So here we are again. January is over even though it feels like it has just begun. I read somewhere that as we grow older, it feels like the days go by faster because we notice fewer things each day because we have already experienced most of the day to day things and as long as nothing stands out, it all just flows by us. January has been one of those months that has just gone by without too much fuss. It has been the darkest month in more than 40 years in Denmark and so has been a tough month to get through – but even though it felt like we would never get through it, suddenly it is just all over.
For some reason January always feels like a good reading month for me. I think it’s because it feels wide open and full of possibilities and opportunities. I still have all year to complete my reading goals so I can read whatever I want. Still, it feels important which book is the first in the year and this year has definitely come off to a good start. I started off with The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb which was really good and which is responsible for introducing me to what will probably become a new favorite (fantasy) author. Fitz and the Fool and all the rest of her wonderful cast of characters will definitely stay with me and I can’t wait to not only go back into their world again but also meet up with them again.
I still have to post the review of the last book in the series but I will – and soon.
In addition to this trilogy, I read three other books this month. Two novels and a non-fiction. I really liked Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life. It seemed like a book that started as a writing exercise but where the author discovered that this exercise could be so much more than just an exercise and turned it into a really fascinating novel about determinism and how to live life right. Equally good but in quite a different way was Sonali Deraniyagala’s book Wave about her loss of her entire family to the 2005 tsunami. It was a heartbreaking book and her grief was palpable on every page. It was a difficult book to read but it was beautiful at the same time as it seemed that she used the book to keep her family alive.
Monica Ali’s untold story on the other hand didn’t quite work for me – in part because her portrayal of Princess Diana didn’t feel true to me.
So I ended up with having read six books this month and more than 3000 pages so I’m glad that I have been able to commit the time to these great books. Here’s a list of the books I did read this month and with links to the four reviews I got around to writing.
Notice something special about this list? Yeah, it’s all women writers. And not because of the #readwomen2014 because I only just read about that the other day. I decided to start the year with Robin Hobb’s fantasy series not because she’s a woman but because I was looking forward to reading it. While reading it, I read an article about a women who had read only women writers for an entire year and had concluded that it wasn’t enough to just read women writers but you had to choose good and different female authors too for it to really count. And I thought to myself that it could be fun to do a month of reading female authors only and so far, I’m enjoying myself a lot. So much so that I’m continuing this way of reading and that I’m going to write a blog post about reading only female authors.
So yay me for jumping on a band wagon I didn’t know existed… Funny how so often when you feel like you’re just a tiny bit original, everyone is doing the same thing.
I changed everything, so I thought everything would be different. And nothing was. Not really. Not different enough, anyway. I always had someone to blame before. I’ve run out of culprits now.
Do you remember where you were on August 31, 1997? Of course you do because that was the day Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris. I was out celebrating the beginning of a new year of studying at university and when we heard that she had died, we didn’t believe it and went searching for a newsstand that could tell us if it was true or not. Tragically, it was.
It seemed so unbelievable that this beautiful and vibrant woman, this princess, could be killed in this way. And apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought so.
In Monica Ali’s book untold story, Princess Diana suffers a near-fatal car crash but what kills her – or rather allows her to escape her gilded cage – is an accident while swimming. Her body is never found, presumably it was eaten by sharks. So with the help of her former private secretary Lawrence Arthur Seymour Standing, she disappears in Brazil, have plastic surgery, changes the way she speaks, starts wearing brown contacts and begins a new life under an assumed identity. She relocates to USA and moves around a few times before settling in a small town called Kensington – of all things!
Here she makes a life for herself. She makes friends and she get a job working at dog shelter. She gets a boyfriend and even though she aches and hurts for her boys and devours everything the tabloids write about them, she survives.But her peace is severely disturbed when a man arrives. A man she recognizes as one of the paparazzi who used to be stalking her. The question is whether he recognizes her as well.
The book is told from three different points of view: from Diana herself aka Lydia, from her former private secretary Lawrence Standing and from the paparazzi, Grabowski. Monica Ali tries to explain both why Diana chose to leave her children and her life behind, and how she did it. Her princess Diana is emotionally unstable, is desperate to be left alone one minute and actively seeking out the paparazzi the next. She sees herself as being a destabilizing influence on her two boys and she’s afraid that the Royal family is out to get her and that if she doesn’t either kill herself or disappears, they will have her killed. She’s living a very self-destructive life and she can’t continue like that. And so, she disappears.
