Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Red Chamber

A novel I picked up in the library shortly before Valentine's day.
They had decorated a small section in which they had stalled books with red covers.
The one you see below (I read this one in Dutch)

I thought that was adorable and ended up choosing two random books to try.
This was the first that I read, and I was pleasantly surprised.

The Red Chamber is a novel about a wealthy Chinese family living in Bejing during the 18th century. It centers specifically around the women of that family, and their fate.
Women in that day and age didn't have many choices in life, which was to be expected. But as I read in that novel is that many women are crafty enough to find ways to enrich their lives with what life has to offer.
The three women centered in this story are Xifeng, Daiyu and Baochai.
I listed them in order of my personal preference.

Xifeng is the oldest of them, the one with the most experience, who tries to warn the younger women to not needlessly do what they are told but to seek some personal gain or pleasure. She doesn't do this openly, as that is not the present decorum for a Chinese woman. Her intentions are even misunderstood, until it's too late.

Daiyu, a recent guest of this family, is a dreamer. She grew up in a household where women weren't told to behave a certain way, which causes her to feel suffocated with her estranged family. She's torn between the contempt of her grandmother and the love and desire she shares with Baoyu, her nephew. Their paths have been decided on but in their stubborn way, they try to find a way out of their shackles, never minding the consequences.

Baochai, the white canvas of the three girls. I, as reader, had more insight in her feelings than any of the other women as she keeps her feelings to herself. She is seen as remote, unfeeling and reserved. Her fear of showing emotion, turns her away from Daiyu or Xifeng when both women need her the most, which ultimately led her to a lonely path.

The novel is well constructed, with chapters that vary between these three characters, plus a few insights in the male household, as we see a few pages through Baoyu and his father, Jia Zheng's eyes. It adds a bit of depth that makes this novel even more profound.

I found this to be a very well written piece of prose, and am intrigued by the famous Chinese Novel this book is founded upon.

It's probably a bit too daunting for me to read this one, but I found The Red Chamber a perfect appetizer. It definitely gave me a taste for more, so who knows.. I might be tempted.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Odd Thomas

First published in 2004
Page count: 420 pages
Other novels I read by Dean Koontz: The Taking & Your Heart Belongs To Me

I didn’t think it was possible, but I just read a novel by Dean Koontz that I actually liked.

Yes, miracles do happen.

Odd Thomas has a gift, of seeing dead people. They don’t talk, they just are around and sometimes they need his help to move on. He’s had this gift since childhood and sometimes it gives him a forewarning for disaster coming.

Like now. 15th of August, Pico Mundo. A day when all hell will break loose unless Odd (yes, that’s his name) will find a way to prevent it.

The novel is written from an unreliable first person perspective, Odd his perspective. It’s written in a caffeinated, sleep deprived manner which leans itself well for the story in which timing is everything and  time stops for no one.

There’s no time for the slow building of suspense, Odd Thomas is a novel that jumps into the fray pretty quickly and managed to stay ahead of any imminent danger just by fast decision making. Other novels of Dean Koontz rely heavily upon character building, back story foundation and a sense of something dreadful coming the protagonists way, but Odd simply lives the story.

It starts with him telling the reader why he has written this story and I liked him from the start. Which helps, because you’ll be with him all through the novel. He doesn’t try to explain why things are the way they are, he just tells a story from his perspective, leaving you to try to follow his trail.

It even ends rather emotionally, which I hadn’t expected. And I have to say I had seen the screen adaptation before I read the novel. It’s been a couple of years and clearly I had forgotten some key facts about it since then. Luckily, because it enhanced the reading more.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

I don't have words..

It's not the first time I've tried a novel of Arundhati Roy and I even have to admit that I never finished The God Of Small Things. This one caught my eye when I was browsing the New Section in our local library and I thought I'd give it a go.
The title is very inviting.
Although I do have very good experience with Indian writers as I've been amazed by Beauty is a wound & The Alchemy of Desire. Both of those novels a have a certain quality about them that I haven't encountered in anything before.

I'm a fan of tantalising novels, where there is more focus upon the characters and the chemistry with each other and their environment than on the 'actions' they perform.
I love the 'why' not the 'how'. If I wanted to see 'how', I'd see more movies and read less novels.

As I'm a true born and bred European, Indian culture seems like a fairy tale from some distant and non-existing land where anything can happen. Its literature is so much pervaded with magic and mystical energy that it is sometimes hard to image that these fantasy creatures are based upon actual people.

In both Beauty is a wound & The Alchemy of Desire the focus is upon the characters, wherein The ministry of Utmost Happiness takes a large chunk out of Indian history and recent events to flavor its story. It's violent history and its tendons in today's world are as much a part of this story that you almost come to perceive this as a actual character. Some kind of evil wizard there to mess up the lives of the people you've come to love and care for.
In its way this novel is a pamphlet with how much India is derailed from sanity and common sense, but it never feels like you're reading a political novel, even though it certainly is.

And although the political and historical aspect in this novel is very strongly and beautifully interwoven in the story, the characters who inhabit this novel are as remarkable as the rest.
They aren't any run of the mill people, but any one of them has in some way a unique mindset and therefore chosen a certain way of life. It's nothing that I could dream of, because I am limited by my spoilt Western ways.
Their stories are heartfelt and real, even though you couldn't imagine this to be real, you know it must be. It's almost too fantastic not to be real. Reality has a way of doing that.
So, while trying to imagine how they live, breathe, love, survive, you come to know a beautiful bunch of people you'll be saddened to leave when you've read the last page.

If you're like me, and you like to get invested in a story where characters deepness is more important than any "actions" they do, you'll love this novel as much as I did.

And for those who've already read it..
Remember Commander Gulrez and his ear medicine, his two kittens in his pocket and the cock who shouldn't have been born in a world where he didn't know how to behave.