and they all include at least one sexual act.

Charles Bukowski is one of my favourite dirty old men, but this collection of short stories takes it one step too far. Necrophilia, paedophilia, rape and murder is never pleasant to read about, but having to read it from the doer’s perspective was terrible. And I’m glad I have read all the good stuff from Bukowski before this book.

Read his novels instead of this.