Christmas Gifts 2014

So even though my reading has been seriously lacking in the second half of 2014, I still got some beautiful books for Christmas. Lovely, lovely books that hopefully can get me back to reading regularly.

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My boyfriend and I have watched the Outlander tv-series and really enjoyed it – and it made me want to both start over on the series as well as read one. Outlander is a great series but I sometimes forget how much I enjoy reading it.
My Brother got me this second-hand version of Isabel Allende’s Paula, the book she wrote to her comatose daughter, Paula. I have been wanting to read more by Allende – and even though I’m pretty sure that this one will make me cry, I’m still looking forward to it.

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I also got the final book in Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy. I enjoyed the first book but haven’t read the second one, so I think I’m going to read the entire series now. And I got the first book in Stephen King’s new trilogy, Mr Mercedes. Not much to say about that – I like Stephen King.

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And I got two non-fiction books. The Danish Aarhus University publish a series of books that introduce various subjects in an engaging way. The one I received is written by Dan Ringgaard is about litterature and argues, that litterature is the art made with language – whether it’s on paper, digital or something else.
Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow, argues that there are various ways of thinking and discusses why we make the choices we make as it delves into human rationality and irrationality.
So I had a wonderful Christmas time where my kids also got some great books I’m looking forward to reading to them. I hope you all had a great bookish Christmas as well and are ready for what 2015 will bring.

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Ken Follett: The Pillars of the Earth (review)

Middle Ages. 12th century. The building of a cathedral. People struggling, starving. Knights fighting for power. Monarchs and monarchs to be fighting over who get to rule. Historical fiction. So not my thing.

I was given this book as a gift, years ago. It has stood on my shelf ever since. For the first several years, I really didn’t care to read it. I just wasn’t interested. But slowly, I became more interested. I must admit that Oprah saying she loved it, was a push for me to read it – mostly because she said it wasn’t her thing either. Also, the publication of the first volume of his Century Trilogy peaked my interest in Follett’s work. So I put The Pillars of the Earth on the list of books I definitely wanted to read this year. I must admit I have been dreading it a bit but finally, it just felt right to start reading it – and well, now I  kind of regret not having read it earlier.

Tom the Builder has a dream. A big dream. A dream which makes him drag his family all over trying to achieve it. Tom wants to build a cathedral. He wanders from place to place, building site to building site, trying to find somewhere where a cathedral is being or going to be built and where Tom can be Master Builder. So he, his pregnant wife Agnes and their two children Alfred and Martha, wander in search of Tom’s dream. But a series of bad luck follow them and leads to Agnes giving birth to a baby boy in the forest in the winter. She dies and Tom leaves the baby to die on her grave. Luckily, a priest finds him and takes him to a chapel in the forest where the priest’s brother, Prior Philip, is the leader. Philip decides that the boy should grow up in the monastery, just as he and his brother did, and he names the boy Jonathan.

Jonathan is the first link between Tom and Philip. After Agnes’ death, Tom begins a relationship with Ellen, a woman who has been living in the forest as an outlaw with her son Jack. Prior Philip becomes leader of the Kingsbridge Priory and takes Jonathan with him. Together with Tom, he makes a plan to build a cathedral and Tom begins the work – happy to be close to his baby boy.

At the nearby castle of the Earl of Shiring, his daughter Aliena is supposed to marry William Hamleigh. She refuses him however, and William takes this rather hard. So hard, that he eventually rapes her and cuts off a part of her little brother Richard’s ear after their father has been thrown in prison. William and his family takes over the castle and Aliena and Richard are homeless, struggling to find a way to survive.

When Prior Philip first became a prior, he did so by striking a deal with Waleran Bigod who then becomes Bishop of Kingsbridge. But Waleran Bigod is a man who wants power and he’s ready to do a whole lot to get more of it. He supports the Cathedral in Kingsbridge just as longs as it’s in his best interest. He has ambitions for where he wants to go and he struggles with Prior Philip, both wanting a cathedral – but for very different reasons.

All these characters weave in and out of each others’ lives. They support each other, they hurt each other, they kill each other. They fight, they starve, they suffer, they dream and build and create. They dream big and they strive to achieve it, no matter what setbacks they encounter. The ways the plot twists and turns and the various strands weave together, only to separate and then come together in some other way, is impossible to recount. The characters are fleshed out, lifelike and you get to care so deeply about them. However, although I do enjoy a good villain, you have to be careful not to make him so evil that he gets almost cartoony. I’m quite okay with William Hamleigh raping, burning, killing, slaughtering his way through the book. But there’s a scene where he wants to stone a cat just for the fun of it – and it just gets to be a bit much. I get that he’s evil – you don’t have to spell it out!

