forty-two.

the War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts by Louis de Bernières (1990)
 A fictitious country in South-America is ravaged by war. All kinds of war. It has gotten so far that no one remembers who they are fighting against. The people have to take care of themselves as the government is not to be trusted. 
The book has countless of characters, but mainly focuses on the people in a small village somewhere in the interior. The military comes now and then to sleep with the whores and occasionally kills a few of the inhabitants in drunken stupor. And then they may face being captured by one of the guerillas in the area. Or join them if they are fed up with the military.
Louis de Bernières has created an amazing country with excellent portraits of the characters. In the beginning it was hard to figure out who is who, but then as the characters are killed off, it gets easier. There are a lot of stories within the main story, and I haven’t quite determined what the main story is. I love those chapters which can be read as short stories. It is a political satire, but has plenty of horrid scenes of rape, torture and murder. But also wonderful things like a woman giving birth to a cat and people waking up from the dead.
This is the first book I have read by de Bernièreres, although I have had 5 of them on my book shelves for years. I’m glad this is just the first book in a trilogy because I simply fell in love with the nameless country. 

thirty-eight.

Rushing to Paradise by J.G Ballard (1994)
The 16 year old Neil is drawn to the eccentric and charismatic Dr Barbara who is rallying to save the albatrosses on the French island of St Esprit.They are joined by an Hawaiian native, Kimo and they launch an attack on the island. And thanks to Neil being shot, they receive world wide attention and sympathy and the French leave the island for them to establish a sanctuary for all endangered species. But paradise is not what it seems.

I’m afraid I had high expectations for this one as J.G Ballard is the author of amazing books like Crash and Empire of the Sun. But this really disappointed. Rushing in the title might as well point to the fact that the story is really rushed. The plot is simply too big for the story and although it’s a great idea for a story, it’s just too much. And there are even some severe holes in the plot, especially regarding Neil’s naivety and suspicions. Even the sex, which Ballard usually is great at describing, is tame and full of clichés. 
I need to soon read another Ballard story, and a good one, to get over the disappointment of reading this one.

thirty-five.

the Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)
“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation. He’d been dead for ten days before they found him, you know. It was one of the biggest manhunts in Vermont history – state troopers, the FBI, even an army helicopter; the college closed, the dye factory in Hampden shut down, people coming from New Hampshire, upstate New York, as far away as Boston.”
Richard has transferred from sunny California, to Hampden College in the cold Vermont. Here he takes a course in Greek with the eccentric teacher Julian Morrow with only 5 other students. They are all very close and although they include Richard, he is always on the outside of their circle. And because they all seem so much better than him, he conceals his past and lies to fit in. He quickly learns why they do not want to involve him in everything. And that the other students are hiding things from the other in the group.
I loved the story from the beginning until the end. It was entertaining and I got really curious about why and how Bunny died. And then it was the joy in discovering that it isn’t just Bunny’s death which make things difficult for the group. I also loved how the story is built up. I was also glad to discover that the things I guessed about the different characters, turned out to be mostly correct. And it was great to finally read something relatively light and quick, I read about 100 pages a day in different hotels on our great roadtrip through California and Oregon. 
This was July’s book in Line‘s 1001 books reading challenge. 

thirty-one.

101 Reykjavik by Hallgrímur Helgason (1996)
Hlynur is 30+, unemployed and lives at his mother. His daily routine is something like this: wake up late, drink too much coca cola, eat cheerios, smoke, watch porn, go out, stumble home or elsewhere drunk and repeat. But when Lolla, his mother friend and worse, rumoured girlfriend, moves in, Hlynur is forced out of his comfort zone.
I don’t think I have ever hated someone in a book as much as I hate Hlynur. He seemed like the worst pathetic guy you could come across. He was okay in the beginning of the book and then he just turned into a prick. And I actually threw the book into the wall a couple of times but had to pick it up and continue hoping that he would die a terrible death at the end, hopefully by his own hands. I was really disappointed when he was still alive at the end. I also started skimming a lot midway because I couldn’t deal with his thoughts. I sincerely hope that the author meant for him to come across as the biggest jerk.
It’s funny that the main character can ruin a book so much. Because I loved the rest of the characters and the setting, but not Hlynur. And when the book is about him, I just can’t like it. 
If you’re curious what Hlynur did, you have to read it yourself and judge because I don’t think I can get into it without raging. And yes! It’s amazing that I can feel this way about a stupid character in a book.

twenty-nine.