Now, I know that princess Diana’s circumstances were extreme but still. I have a hard time quite accepting that she would leave her sons. Ali presents her as a loving mother and that was my impression of her as well. But even if you are willing to accept that she leaves the boys, she just didn’t feel real to me. I recently read Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader about Queen Elisabeth the Second and her development as a reader, and this book made me like the Queen a whole lot more and even made me feel something of a connection to her – even though the book is not really about the real Queen. This book didn’t make me feel any connection with Diana which is weird since I’ve always liked her and felt sorry for the way she was treated. She didn’t seem like a very sympathetic character and the entire plot just seemed far-fetched. There were simply too much disbelief that I had to suspend. It seemed too unrealistic that one of the specific paparazzi who chased her, would stumble upon this small city in the US while editing a book about his pictures of her to memorize the 10th year anniversary of her death. I’m not sure either that this old and extremely intelligent former private secretary would actually help her escape – especially as he knew she would never see her boys again and how much that would hurt her. And I don’t think the general public would accept that she simply disappeared with no trace and then believe that she had died. The public sided with Diana and they would definitely not have allowed the Royal family to bury an empty hearse and claim she was dead without proof. Ali has to explain why this was accepted – and in my opinion she doesn’t do a convincing job.
Add to this, that Monica Ali’s Diana is nothing like mine. Now, I know this might be a fault with me. I had just turned twenty when she died so I might have been too naive and she might have been too good at manipulating medias and thereby have caused me to believe that she was this sweet innocent woman who had been caught up in a stock-upas well as old-fashioned family who resented her and made her life hell. I do realize that she made mistakes too and that she tried to play the medias to secure her position in the hearts of the people as their Queen of Hearts – which she succeeded with, I think. But she just seem too much a manipulative bitch in this book and I can’t quite get the two images of her to melt together.
So while the premise of this book was definitely intriguing, the actual execution didn’t live up to my expectations. I was hoping for a powerful ending that would have made me like it just a tiny bit more but instead, the climax felt out of character as well and the actual ending was a bit too open for me.
Oh my. I’m definitely guilty of this. I often buy books that I’m desperate to get my hands on – and then, they just sit on the shelf, sometimes for years, before I get around to reading them… It’s silly, really. Or maybe not because the chance of me reading them is bigger when I actually own them than if I first have to go out and buy them. Of course, this approach means that I have a list of 200+ books which I own – and haven’t read yet … So this week’s Top Ten list is right up my alley – the difficult part is actually to narrow it down… As always, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.
Erin Morgenstern: The Night Circus. I think I have mentioned enough times how excited I am about this one and how scared I am that I’ll end up not loving it…
Benjamin Hale: The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore. I was so intrigued by this one when it came out. Still am. Just haven’t read it yet, for some reason.
J.K. Rowling: The Casual Vacancy. So this one, like the first two books on this list, are books I put on last weeks list of Top Ten Books at the Top of my Spring 2013 TBR List so hopefully, I will get around to reading this one very, very soon. I’m really curious to see what J.K. Rowling can do with something outside the Harry Potter universe!
Monica Ali: Untold Story. I was so excited about this one that I had my friend buy it to me when he visited Copenhagen and Denmark’s best bookstore, Politikens. Of course, that didn’t mean that I actually read it…!
Margaret Weis: The Dark Disciple Trilogy. Yes. This one is rather embarrassing. Not only did I buy one book and then let it just sit and gather dust on a shelf, I bought three. On three separate occasions. And two of them in hardcover because I just couldn’t wait to read them…! So I now have a trilogy where the first and third volume is in hardcover, the second volume is a paperback (and not even a pretty trade paperback) and I have owned them for years and haven’t read them … Silly, silly me.
Steve Martin: An Object of Beauty. I love Steve Martin. I think he is hilarious. And I’m interested in art and fascinated by the art world so of course I wanted this book. And then – just nothing. Never have gotten around to actually reading it…
Yann Martel: Beatrice and Virgil. I looooooved Life of Pi so when Yann Martel published this book, I had to have it immediately. And then … well, it got some bad reviews and I just never read it. Still want to. Someday.
Per Højholt: Auricula. On September 7th, 1915 at 4.09 pm there was a sudden silence all over Europe. 9 months later, a lot of women gave birth to a child – and an ear. The ears go out in the world and visits artists like Kafka and Duchamp. Højholt spent 23 years writing this book apparently and it just sounds weird and quirky – and I want to read it! Bought it years ago – never got around to doing anything but putting it on the shelf…
Anne Rice: Christ the Lord – Out of Egypt. When I saw this, I was so excited. Anne Rice of vampire fame writing about Jesus. I just had to own it. And since – meh. I’ve kind of lost interest in this one. I hope that I will pull myself together and read it – but it’s not looking good so far.
Ali Smith: There but for the. A man locks himself in a room in the house where he attends a dinner party – and he refuses to leave. Soon, he becomes some sort of phenomenon because everybody want to know about the man who has locked himself in a room in someone else’s house. I think this sounds like a fun plot with lots of potential to turn into something really special