For the largest part of this novel, I just loved it. I devoured it, I read for hours each night, 100-200 pages a day. But – then something happened. Ken Follett likes to wrap everything up neatly and that’s fine, I don’t mind that at all. But it seemed that he maybe had difficulties wrapping up one of his characters –  and therefore, he introduces Thomas Beckett to the mix. Now, for most of the book, the historical facts have been sort of the canvas, Follett painted his characters on. The facts are the background Prior Philip, Tom the Builder, Jack and all the other can live and strive on. But towards the end, the facts and especially Thomas Beckett and his fight with the king and then tragic ending become the foreground of the novel and the characters we have followed and cared for during the first 900 or so pages of the book, suddenly becomes bystanders to the events. This does mean that Follett gets to wrap up all his story lines very neatly – but it also means that the story looses it’s momentum and becomes a bit less compelling towards the end.

By the way, there’s a board game based on this book. It sounds like it could be a great game. Anybody tried playing it?

  • Title: The Pillars of the Earth
  • Author: Ken Follett
  • Publisher: Pan Macmillan
  • Year: 1999 (original 1989)
  • Pages: 1076 pages
  • Source: Own Collection
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

Clarissa in July

‘/…/ I will own to you that once I could have loved him – ungrateful man! – had he permitted me, I once could have loved him.’ (29650-29663)

Once again I must admit that this month has been rather good. Very good in fact. This second half of the novel is so much better than the first half. I guess the first part with Clarissa sitting in her room, arguing with her family, was necessary to introduce us to all the characters, really show what type of person Clarissa is – and what type of persons her family and Lovelace are, as well as show precisely what options women had in those days. It was boring, though. But then she ran away, things started to pick up, we reached the climax of the novel (not narrative climax, mind you, since the biggest event in the novel is only hinted at) and ever since that, it has actually been rather enjoyable to read about Clarissa’s troubles.

When July begins, Clarissa has managed to escape from Lovelace and Mrs. Sinclair’s house. She is writing letters to various people, investigating the stories Lovelace has told her to find out to what extent he has been lying to her. What she finds out, is hardly surprising – to us. He has been lying about almost everything, as she finds out.

She also has to patch things up with Anna Howe after Lovelace having interfered in their correspondence without either woman knowing. Anna is very angry with Clarissa – she doesn’t understand that when Clarissa had escaped Lovelace, why she then returned to London with him but when Clarissa has explained how he tricked her in Hampstead, everything is soon back to normal between the two best friends.

But although Clarissa has finally outsmarted him and has escaped his clutches, she is not well. She is wishing for death after having lost what’s most dear to her – her reputation and moral high ground. She is well aware that she can no longer be the epitome of female behavior since she left her parents’ house the way she did. She doesn’t take on the blame for what Lovelace has done to her but she still feels the wrongness of her actions and it weighs heavily on her mind.

Something that Lovelace simply can’t understand. He is stuck in the country at his uncle’s assumed death bed and he can’t understand her reactions. Since he violated her, it’s not her fault and therefore, she should just get over it. He simply doesn’t understand that she can think herself the worse for what was done against her will and thinks she will forgive him in time.

However, since Clarissa has written his aunt to investigate his stories, Lovelace has to stand trial for his family. Since his entire family are desperate to see him marry Clarissa, they are not happy to see how he has acted and to hear about the way he has been (mis-)treating her. They pity her a lot and decides to try to get her to agree to marry him since that’s the best thing they can do for her. They decide to appeal to Anna Howe to get her to use her influence with Clarissa and Lovelace agrees to marry her if she will have him – although he is still a player: ‘What a punishment would this come out to be, upon myself too, that all this while I have been plundering my own treasury?’ (31144-50)

But while Lovelace’s relatives visits Anna and get her to try to influence Clarissa, Clarissa disappears! At first, no one has any idea where she is. It turns out that she has been arrested, accused of not paying her rent to Mrs. Sinclair. Sinclair and her band of merry prostitutes think they are doing Lovelace a favor by this but he is furious. They want to take Clarissa back to Mrs. Sinclair but she absolutely refuses and is taken to a sort of prison where they visit her often and torment her. Luckily, Lovelace sends his friend Belford to rescue her – and this is the start of a beautiful, though unlikely, friendship.

