Review: The Pisces by Melissa Broder

37590570Verdict: Brilliant. Uncomfortable. Vulgar. Funny. Heartbreaking.

My rating: 4,5 out of 5 stars

Date read: April 4th, 2018

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing, May 3rd 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

Lucy has been writing her dissertation about Sappho for thirteen years when she and Jamie break up. After she hits rock bottom in Phoenix, her Los Angeles-based sister insists Lucy housesit for the summer—her only tasks caring for a beloved diabetic dog and trying to learn to care for herself. Annika’s home is a gorgeous glass cube atop Venice Beach, but Lucy can find no peace from her misery and anxiety—not in her love addiction group therapy meetings, not in frequent Tinder meetups, not in Dominic the foxhound’s easy affection, not in ruminating on the ancient Greeks. Yet everything changes when Lucy becomes entranced by an eerily attractive swimmer one night while sitting alone on the beach rocks.

Whip-smart, neurotically funny, sexy, and above all, fearless, The Pisces is built on a premise both sirenic and incredibly real—what happens when you think love will save you but are afraid it might also kill you.

This is not a book for everyone, but it was very much a book for me. I was hooked from the very first page and could not stop thinking about this book in the breaks between reading it (I went on a 4-day hike in-between and would constantly mull over this book while walking). The book starts when Lucy has apparently already hit rock bottom: her boyfriend has left her, her thesis supervisors give her a deadline to finally finish writing the thesis on Sappho she has been working on for years (and in which she does not believe anymore), and she spirals out of control leading to her assaulting her ex and as a result being forced into therapy. Her (much older) sister offers her a job house- and dog-sitting so that maybe she can find her footing again while also attending group therapy. But Lucy is not done spiralling just yet.

Melissa Broder hit a nerve with me here: her descriptions of academia and the slog of a PhD felt on point. Lucy’s thoughts are close to thoughts I have had in the depth of trying to write a thesis – if I started to doubt my dissertation’s main thesis, I am sure I would feel as lost as Lucy does when she realizes she does not believe in her work any more. This coupled with her depression and dependency issues made for a very believable character.

The biggest strength of this very strong book is therefore Lucy. She is unpleasant, deeply so, mean and self-centered while staying believable as a person and ultimately being somebody I could not help but root for, even when she makes one ridiculous decision after the other. She manages to always find the most destructive course of action for any given situation. Her addiction to love (while being emotionally unavailable) is painful to watch, exactly because it is so believable. Her reaction to men is even more unbearable to watch and Melissa Broder captures the awkwardness and heartbreak of bad one-night-stands so very vividly that it made me cringe (and I mean that as a compliment).

I adored this. While I thought the first half was near perfect (funny and sad and poignant and so very very relatable and beyond everything just brilliant), I did think the second half suffered from Broder’s infatuation with her own metaphor. It is a great metaphor, for sure, but not so much that it could sustain the brilliance of the beginning. Still, god, what a book.

First sentence: “I was no longer lonely but I was.”

I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

Advertisements

Book vs Movie: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

It is no secret how much I admire Jeff VanderMeer’s craft and his book Annihilation in particular. It even made my Best of the Year list last year. I was beyond excited to watch the movie (I really love Natalie Portman) and finally got around to watching it.

25970139First things first, I am not in the “The book is always better than the movie” camp – because have you seen the glory that is Stardust? Or read the mess that is Gone With The Wind (I might have an unpopular opinion here)? I find that the two mediums can do different things and should be judged accordingly.

But, in this case I do think the book is better. I was sceptical whether the dread and confusion of the book could be transported to the screen and apparently rightfully so. While I thought the movie was visually stunning and wonderfully acted, I did not find the experience as mesmerizing as the book. I am fine with the changes made (for the most part) because they felt true if not for Annihilation than for Jeff VanderMeer’s body of work in general.The creatures felt right and worked well for the visuals of the movie. I am not so happy with the changes made for the main character who felt like a very different person. Natalie Portman, as always, was convincing and a joy to watch but I am not sure whether the changes really were necessary.

mv5bmtk2mjc2nzyxnl5bml5banbnxkftztgwmta2ota1ndm-_v1_sy1000_cr006401000_al_I thought the pacing of the movie was a bit wonky, especially in the middle, but can forgive that given the stunning conclusion that felt every bit as weird and psychedelic as necessary given the

My main gripe is the lack of trust given to the audience. One of my favourite things about Jeff VanderMeer’s books is that he trusts his readers to follow him and to draw their own conclusions. The movie did that to a certain degree but at some points felt it necessary to explain things to the audience that would be better left unsaid.

But, overall, I had a lot of fun watching the movie and thought it well worth my time. I thought it looked different enough to be exciting and weird enough to mostly fit the book.

