08-03-15

M. J. Carter: The Strangler Vine

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This book is about William Avery, a junior officer recently arrived in Calcutta, Jeremiah Blake, an ex-captain turned native and Xavier Mountstuart, a legendary poet. When Mountstuart goes missing, Blake and Avery are sent on a mission to find him, but as the story unravels there is more behind their mission than they thought, adn some people are not really who they seem to be.

The background of this novel is 19th century India, before Great Britain took it over from the Honorouble East India Company, a joint stock company founded to do business with India and China. From 1757 to 1858 its private armies and administrative force ruled large parts of India with the sole purpose of sucking as much money as possible out of it. In this it is a serious historical novel, well researched and I think quite accurate in its descriptions. But most of all it is a fantastic boys book (for adult boys).

It is packed with adventure, the story is very well written and it is a pure joy to read this as you jump from your adult self, interested in social history, to your boyhood self, with mystery, murder and adventure. In short, it is a thrill to read, with sufficient background to make it interesting, but especially with a lot of downright adventure. Lovely. Maybe not for girls. :-) Sorry.

PS MJ Carter is a pseudonym for Miranda Carter, a historian and writer. She is married to John Lanchester, one of my favourite authors.

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26-12-14

Jonathan Coe: Expo 58.

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'Erm - yes, there is your father's loss, of course, said Mr Cooke hastily, although it appeared that this was not what he'd actually been referring too. 'But we were commiserating with you, rather, on your start in life. What with one thing and another - the pub and the Belgian thing - you must have felt severely handicapped.'

Said Mr Cooke, Thomas Foley's boss at the COI, the Central Office of Information, about his parents, his father being a pub owner and his mother a Belgian refugee of the Great War. But the combination made him in the eyes of his superiors (and in the eyes of British Intelligence) perfect for keeping an eye on the activities in the Britannia, the pub of the British Pavillion at the big Expo 58 world fair, where the Belgians have put the Russian and the American Pavillions next to each other. The Cold War is breaking out, spies are everywhere, but the atmosfere at the Expo is also one of hope after the 2nd World War, and a generation of young people is looking towards the future, rather than the past. One of them was my mother, two years before I was born, working as a nurse on the Expo grounds (she still has the pin). And so this book interested me, and I have read it with the utmost pleasure.

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The Britannia

It is, of course, a comedy. Jonathan Coe is one of Britain's great contemporary writhers, famous for his comedy novels, reminding me a bit of the great PG Wodehouse. With the Expo 58 as a background unravels an espionage novel with a twist of comedy, and with figures as Andrey, the Russian journalist/spy, Emily, American beauty/spy, Anneke, Belgian hostess, and Shirley, barmaid of the Britannia, the figures dance in the curious world of Belgium, anno 1958. And of course i should not forget Mr Wayne and Mr Radford, British spymasters, popping up at awkward moments, and curiously reminding me of the two rats in the animation movie Chicken Run.

I loved this novel. It is a nice story with some surprising twists, it gives a good background on how Expo 58 was seen by its visitors and by the people working on it, and I loved the parts where Foley heads back home, to a family life in Britain end of the 50ies, strangely droll and boring in comparison to the bubbling life on the fair. It's a comedy with a good story and it ends in an Antwerp wok restaurant that used to be the Oberbayern restaurant at the Expo.  

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The original Oberbayern, now a wok restaurant in Antwerp

I love how Coe brings this period to life. I love some of the characters, no heroes, just ordinary people, like you and me. Great literature ? No, but a very nice example of a British comedy novel, with a Belgian touch. Lots of joy in reading, lots of smiles, and a few tears...I think I'm going to buy the translation for my mother.   

28-09-14

Dave Eggers: Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?

One of the nicest things for a book-lover/reader is browsing through the offer at a bookstore, without a title or an author in mind, just picking up books, looking at front pages, admiring particularly well done layouts or covers, and reading snippets in order to make up your mind that it might be a book worth buying and reading.

And sometimes a mighty hand seems to sweep out of the pages and grip you by the collar to pull you into the story. A few pages later you come back, you suddenly realise again where you are, and you think: this one is for me.

It happened to me with this book. I didn't know the author and I rarely read American novel's, but I loved the artwork and the cover so much that I picked it up and started reading...

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BUILDING 57

- Wow, this is the greates week of my life.

-

- Sorry. You probably don't understand that.

-

-Okay, comparitively, it's not such a good week for you. You've been, well, I guess you've been brought here. I just mean that bringing an astronaut here was hard, but getting an actual cop here...Jesus. Kev said I was invincible and now I know it's true. Shit, I forgot to tell him. I'll be back.

 

The book is about Thomas, a young man with questions, that abducts an astronaut. He used to know and admire him in school, and starts asking him questions, trying to make sense of the world around him. From one question comes another and soon a congresman, his math teacher, his mother, a cop and a lady are abducted and interrogated, each one shackled in a separate building. The layout of the book supports this very well and every chapter is named after the number of the building in which the victim sits.

The first time I read it I read it too fast, like a thriller, and it did not satisfy me. So i read it a second time, because I felt I did not do it right the first time, and now as a novel, and it opened up beautifully. It is a very special book, with a trip through the mind of the subject, and with some remarkable moves in the storyline. I loved it.

Though the book seems simple at first it isn't, and it should be read sober and concentrated. Every time I was too much distracted I had to start again.

 

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