Belford is shocked when he sees Clarissa – he is shocked by what Lovelace’s actions has led to. Even though Lovelace is not directly responsible for Clarissa’s arrest, Belford still decides to punish him by withholding a bit of information from him for a little while – which drives Lovelace completely mad! (And gives us a rather amusing letter 335.)

Despite everything that has happened, Lovelace still plots. He begs Belford to copy the letters Clarissa and Anna writes to each other. He has no understanding of Clarissa despite his claimed admiration for her and he doesn’t believe she can die of a broken heart. He can’t understand how she can forgive her parents for acting out of character – but not him, for acting completely in character. He doesn’t get that when she sells some of her clothes, it’s both her way of ensuring her independence and because of her firm belief that she will not live long – and again, Lovelace draws a blank: ‘Some disappointed fair ones would have hanged, some drowned, themselves. My beloved one only revenges herself upon her clothes.’ (32959-64) He doesn’t get the severity of this action.

Although Anna urges Clarissa to accept Lovelace as her husband, she completely refuses – and earns Anna’s admiration for this since this is completely in Clarissa’s character. She talks the talk – and she walks the walk! For Clarissa, it’s an easy decision. She has more pleasure thinking about death than about Lovelace – besides, she admits that her pride has not been mortified enough to have him as a husband. Her biggest concern is to get her father to lift the curse, he has inflicted upon her – and with her mother’s interference, she succeeds which is hugely important to her. In fact, she is full of remorse for the way she has acted towards them: The event has justified them, and condemned me. They expected nothing good of this vile man; he has not, therefore, deceived them: but they expected other things from me; and I have.’ (33540-46)

Clarissa is rather settled in her ways towards the end of July. She has had the curse lifted, she is over the shock of what was done to her (or so she claims) and she feels sure, that Lovelace will stay away from her. She has a new friend in Belford and plans on making him the executor of her will. Now all she wants, is a final blessing from her parents.

We do get a rather beautiful letter from Clarissa’s mother, struggling with the expectations of her family and her love for her child. This clearly shows that it is not easy for her and that she would like to do something for Clarissa – but that as long as she can’t, she don’t want to see letters from Clarissa, since it will only upset her.

One huge bomb is dropped towards the end of the July letters – by both Lovelace and Clarissa’s mother. What happens if Clarissa is pregnant? It is not resolved in these letters so it’s a bit of a cliffhanger (imagine using that word when talking about Clarissa?!?) for August. Lovelace says that if she’s pregnant, she will live and legitimate the child. I’m very curious about this.

My main annoyance with Clarissa now, is Lovelace’s letters. They seem to go on and on, sometimes preaching about clothes or other things and it does get a bit annoying.

It has sometimes been a struggle to read Clarissa and I have been doubting if I would actually make it all the way through. But now I’ve read 73% of the book and I can start seeing the finish line. Now, I’m interested in the book, interested in what happens and I definitely plan on finishing in October and I’m actually looking forward to the last third of the book. Hopefully, the last part will live up to my expectations.

Not all other participants in this year-long read-along have fared as well. You can see how the other participants in Terri and JoAnn’s read along are doing here.

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Clarissa in June

June has been rather thrilling, at least for Clarissa. Or well, as thrilling as Clarissa ever gets. Much has been said by me about Clarissa and the struggle it is to finish it, the repetitiveness of it all, the need for an editor and more, but in June, I must say, Richardson stepped up his game. This has definitely been the best month so far! I have actually been wanting to pick up the book to continue with the story and find out what would happen! And that is because June is the month. This is the month everything has build up to and this is month that will definite everything that is to come.

As always, I start by summarizing what has happened this month but in this month, I’ll also draw some comparisons to Wilkie Collins’ novel The Woman in White. I can’t believe I haven’t thought about the similarities between these two novels earlier!

Lovelace is actually trying to  obtain a marriage license but also still trying to test Clarissa’s virtue and he still wants revenge for (perceived) grievances. Lucky for him, there’s a small fire in the house and Clarissa gets scared and he gets to be in her room while she’s in her bed, in her nightie. He allows himself some freedoms which makes Clarissa beg him to leave her – or to kill her, since her honor is dearer to her than her life. He leaves after extracting a promise of forgiveness from her – and is very impressed with her virtue.

