maandag 29 mei 2017

"The Chrysalids" by John Wyndham

"'Oh, God', I said, 'please, please, God, let me be like other people. I don't want to be different. Won't you make it so that when I wake up in the morning I'll be just like everyone else, please, God, please!'"

Some time in the far future, mankind has reverted to a pre-industrial society. There are no machines, no technology ... There are only very distant memories of the techologically advanced civillisation of the 'Old People', which history tells was destroyed by God. The people are afraid that God will send another 'Tribulation' on the world, so they adhere to God's word, or what they believe to be His word. Everything that doesn't fit the 'perfect' image is shunned, be it plants, animals or people. People who are even slightly different are banished to the Fringes.

Young David Strorm befriends Sophie, a girl who turns out to have six toes on every foot - a 'blasphemy' which will cause Sophie and her family to be run out of town. But David too has a mutation - he can communicate telepatically and there are quite a few of his friends who have the same 'disability'. When their community finds out, they have to flee into the Fringes. But are they really just mutants... or the future of humanity?

"The Chrysalids" is just as good and powerful a novel as Wyndham's more famous "The Day of the Triffids" is. It's an easy read, but still quite profound in its message: societies that try to reach perfection by striving for uniformity, are destined to lose out. Differences in people are to be cherished, not shunned. The ending is slighly bitter, though. Classic dystopian fiction. This would be a good choice for the many people are into the modern YA dystopias, if they want to delve into the history of the genre. It's very accessible and certain to entertain.

Author: John Wyndham
Title: The Chrysalids
Publisher: Gollancz, London
Year: 2016 (orig. 1955)
Number of pages: 201 p.
ISBN: 981473212688

donderdag 25 mei 2017

"Kapitein Nemo's bibliotheek" van Per Olov Enquist

"Als je geen naam hebt, ben je Niemand. Ook dat is een soort bevrijding."

Ik moet toegeven dat ik dit boek gekocht heb omdat de omslag mij intrigeerde. Het schilderij van het onschuldig lijkend jongetje, de mysterieuze titel, die duidelijk verwijst naar het beroemde personage van Jules Verne... En ik vond het spotgoedkoop op het Boekenfestijn - dat helpt ook, natuurlijk.

"Kapitein Nemo's bibliotheek" van de Zweedse auteur Per Olov Enquist is absoluut geen gemakkelijk boek om te lezen. Niet dat de taal erg moeilijk is. Integendeel, die is van een kinderlijke eenvoud en het leest ook alsof het geschreven is door het kind dat de verteller was ten tijde van de gebeurtenissen. Maar het verhaal zelf is zeer moeilijk te volgen.

Het begint al met de bizarre proloog. Je hebt totaal geen idee wat er aan de hand is. Toch wordt al gauw duidelijk dat het verhaal verteld wordt door een oude man -wiens naam we nooit te weten komen- die terugblikt op zijn kinderjaren. Bij zijn geboorte werden hij en Johannes omgewisseld. Pas enkele jaren later wordt de fout ontdekt en gebeurt de terugomwisseling, waardoor het hoofdpersonage tegen wil en dank uit zijn vertrouwde omgeving wordt weggehaald. Het is een trauma dat hij nooit te boven komt ('Nemo' betekent 'niemand' - zonder twijfel een aanwijzing die de gemoedstoestand van de verteller moet weergeven).

Het verhaal wordt niet chronologisch verteld. Het is aan de lezer om de puzzelstukjes die worden aangeboden te gebruiken en zo de gebeurtenissen te reconstrueren. Dat wordt nog bemoeilijkt door het feit dat droom en werkelijkheid voortdurend door elkaar lopen. De Kapitein Nemo van de titel is voor de verteller de 'weldoener' een soort substituut voor God, die hij niet meer vertrouwt.

Ik blijf een beetje verbouwereerd achter, nog steeds niet helemaal zeker wat ik precies gelezen heb. Maar het is ook precies dat mysterieuze dat het boek bijzonder maakt. Een fascinerende, maar erg bevreemdende leeservaring.

Auteur: Per Olov Enquist
Titel: Kapitein Nemo's bibliotheek (oorspr.: Kapten Nemos bibliotek)
Uitgeverij: Ambo, Amsterdam
Jaar: 2004 (oorspr. 1991)
Aantal bladzijden: 232 blz.
ISBN: 9026317565

vrijdag 19 mei 2017

"Sword Song" by Bernard Cornwell

“I am old now. So old. My sight fades, my muscles are weak, my piss dribbles, my bones ache, and I sit in the sun and fall asleep to wake tired.” 

Uhtred of Bebbanburg is still bound to Alfred by oath, although he hates the king's guts. But the mysterious appearance of a dead man, and the man's prediction that Uhtred will become the ruler of Mercia, convinces him to change sides and join the Danes.