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (1993)
“Society invents a spurious convoluted logic tae absorb and change people whae’s behaviour is outside its mainstream. Suppose that ah ken aw the pros and cons, know that ah’m gaunnae huv a short life, am ah sound mind, ectetera, ectetera, but still want tae use smack? They won’t let ye dae it. They won’t let ye dae it, because it’s seen as a sign ay thir ain failure. The fact that ye jist simply choose tae reject whut they huv tae offer. Choose us. Choose life. Choose mortgage payments; choose washing machines; choose cars; choose sitting oan a couch watching mind-numbing and spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fuckin junk food intae yir mooth. Choose rotting away, pishing and shiteing yersel in a home, a total fuckin embarrassment tae the selfish, fucked-up brats ye’ve produced. Choose life. Well, ah choose no tae choose life. If the cunts cannae handle that, it’s thair fuckin problem. As Harry Launder sais, ah jist intend tae keep right on to the end of the road…”
 Mark (Rentboy, Renton), Simon (Sick Boy), Daniel (Spud and Francis (Franco, Begbie) are mates in Edinburgh, Scotland. The book follows them and others through using drugs, withdrawals, getting clean, scheming, partying and the deaths of their mates. 
Having attempted to read Glue before, I wasn’t really looking forward to Trainspotting. And the sole reason is the Scottish accent 90% of the book is written in. It was a struggle at first, I had to read aloud to myself (and then laughing because I really sounded ridiculous) the first couple of pages, but then I got used to it. But still it was not an easy book to read. The other reason for this is that the chapters are not really related to each other so it always took a while to figure out who the narrator was and how much time had lapsed since the last chapter.
It’s not a pleasant read, although the situations the boys find themselves in at times can be hilarious. The scenes dealing with piss and shit had me almost gagging, while the violent scenes made me pull a shocked grimace. But still I can’t call this book more than okay. Maybe it’s because it had too many narrators with too many nicknames and I was in a more or less confused state while reading. Or maybe it was simply the language which ruined it for me. 
It was made into a film in 1996, and although I remember the film as funnier and easier to follow, I’m not sure if I want to see it again because of that too disturbing toilet scene. The book is also followed by Porno and then Skagboys, which was just released. But those are not on my list of books to read. 
This was May’s read in Line’s 1001 books reading challenge, to see what other Norwegians think of it, go here. If you enjoyed this book, you definitely should check out Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr, which is, in my humble opinion, a thousand times better and shocking. 

nineteen.

the Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves (1999)
Rachael is going to do an environmental impact assessment on the site of proposed quarry on the North Pennines. When she comes to Baikie’s Cottage, the lonely cottage on the end of the road, near the quarry, she goes searching for the next door neighbour, a friend of hers, Bella, but only discover that Bella has hanged herself, to be found by Rachael. Rachael is determined to find out the reason for the suicide as she believed Bella to be happy. 
When the two other women who are going to help out arrive, Grace and Anne, the women don’t seem to get along very well. They all have their secrets and find it hard to trust each other. And then Grace is found murdered.
This is the first book about the police detective Vera Stanhope, but she doesn’t really enter the scene before almost half way in the book. And it was hard to get an outline of her personality as the book focused so much on the other characters. Not that it’s a bad thing. I also love how Ann Cleeves has continued with the nature theme, although I didn’t get quite the feel of the North Pennies as I did of Shetland in the previous books I have read. 
I guess I have to give Vera another try later.

fifteen.

the Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (1999)
“Charlie” has just started high school when he starts writing letters to an unknown person. He is bothered by his mood swings and he is one of the unpopular kids at school and is called a freak by most of his classmates. Then he befriends some older kids and the rest of the school year is a series of high school drama, sex, drugs and rock ‘n ‘roll. 
Charlie is a bright boy who loves asking questions. His English literature teaches gives him extra books to read and assignments to write and these books influence Charlie a lot. He is also discovering music and films through his new crowd. But Charlie still has his problems with connecting with people and reality and he is trying the best he can to be out there and participate.

I first read this book ten years ago, and I had vague memories about what it was like. And I didn’t remember the book 100% correctly, so it was nice to reread it. It inspired me a lot the first time I read it; I bought This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald and really tried to understand it. And this book got me into the Smiths. In retrospect it’s fun to discover how many of the other books mentioned I have read and that my friends are as into Rocky Horror Picture Show as Charlie and his friends! But it’s still as heartbreaking and tough to read as it was ten years ago.