Clarissa is shocked and very angry after this. She cares no longer what others think – Lovelace has made her vile to herself. Even though Lovelace thinks higher of her for her resistance, he still thinks she should forgive him as she promised. She writes him that she will not see him for a week – and he thinks she’s scheming and that if she insists on it, he will have her in his own way.

But for once, Clarissa catches a break. She manage to escape from Lovelace and Lovelace looses it, he’s mad about loosing her and even madder about being outwitted by her. But Clarissa’s escape definitely shows how young and inexperienced she is and it’s really easy for Lovelace to track her down and starts weaving his net again, telling stories to the women she’s staying with that will ensure their sympathy for him, not her. Still Clarissa is resisting him with everything she’s got – and her resistance is almost getting to be too much for Captain Tomlinson too. He’s also starting to have second thoughts and to feel that Lovelace is acting wrong when he pursues Clarissa in this way and don’t just marry her. But Lovelace isn’t done. Since Clarissa already resents him so much, he don’t think she can resent him even more for making one last – and final – attempt at her honor and virtue. And then, he wants her to forgive him – out of love for him…

Since Clarissa’s escape, Lovelace has stepped up his game. He has intercepted a letter from Anna Howe and starts faking letters between the two women, thereby adding to his hold on Clarissa. This has been even more necessary for him since Anna has found out that Clarissa has been living in a whorehouse and suspects Captain Tomlinson to be an impostor. He also succeeds in making the women in the house suspect Anna so they will help him prevent her letters reach Clarissa uninterrupted.

He has two women pretend to be his aunt and cousin and they come and visit Clarissa. They persuade her to come back to London with them to pick up her things. Once they’re back at Mrs. Sinclair’s brothel, they slip out and Clarissa is once again completely in the hands of Lovelace and the women in Mrs’ Sinclair’s house.

And now is the time to stop reading if you don’t want to know what happens because this is the key moment of the book.

Lovelace finally decides to put Clarissa to the ultimate test. He rapes her – with the aid of some kind of medication. He is astonished at her reaction. She sinks into a stupor so deep that he fears for her wit. She stays so for a week before she starts getting better. And when she does, Lovelace is shocked by her reaction. She’s not even close to forgiving him – which doesn’t come as any surprise for anyone who’ve read so far. Lovelace’s friend Bedford is even surprised that she has survived what Lovelace has done to her. And all she wants, is to be locked up in a private madhouse.

She tries to escape again and again. She is rather composed most of the time since she now hates herself more than she hates Lovelace, hates herself for not listening to her family and for not seeing his true colors earlier. But she despises him for robbing himself of his wife’s virtue and swears that she will never ever be his wife. He is mortified that she refuses him – but still schemes. Luckily, Clarissa doesn’t fall for his next scheme that would have made her fall in the hands of an even worse brothel madam than mrs. Sinclair.

When this fails and when Lovelace have to go to his sick uncle, he comes up with another huge scheme, involving all the ladies in the house. However, Clarissa outsmarts them all – and makes Lovelace wants her even more. He goes to his uncle and keeps sending messages to her, trying to get her to name a church.

However, when Clarissa is left on her own in the house with no Lovelace, she finally manages to escape. For good, we take it. And she starts writing letter after letter to find out to what extent Lovelace has tricked her. She writes her friend Anna, she writes Lovelace’s aunt, she writes her old nanny Mrs. Norton – and from everyone she hears, that what Lovelace told her was a lie.

So now we’re at a breaking point in the story. Clarissa has escaped Lovelace but she’s not at all well. She has lost what she valued the most, her virtue and the love of her family. I guess the rest of the book is about how she copes with this.

Incidentally, I just want to point out that for a ver very very wordy book, it sure doesn’t spend a lot of words on it’s climax. This is what Lovelace writes to his friend to announce what he has done: “And now, Belford, I can go no farther. The affair is over. Clarissa lives.” (letter 257). You will be in your full right to feel a bit cheated at this point! Still, the letters leading up to and down from this climax, are just amazing. The letters Clarissa writes in her madness just after, are so tragic and full of sentiment, just heartbreaking. I’m almost positive that this novel is actually worth reading!