Until he finds out he's been cheated. A promise to an old friend gets him back in Alfred's camp and the king sends him to London to capture the city from Norse leaders Sigefrid and Erik. He does the job, but it's his slimy cousin Æthelred who gets all the credit. Æthelred happens to be married to Æthelflaed, King Alfred's daughter and a girl Uhtred is particularly fond of. When Æthelred completely messes up a new raid, Æthelflaed is captured by Sigefrid and Erik and it's Uhtred who will have to risk his life to save the girl and bring her back to her husband. If she wants to go back, that is.

"Sword Song" is part four in the ongoing "The Last Kingdom" series chronicling the reign of King Alfred and his attempts to unify England. Like in the previous books, the story is told by Uhtred, an old man who looks back on his life. There's very little known about this period in history, so the story is mainly fictional. Cornwell is a master, though, at evoking the atmosphere of the era. He's a master at describing battle scenes and there are more than a few in this book. Another excellent entry in the series.

Author: Bernard Cornwell
Title: Sword Song
Publisher: Harper, London
Year: 2016 (orig. 2006)
Number of pages: 365 p.
ISBN: 9780007219735

donderdag 11 mei 2017

"A Cold Day for Murder" by Dana Stabenow

"Yes, it was a great park, a spectacular park, a national treasure, everyone agreed, not least those who lived there. You just couldn't get at it."
Kate Shugak is one of the most original detectives you'll ever meet. She's Aleut, 30 years old with raven black hair and a raspy voice, and at about 1.50 m really tiny. Kate used to work as a police investigator, until she was nearly murdered while saving a child. She still has the huge scar from ear to ear to remind her of the event. Since then, she's lived a solitary life in a huge national park in Alaska, with her half-wolf, half-husky, Mutt.

Mark Miller, ranger and son of an important congressman, has disappeared and so has the investigator who went out to look for him. The FBI turns to Kate, because she knows the terrain like nobody else. She accepts reluctantly, but soon regrets her decision as her own family turn out to be involved with one of the missing persons. But Kate is intent on finding out the truth, whatever the outcome.

The story takes quite a while to get going. The author spends a long time providing the setting and describing the scenery and the characters, which is always a good thing in my opinion. But it takes about half the book until the story really gets going, and that's a bit too much for a mere 190-page novel. But once the investigation actually starts, "A Cold Day for Murder" turns out to be a fine mystery novel. Kate is an interesting protagonist and the clash between the cultures of the native Alaskans and the 'modern' world -which Kate is caught between- is really interesting. It's the first in a 20-part series, and I'm sure I'll read at least some of the sequels.

Author: Dana Stabenow
Title: A Cold Day for Murder
Publisher: Head of Zeus, London
Year: 2013 (orig. 1992)
Number of pages: 193 p.
IBN: 9781908800398

woensdag 3 mei 2017

"Time and Time Again" by Ben Elton

"We've just lost our way, that's all. But what if you could give us a chance to do better? Just one chance? One single move in the great game of history? What's your best shot? What would you consider to be the greatest mistake in world history and, more to the point, what single thing would you do to prevent it?"

I love stories about time travel. Especially tales in which people travel back in time. When you come to think about the things you could change in the past and the consequences this could have on the present ... well, it's mind-boggling. Lots of authors have tackled the concept; recently we've had the brilliant 11/22/63 by Stephen King and now there's "Time and Time Again" by Ben Elton.

Ex-soldier Hugh Stanton has just lost his wife and children in an accident and he feels life is not worth living anymore. But then his old professor offers him the most improbable mission: nothing less than to save the world. An old document left by Isaac Newton reveals a way to go back in time, to the year 1914, more specifically. And this happens to be the year one of history's most disastrous events started. Stanton travels back in time to prevent the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and thus keep Word War I from happening. But he soon finds out there's a very thin line between saving the world and messing up completely.

I'm quite familiar with Ben Elton's name because of his involvement in TV series like "Blackadder" and "The Young Ones" and the musicals "We Will Rock You" and "Love Never Dies"(the sequel to "Phantom of the Opera"). I wasn't prepared for this novel, though. This is a tight thriller, clever, suspenseful and extremely well written. The characters are great: Stanton is a solid protagonist and secondary characters like Sally McClusky, Bernadette and Katie really shine. Elton gives us a lot of interesting background to the events that led up to the Great War, without slowing down the pace. There are some unexpected twists at the end and the finale is absolutely epic, mindblowing. Fantastic book - one of the best I've read this year. Is it as good as King's 11/22/63? Well, maybe not quite. But it's still a must-read.

Author: Ben Elton
Title: Time and Time Again
Publisher: Black Swan, London
Year: 2015 (orig. 2014)
Number of pages: 463 p.
ISBN: 9780552779999