I’m also curious about the film which will soon be released.

forty-two – forty-eight: harry potter

Harry Potter by J.K Rowling

 

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix (2003), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005), Hary Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)


Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is the first book I read in English. I had to borrow it in English at the library because the waiting list on the Norwegian version was too long. And since then I have preferred to read in English. I don’t know how many times I have read Harry Potter. I used to reread the books when the new one came out, and I know for sure that the last time I reread the series was in 2008.

While rereading the books now, I tried to figure out which book I like the most. It is a hard one. I know it’s not the two first ones, because they are too short. I think I have settled on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, because of the introduction of new characters, Hogsmeade and the Marauder’s Map. But both Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix could also be my favourite.

I realised how little I care for Harry Potter’s fight with Lord Voldemort, and how much I love the setting of the books. I love Hogwarts (the lessons, its history and the castle itself), Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. I have never really been fond of Harry himself, I prefer the other characters in the books, and especially Hermione and Dumbledore. And I found myself wanting more on the background history of everything in the books. Because of my thirsting for more, I will register at Pottermore, which is kind of creepy when you’re 28.

I never got the pleasure to read the books as a kid myself, I was probably fifteen or sixteen when I read the first book. I will therefore never know what it’s like to let myself be completely captured by the books. But I guess it would be equal to what it was like to read the Chronicles of Narnia; explore the old closet in my grandparents house and hope that it will lead to a secret world, to play out various characters with your friends in the forest on a moonlit winter night.

I do not care much for the films, and I still haven’t seen the final one. I don’t think they could ever do justice to the books. But I wouldn’t mind a tv series about everyday life at Hogwarts.

twenty-seven.

Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah (1994)
“The boy first. His name was Yusuf, and he left his home suddenly during his twelfth year. He remembered it was the season of the drought, when every day was the same as the last. Unexpected flowers bloomed and died. Strange insects scuttled from under rocks and writhed to their deaths in the burning light. The sun made distant trees tremble in the air and made the houses shudder and heave for breath. Clouds of dust puffed up at every tramping footfall and a hard-edged stillness lay over the daylight hours. Precise moments like that came back of the season.”

Yusuf grew up on the East African coast. The man who Yusuf has
called his uncle lets him travel with him on his next journey. What Yusuf doesn’t know is that the man is a rich merchant and Yusuf is taken to settle his father debts. Yusuf starts working in a small shop somewhere by the sea, and then he gets to travel with the merchant to the interior regions to trade with the savages.

The story is set right before World War I or World War II, I’m guessing because of the increasing activity of German settlers. I’m also guessing that the story is set in Tanzania or Kenya because of the vague geographical clues. It is rich with details about the complex mix of people and culture in Africa, the traders are descendants of Arabic and Indian settlers and they bring with them Islam to the noble savages. The savages have their superstitions and traditions, and the book is full of stories about jinns and other strange creatures. And then there is the strange myths about the Europeans.

This book is great and beautiful. Some parts of it reminded me of A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul, but that is probably because it somewhat has the same setting. I recommend both. And I’m looking forward to read By the Sea by Gurnah.

one.

the Kindness of Women by J.G Ballard (1991)


After being released from the internment camps in Shanghai in 1945, Jim, a teenager, moves to England, a country he is unfamiliar with despite being English. He studies to become a doctor at Cambridge, but drops out. He goes to Canada to train as a NATO pilot, but is asked to leave after breaking the rules at the airbase. Back in England he settles in a small village called Shepperton with his wife and three children and starts to write books. But then his wife dies in a tragic accident in Spain. Jim is raising three children on his own while visiting the world of his more eccentric friends.

This is a part fictional, part autobiographical work where all the main events in J.G Ballard’s life are included. It is also a sequel to Empire of the Sun and the terrors of the war in Shanghai is ever present in Jim’s adult life. He never feels home in England, at least not until he becomes a father. He is also drawn to the darker side of life of his much more eccentric friends; testing LSD while being filmed, watching the making of a pornographic film which includes a girl and a dog, and staging an art exhibition about crashed cars.

I like how well Ballard writes about awful and perverse things. What I didn’t like about the book is that the first part of it was more or less a shorter version of Empire of the Sun but with a different angle. I’m glad it is some years since I read that book, so I didn’t remember the exact details.