How come I’ve never thought about the similarities between Clarissa and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins? The Woman in White was published in 1860, about 100 years after Clarissa. But there’s a lot of similarities in the stories (and of course in the epistolary format). In both, a women is kidnapped by a very charming scoundrel – and what my thoughts about the similarities have made me think more about, is the extent to which we can trust Clarissa. And Lovelace. What we know of what happens between them, is all told from their points of view – and can we trust that they don’t embellish at times to make themselves look better? Especially Clarissa, in fact, since she has the most to loose … Is Lovelace the only one to blame for Clarissa’s rape? Is it only naivety and a lack of knowledge of men and the world that made Clarissa think she could trust him – or did she think she had virtue enough to change him? Or was she just so much in love that she couldn’t see straight (Anna has several times tried to make her admit that she had fallen in love with him.)

(I know I didn’t write much about the similarities between The Woman in White and Clarissa but that’s because too much will ruin The Woman in White for those lucky ones who’ve never read it. I did write about some of the common themes in Moll FlandersFanny Hill and Clarissa in my recent post about Moll Flanders.)

These are my thoughts about June – and lo and behold, I’m actually looking forward to reading July’s letters!

You can see how the other participants in Terri and JoAnn’s read along are doing here.

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Wishing for 1000

So I’ve written about my to-read list before (Being Bad and The never-ending to-read pile) but I’ve never written about my wish list. The concept of my wish list is very simple. If I see a book I’m interested in reading, it goes on my wish list. Books go off the wish list if I buy them or – less often – loose interest in them. About 1,5 years ago, I felt like my wish list was getting out of control and I went through it, deleted quite a bit of books from it. And since then, I’ve just kept adding more and more books until just the other day, I realized that I had made it to 999 books. 999 books I’m interested in reading! So I knew I wanted to do something to mark when I reached 1000. I’m just not sure if I want to celebrate it … or cry!

Anyways, yesterday, I read a twitter about John Lanchester’s new novel Capital. I went to goodreads to check it out and, well, it caught my fancy enough for me to add it to my wish list. The book focuses on the people living in one street in London and how the financial crisis has changed their life. One day, a note is dropped into every letterbox saying ‘We want what you have’… So this is the book that’s my number 1000 on my wish list. Cue the balloons and party hats! Or tissues.

What this means is, that my wish list is just as much out of control as my to-read list. And I’m not quite sure what to do about it. Any suggestions? Do I just keep on adding books or do I do a purge of the wish list to see, if there’s any books on it I’m no longer interested in?

I’m still not sure if I want to celebrate or cry – but Capital sounds great! I guess the real question is whether the 999 other books are great too …

Mark Helprin: Winter’s Tale (review)

When I buy books nowadays, it’s always books where I either know the book or the author. If I’m at a bookstore and find a book I don’t know, I always check it out at goodreads before I buy it. But still, it’s very rarely that I walk into a bookstore and find a book where I’ve never heard of either author or book. In the town where I live, we have a small book cafe where they sell used books. I rarely visit there – in fact, I have only been there about five times. One of these times, I saw a book that looked interesting. I didn’t buy it but I went home and looked it up. What I found out, intrigued me so much that I went back, walked straight up to it, took it and paid the very small amount it costed. 50 Dkr – about 8,5 USD. I have never heard of the title or the author before but I’m so happy that I visited that book store and bought that book. Trying not to sound corny, but it was just the perfect book for me.

The book was Winter’s Tale. The author was Mark Helprin. And the book is beautiful, lyrical, poetic, almost like a fairy tale – just amazing. It’s one of those books where you don’t feel like any words you write will or can do it justice but where you just want to shout out to people ‘read this!’.

The story is set in a mythic and fictionalized New York City at both the beginning and the end of the twentieth century. It centers around Peter Lake and the Penn family, especially his love, Beverly Penn. Peter Lake is a burglar from when burglars were still honorable. While breaking into a house, he meets Beverly Penn, an heiress. They fall in love even though she’s dying from consumption. Their love is the thing giving meaning to all of Peter Lake’s life, a life so fantastic and amazing that … well, you just have to read this book yourself.

And we must not forget Athansor, the huge white horse. Every scene featuring Athansor is heartbreaking, beautiful, touching. Athansor is a sort of protector for Peter Lake, a horse with incredible powers. He can run and jump faster and longer than any other horse and, oh yeah, he can fly. There are some harsh scenes that will be nasty to read for any horse lover but the beauty of Athansor is well worth the heartbreaking scenes.