Have you seen the movie and read the book? What were your thoughts? What are your thoughts on movie adaptations?

 

Review: Bluets – Maggie Nelson

31817300Verdict: A near perfect book.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Date read: April 15th, 2018

Published by Jonathan Cape, 2017 (First published 2009)

Find it on Goodreads.

Bluets winds its way through depression, divinity, alcohol, and desire, visiting along the way with famous blue figures, including Joni Mitchell, Billie Holiday, Yves Klein, Leonard Cohen and Andy Warhol. While its narrator sets out to construct a sort of ‘pillow book’ about her lifelong obsession with the colour blue, she ends up facing down both the painful end of an affair and the grievous injury of a dear friend. The combination produces a raw, cerebral work devoted to the inextricability of pleasure and pain, and to the question of what role, if any, aesthetic beauty can play in times of great heartache or grief.

Much like Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse, Bluets has passed between lovers in the ecstasy of new love, and been pressed into the hands of the heartbroken. Visceral, learned, and acutely lucid, Bluets is a slim feat of literary innovation and grace, never before published in the UK.

This is the third book by Maggie Nelson I have read and my favourite so far. I admire her craft very much and thought this book near perfect. It is a collection of short thoughts, brief paragraphs that pack a punch, all losely structured around the colour blue.

Maggie Nelson, as always, unapologetically places herself in the center of her art; I adore that. This is an introspective book centered around the loss of a partner and grief and depression and the injury of a close friend and, yes, the colour blue. She talks about many things, in fragmented but poignant form. There are not many writers that I know of who can pull this disjointed form off, but Maggie Nelson can and her thoughts shine with an urgency that I could not escape.

She has a brilliant way with words. Her writing is both theoretical (drawing on Wittgenstein and Goethe and Warhol and many writers more) and visceral (her descriptions of sex are graphic and honest) in a way that I find mesmerizing and very difficult to describe. She mixes these two parts of her writing so effortlessly that it seems easy and like her sentences just flow out of her without further editing (and I am sure this is far from the truth). A near perfect book.

First sentence: “Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color.”

Tag: The Unique Blogger Award

I was nominated for the Unique Blogger Awars by Rachel who you all should really go follow if you aren’t already. (Also, sorry it took me forever to get to this.)

The Rules:

  • Share the link of the blogger who has shown love to you by nominating you
  • Answer the questions
  • In the spirit of sharing love and solidarity with our blogging family, nominate 8-13 people for the same award
  • Ask them 3 questions

Rachel’s Questions:

  • Where’s the farthest place from home that you’ve traveled to?

I have just been to New Zealand which obviously the farthest away from home I have ever been. But, weirdly enough it did not feel like it. It feels very much like the UK and as such I felt right at home (except for the weird right wing slant of their radio news – I might have listened to the wrong radio stations, but that freaked me out).

  • What is your favorite fictional relationship?  Either romantic or platonic.

That is a bit difficult.

I do love Kassandra and Aenaes in Christa Wolf’s Kassandra a whole lot. I love how she can be herself with him and I wish there could be a different ending to that particular love story. (I do hope that does not count as a spoiler – but can a story about Troy be spoiled for anyone anymore?)

But I also really love Harry’s and Hermione’s friendship. Just so very much.

  • What is one food that your town/state/country is known for, and do you like it?

I am so bad at this: Germany is most famous for beer and sausage and I don’t like either. I also lived in Scotland for four years – but I hate whisky. People have questioned my taste repeatedly.

My questions:

  1. If you had to pick one genre to read for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  2. What is your most unpopular opinion you want to shout from the rooftops?
  3. What topic could you give an impromptu 20 minute talk on?

Tagging:

Amalia, Melanie, Rita, and Adri.

Mini-Novella-Review: The Black Tides of Heaven (Tensorate #1) – J.Y. Yang

33099588Verdict: Immersive world building, interesting social structure, focus on sibling relationships = fantasy I adore.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Date read: March 31st, 2018

Published by tor.com, September 2017

Find it on Goodreads.

Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as children. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While his sister received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What’s more, he saw the sickness at the heart of his mother’s Protectorate.

A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue to play a pawn in his mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from his sister Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond he shares with his twin sister?

This short little novella manages to tick a lot of my boxes: sociological worldbuilding, a focus on sibling relationships, interesting social structures, musings on gender, and a language that just transported me along.

This book focusses on Mokoya and Akeha, twin children of the ruler of their country, how they are used as pawns in their mothers power machinations but also how they find their agency in a world that does not want to give them any. While Mokoya develops rare prophetic powers their sibling Akeha is always in their shadows and will have to find their own place in the world.