This is one of those books where after you’ve read it, you read other reviews because the plot is so complex and enchanting that you’re looking for a way to summarize it without giving too much away but also, without just writing some nonsense which tells nothing about the book at all but makes it sound boring and uninteresting. I’m really not sure how to sum up the novel because there’s so much content in it and the complexity of the storyline is incredible. So that’s why I went looking for someone who could sum up this novel – without finding it. It’s something that must be felt, I think.

The writing in this novel is part of it’s attractiveness. Overall, it’s just beautiful. I could post any number of quotes, attesting to the gorgeousness that is Helprin’s writing. But since I always write very long reviews, I thought I’d tackle two things at once and show how he writes and choose a quote that talks about something else I want to address. Since this novel involves people sort of traveling in time – at least existing across quite a lot of time, Helprin of course has to address the matter of time.

‘If nothing is random, and everything is predetermined, how can there be free will? The answer to that is simple. Nothing is predetermined; it is determined, or was determined, or will be determined. No matter, it all happened at once, in less than an instant, and time was invented because we cannot comprehend in one glance the enormous and detailed canvas that we have been given – so we track it, in linear fashion, piece by piece. Time, however, can be easily overcome; not by chasing the light, but by standing back far enough to see it all at once. The universe is still and complete. Everything that ever was, is; everything that ever will be, is – and so on, in all possible combinations. Though in perceiving it we imagine that it is in motion, and unfinished, it is quite finished and quite  astonishingly beautiful. In the end, or, rather, as things really are, any event, no matter how small, is intimately and sensibly tied to all others.’ (p. 401-402)

So all time exists at the same time, if you can even say that. We are only to see one part of the time but people like Peter Lake, Beverly Penn and others are capable of more. They have a completely other vision of the universe than ordinary humans, they are larger than life characters and they live in a novel where time, life and death, love and divine beings are making humans capable of more than they thought. It’s about the limits of human experience and unlimited love. It’s an amazing metaphysical novel that has been put on my favorite shelf immediately after finishing.

There is so much more in this novel that I haven’t touched upon. Characters that will make you love them or break your heart. Peter Lake, Beverly Penn and Athansor will stay with any reader for a long time. Whenever you look up at a starry sky, you’ll try to see what  Beverly Penn saw – and ultimately, you’ll just return to the novel again to read about her visions, about Athansor, about Peter Lake, about love and the building of bridges.

  • Title: Winter’s Tale
  • Author: Mark Helprin
  • Publisher: Harcourt Books
  • Year: 1983
  • Pages: 748 pages
  • Source: Own Collection
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5

Peter Høeg: De måske egnede (Title in English: Borderliners) (review)

When you have children, you find out that you have so much to learn. Not all of it makes sense at first. One of the things I’ve had to learn, was how to praise my child. That if your child has climbed high up on top of something and she says ‘look at me’, you’re not supposed to say ‘oh how good you are’ but rather, ‘oh look how high you’ve climbed!’ You do this to praise the action, not the child itself, so the child doesn’t think it has to do such things to have value. I think.

In part, this novel is about this. About how we value each others, how we evaluate children and students. It’s about three children, Peter, Katarina and August. Peter was orphaned at a very early age. Katarine has lived through her parents’ suicides. And August has been the offer of so much abuse that he finally snapped and killed his parents. They all attend Biehl’s Academy, an elite private school in Copenhagen, but something’s not quite right. All three have lost their parents and especially August are a troubled child. A troubled child that doesn’t belong in this particular school. So why is he there?

Peter and Katarina quickly discovers that there’s a plan with the school, there’s a plan with the students accepted to the school, with how the school is run. Trouble is, they don’t know what the plan is and they are not really allowed to talk with each other so they can figure it out. It’s pretty clear that it’s some kind of social experiment, some kind of attempt to prevent what you can call social darwinism. The school wants to take all the children, including the troubled ones, and bring them up and into the light, so to speak, by enforcing a very strict discipline. But if you choose a strict principle and stick to it no matter what, the result can be devastating even though your intention was noble in the first place. Especially in the school system if you forget that students are individuals and should be treated as such – and hitting children never do any good.

One of the things Peter and Katarina focuses on, is the question of time. How time changes depending on the situation you’re in. The importance of pauses. What lies between the lines. How there’s never been made a watch that’s precise, and what it does to you to have your entire life completely structured – and to be punished if you’re just a bit late.

This novel is slowly paced but then, all of a sudden, things happen. Crazy, painful, jarring things that makes you stop and go back and read it again to see if you really read what you think you read. And you did and your jaw drops – and then, the novel resumes it’s slow even pace and things proceed nicely and quietly. The chronology is also jumping from various points in the past to the present, making you have to stay focused all the time. I think that’s one of the reasons the slow pace works in this novel. In it’s pacing, I think it shows some of the points the narrator, Peter, makes about time. How suddenly events happen that change the way we live in time, the way we experience time. When these violent events happens in the book, you too are violently dragged into it and have to feel the immediacy of the action. Just for a few sentences. And then things slow down again and you can relax into the text once more. One of the things Peter wants to examine is if time moves faster when you’re not paying attention and I think the way Høeg wrote his book, is an example of this. When the jarring events occur, time stops for a little while – you are forced to focus and pay attention, and then, you read one and time starts flowing by again.

One thing I really love about this novel is the relationship between the grown Peter and his small daughter. How he has a hard time relating to her because of the abuse he has suffered throughout his life, the way the system failed him and he was too old before he had proper role models. But together, they find a common ground and she, perhaps, helps him most of all by just being a child, being pure feeling and reaction. She tries to bring order to her universe by listing all words she knows. She doesn’t get time at first – no children do – so she tries to understand it through other subjects that she does know. I think this relationship between father and daughter are beautifully rendered in it’s fragility.

The narrator in this book is named Peter Høeg, the same as the author. Every school and institution the narrator Peter Høeg talks about in his novel excluding Biehl’s Academy, are real and Peter Høeg has stated that the novel was the most autobiographical of his works (at that point). When it was published, it was taken as an attack on the Danish school system from a man who had experienced the worst of it himself. But later, Peter Høeg reveals that the adoptive parents in the novel are in fact his real parents, that the only autobiographical elements in the book are his first and last name, his year of birth and his parents. Which means that the novel is about him – but at the same time, that it’s not necessarily about him at all. Peter Høeg has never lived anywhere else than with his biological parents. Even though he claimed in interviews that where the institutions were real, the events taking place were also real. But with the case of the fictive Peter Høeg getting punished by having his head stuck down in a toilet, that did happen – just not to him – and so on.

The things that did happen, are instead the things that take place on the fictive school. Biehl’s Academy is called Bordings Friskole in the real world and here the author went to school for nine years – and how the teachers hit the students on a regular basis and that Peter was kicked out of school at age 16, is true – among other things.

This means, that this book is a blur between fiction and reality. There used to be a sort of agreement between readers and authors that either everything in a novel was true or else, it was false, fiction. This agreement is no longer in existence. Now authors take parts of their life or others’ lives, and use it as they see fit. In Denmark, we have seen several examples of this. And it seem to make some people angry – on the point of law suits and of people being persecuted in the medias, loosing their jobs etc. Peter Høeg does it in this novel – other examples are Knud Romer’s novel Den som blinker er bange for døden and Jørgen Leth Det uperfekte menneske (apparently, neither of these has been translated to English).

For me, I love this play on reality. I think that this challenges the novel and explores the possibilities of combining fiction and reality in ways that we have never seen before. It doesn’t diminish the worth of the novel in any way. Rather, it’s the authors’s attempt to express themselves and their creativity and vision in ways they see fit. And Peter Høeg does this so very well in De måske egnede (which by the way is a much more appropriate title than the English Borderliners since the Danish title plays on Darwin’s expression of ‘survival of the fittest’.

  • Title: De måske egnede (Title in English: Borderliners)
  • Author: Peter Høeg
  • Publisher: Gyldendals Bogklubber
  • Year: 1993
  • Pages: 277
  • Source: Own Collection
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

Clarissa in May

So Clarissa and I are still getting along. Somewhat. Or at least I’m still eaves-dropping on all her letters as well as those from her friends and others. I decided to try a different approach this month. Instead of trying to read the letters on the appropriate days, utterly failing and then playing catch-up for the last few days of the month or maybe in the first days of the next month, I  instead spent some days towards the middle of the month, reading nothing but Clarissa.

I’m still not quite sure about Clarissa. I mean, I like it when I read it (for the most part, that is) but when I put it down, I don’t particularly want to pick it up again. So that’s why I just wanted to read it in a few days and get into it instead of reading some pages every day but not really wanting to. And I must say it worked. I really enjoyed the few days I spent reading nothing but Clarissa.