Constricted by the length conventions of novellas, the worldbuilding obviously cannot be as intricately imagined as other works, but I actually thought this worked in the book’s favour. I had the impression that there was more to the world than we were shown and I loved that. The world felt lived in in the way J.Y. Yang described it and used it as their background noise to what was obviously at the core of their work: musings on gender and love and sibling relationships. These relationships were by far my favourite part of the book and I cannot wait where Mokoya and Akeha’s story goes next.

First sentence: “Head Abbot Sung of the Grand Monastery did not know it yet, but this night would change the course of all his days.”

2018 Book Haul #2: I want to own all the memoirs.

I have not bought any books since I posted my last haul, so obviously I just went overboard and purchased too many. Now, to be fair to myself, I have been craving memoirs and essay collections and hardly own any anymore that I haven’t read, so I had to remedy that. Also, as I have recently talked about, I just love owning books.

And now, without further ado, here are the books I bought, first fiction, then nonfiction (but in no particular order):

When I hit you: or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy

38821165Blurb: Seduced by politics and poetry, the unnamed narrator falls in love with a university professor and agrees to be his wife, but what for her is a contract of love is for him a contract of ownership. As he sets about reducing her to his idealised version of a kept woman, bullying her out of her life as an academic and writer in the process, she attempts to push back – a resistance he resolves to break with violence and rape.

Smart, fierce and courageous When I Hit You is a dissection of what love meant, means and will come to mean when trust is undermined by violence; a brilliant, throat-tightening feminist discourse on battered faces and bruised male egos; and a scathing portrait of traditional wedlock in modern India.

Why I bought it: This is one of the few books on this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist that I am actually interested in and don’t own already. Also, that title is just brilliant. Continue reading “2018 Book Haul #2: I want to own all the memoirs.”

Review: Happiness by Aminatta Forna

37807353Verdict: Uneven.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Date read: March 28th, 2018

Published by Bloomsbury, April 4th 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

London. A fox makes its way across Waterloo Bridge. The distraction causes two pedestrians to collide–Jean, an American studying the habits of urban foxes, and Attila, a Ghanaian psychiatrist there to deliver a keynote speech. From this chance encounter, Aminatta Forna’s unerring powers of observation show how in the midst of the rush of a great city lie numerous moments of connection.

Attila has arrived in London with two tasks: to deliver a keynote speech on trauma, as he has done many times before; and to contact the daughter of friends, his “niece” who hasn’t called home in a while. Ama has been swept up in an immigration crackdown, and now her young son Tano is missing.

When, by chance, Attila runs into Jean again, she mobilizes the network of rubbish men she uses as volunteer fox spotters. Security guards, hotel doormen, traffic wardens–mainly West African immigrants who work the myriad streets of London–come together to help. As the search for Tano continues, a deepening friendship between Attila and Jean unfolds.

Meanwhile a consulting case causes Attila to question the impact of his own ideas on trauma, the values of the society he finds himself in, and a grief of his own. In this delicate tale of love and loss, of cruelty and kindness, Forna asks us to consider the interconnectedness of lives, our co-existence with one another and all living creatures, and the true nature of happiness.

I was sure I would adore this book – and I enjoyed plenty of it, but parts left me bored and slightly confused. This is a story of chance and coincidence, of strangers meeting and lives slowly changing – and I loved that aspect of it. But it is also a book about animals in urban places – and that I was not so keen on.

Aminatta Forna tells her story slowly and considerately. I had the impression that every word, every sentence was placed very thoughtfully and carefully. While I can appreciate her craft, I also found it lifeless. Her prose was just not quite sharp enough for me to excuse the rambling nature of her narrative. While it is certainly accomplished, for me something was lacking. And I cannot quite put my fingers on what exactly the missing ingredient was – but as it is  found the overall book less compelling than its many parts.

Part of that has to do with the fact that I found her two protagonists, Attila the psychologist and Jean the biologist, more compelling when they weren’t interacting with each other. I thought Jean’s struggle as a researcher who is missing her son was compelling and interesting (and very close to my heart); Attila’s restlessness and his interesting profession as somebody working with trauma was another highpoint for me – but for some reason I did not find them believable together and I thought their interactions did not ring true to what their characters were on their own (this might very well have been on purpose, I know, showing that they bring out the best in each other but it didn’t really work for me).

There were definite glimpses of brilliance here though. Jean’s interactions with her extended network of rubbish men and security and everybody else walking the streets were wonderful and lovely and absolutely felt true. Her conversations with her son were painful to read but poignant. Attila’s love for his wife was wonderfully drawn and the juxtaposition with his restlessness was incredibly well done. But this brilliance was not quite enough for me to off-set the pages and pages of musings on coyotes and foxes and their changing habitats;a topic that I am very much not interested in at all and that Forna did not manage to make interesting.

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing in exchange for an honest review.