Even though it’s not like Clarissa been up to a whole lot this month – she’s still living in the same house, still trying to figure out what to do.

In May, we got to read letters 161-219, so quite a few letters. We start of right after the disastrous dinner party where Lovelace lost a lot of the respect Clarissa had got for him. However, the dinner party has made all of Lovelace’s friends love her and they think it would be a shame and a pity to to ruin a lady liked this, a lady in whose fall none but devils can rejoice. Lovelace, however, still thinks she has to pay for her behavior at the dinner party and since he thinks that a woman of education will not yield before she is attacked: ‘There may possibly be some cruelty necessary. But there may be consent in struggle; there may be yielding in resistance.’ (16401-6) Oh, he’s so not a nice guy.

Clarissa tries again to patch things up with her family – she has Anna Howe try and reach out to them. Anna writes Mrs. Norton to have her talk to Clarissa’s mother but the answer is not positive: ‘we are stripped of our ornament, and are but a common family! Can the willful lapse of such a child be forgiven?’ (17255-60). Both the attempt to establish a better standing with Clarissa’s mother and favorite uncle fail.

Clarissa now knows that there’s nothing to do besides patch things up with Lovelace since marrying him is her only option. Yet she still argues with him. I do understand why he is annoyed with her at times. Especially since his pride can’t stand that she’s not equally in love with him and therefore, he wants revenge. I also think that Clarissa could solve the entire situation if she knew more about the world and of men, she could fix it all and make Lovelace love her for ever if she just showed him a little kindness.

Lovelace’s friends keep urging him to do the right thing and not do her brother’s work for him by ruining her. Lovelace’s uncle, Lord M,  also writes to Lovelace’s friend Belford because he and his family worry about her safety and Belford really tries to get Lovelace to stop all his tricks and just marry her.

After Lovelace has staged a conversation between the women of the house (the brothel) and himself, making sure that Clarissa overhears it, things are better between them than ever. But Lovelace still schemes, he steals her letters – and he gets so angry when he reads what Anna writes about him, so angry that he would love to break Anna’s spirit. Things go a bit downhill from here and the women in the house urge him to try greater familiarities with Clarissa, since things can’t possibly get worse between them. He tries but can’t bring himself to do it – even though she says she hates him. Still, his thoughts are not exactly kind:  ‘/…/ I can marry her when I will. And if I do, after prevailing (whether by surprise or reluctant consent), whom but myself shall I have injured?’ But even against his will, he is impressed with her when she stands her ground and talk about how matters shouldn’t go further between them if she hates him.

However, they patch things up and he does seem in earnest about wanting to make her happy. But it mortifies his pride that he would still rather live single than with him. Especially since he wants a wife who worships him and do his every bidding with a smile – including sending him her maid if she thinks he will like her…!

So he wants to try a few more tricks and see if he can have her before making her legally his. He makes himself sick to draw her to his bed. If she shows compassion, he will too. And it worked – she was concerned and cared. However, what he doesn’t know is that Clarissa feels very uneasy and feels like she exposed herself to him. She’s still unsure about whether she should leave him – especially since Anna Howe may have a contact that can give her a safe place to stay.

But now, something happens. A captain comes to their house and he scares Clarissa a lot. However, it turns out that he comes with a message from Clarissa’s uncle Harlowe. He wants to patch things up between them and later with the rest of her family. Clarissa is extremely happy – she talks about how wonderful it will be to be welcome back at Harlowe place and be able to bring Lovelace with her. But – it turns out that this is another trick: The captain is not real. I was so shocked by this! I thought he was real and that there maybe was a chance of reconciliation. So instead of things looking better than ever for Clarissa, they actually look worse. And that’s where we leave her in May, convinced of her future happiness but instead, things look darker for her than ever before.

There have been a few really good letters this month. I so enjoyed reading Uncle Anthony’s courtship letter to Mrs. Howe – and almost just as much reading the letter from Anna Howe to Clarissa, telling about the conversation she and her mother had had about it. This side story is a nice and humorous detour from the main plot that can be a bit same-same.

Still, I actually really enjoyed spending time with Clarissa this month. Even though I really liked the idea of reading each letter on it’s corresponding date, I don’t think the history really works being read that way. It need to be read more closely together than that so in June, I’ll try to read to it all together as well.

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