Time for Bed, Miyuki by Roxane Marie Galliez, Seng Soun Ratanavanh (Illustrations)

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“Miyuki, it’s time for bed.”

“But, Grandfather, I must water my vegetables.” “All right,

Miyuki,” Grandfather sighed.

“Water your vegetables, and then it’s time for bed.”

Miyuki may well be creating a Canopy for the Queen but she is the Queen of Stalling. This beautifully illustrated children’s bedtime book is a French import with Japanese culture as its theme. Having lived in Japan, it’s imagery is a reminder of the years my family and I spent there. Miyuki is one of my favorite names too. There is such a gentle tenderness, a patience in her grandfather and this illustration in particular moves me.

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(Image copyright Seng Soun Ratanavanh, 2018, text copyright Roxane Marie Galliez, 2018. Courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.)

My daughter used to stuff her little feet into shoes just like the one that becomes Miyuki’s bed in the above photo, long after she outgrew her favorite pair. The mushroom, the details in all of the illustrations are perfection. I miss fun, sweet illustrated children’s books.

Like most children when it’s time to wind down, Miyuki’s imagination is running wild, her energy is contagious and lucky for her, Grandfather is more than willing to go along on her journey, accomplishing her many tasks. His soft sighs are the only tell that he is worn out. It really isn’t time for bed, no way, not yet.

The carp streamers (windsocks) known as Koinobori, that she sits upon in one of the illustrations dominate the towns during Children’s Day in May. I remember the beautiful colors the first time we saw them, isn’t it lovely, a day to celebrate children? This book is a nod to nature and it’s elements too. Lily pads, dragonflies, frogs, snails for travel, tiny birds, ants hard at work… its perfect imagery for a little one’s mind before entering dreamland. Growing up in the late 70’s and early 80’s children’s books had the best illustrations, I am so happy to see such artistry dedicated to the young today.

I am going to find a copy in French too for my grown children, it’s very sweet!

Out today!

Princeton Architectural Press

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When Your Eyes Close by Tanya Farrelly

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The images shift between his life and the unknown.

Nick Drake has always had a taste for alcohol, but now he is so far gone that if he can’t get it under control, the doctors will refuse to put him on a transplant list and this is do or die! With a divorce behind him, life has had its difficulties, and with AA failing to help maybe hypnosis is the key. As he closes his eyes during a session, his life is swallowed by memories of someone else. Soon the visions playing in his head turn into to a blood filled nightmare about another man and his family, a man who may well have been a murderer. Surely this is some confabulation in his mind, this can’t be real! But what if it is? What if these are someone else’s memories, or his own from another life? They feel as real to him as his own.

Michelle is Nick’s girlfriend, she has known something is terribly wrong, that he was keeping things from her, but she never could have imagined the wild truth. There is another woman, but one that may have been Nick’s child, when he was someone else, in another time. This person is real, Caitlin is a solid, living breathing reality, not just some fantasy he conjured while under hypnosis. She will find a way to help dig into Caitlin’s life, because if Nick’s ‘memories’ under hypnosis are make believe, how come the people in them existed, the child now fully grown, a violinist, very much alive and real. Getting to know Caitlin seems all too easy at first, even if at times a wall comes up, or things don’t pan out, she refuses to give up, she’ll do anything to help Nick pull through because if he has a chance to get better, Caitlin is the key.

Caitlin’s husband disappeared a year ago, she has received a call from man saying only that he is still alive and not to try to find him. She has built a life for herself, despite the mystery surrounding David’s disappearance. Stranger still are the odd messages on social media. Her friend Andy has been an oak through the long days of not knowing what happened to David, but can she really trust him? Is he just trying to take David’s place? Now there is a strange new couple, Michelle and Nick in her life and some things about them seem a little too coincidental. She likes Michelle, wants to trust in her new friend, surely they couldn’t have nefarious plans, they couldn’t be the ones sending her messages, though they happened at the same time as she bumped into  Nick for the first time, which he claims not to remember, says didn’t happen. Caitlin is schooled in controlling her emotions since her traumatic childhood, and doesn’t trust anyone nor take what they say at face value. As Michelle tries to ease into Caitlin’s life, to help Nick get answers, Caitlin isn’t so honest and forthcoming and is fishing for her own clues about Nick and Michelle.

With Nick wanting nothing more than to make right by Catilin this time around, they begin to dig into her husband David’s disapparance, never imagining it could endanger Caitlin, that maybe she has her own secrets. Reaching into Caitlin’s childhood past, Michelle finds an aunt who knows more than she ever told about Caitlin’s youth.  Then there were David’s secrets before he vanished, that begs more questions. What Caitlin remembers and confides to her new ‘friend’ Michelle doesn’t quite add up to what they know for fact, nor the memories haunting Nick’s mind. It could be a defense mechanism, but what if there is more?

Are some things better left alone? If Nick wasn’t meant to act on these memories, why is he having them at all? Someone has secrets, what began in blood could very well end in it.

Told in shifting perspectives, it’s easy to know that nothing is simple. It has a supernatural bend with Nick channeling a murderer that may have been him, in another life. But it’s also a psychological thriller with damaged characters, the past definitely catches up with people here. It is a story with a decent twist, though it crawled in places. I would have enjoyed it more if I was only in one character’s head, being in all three underwhelmed me because I never felt close enough to anyone but the very idea is enough to sell the story. It is a unique twist on what could have been a bittersweet story of past life, which we’ve read before, here we have a fresh, sinister spin on things.

Available Now!

HarperCollins UK

HarperImpulse

 

 

Ponti: A Novel by Sharlene Teo

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The distance between where she was and the glossy point where she wanted to be stretched and stretched. 

In Ponti, Szu lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa’s otherworldly beauty and small diminished fame. ” I marvel for a split second at the unfairness of genetics, mysterious spirlas of DNA coiling and cohering into life sentences: You will be plain. You will be beautiful. You will repulse mosquitoes. You will have an iron gut. You will be sickened by crabmeat.” Amisa’s career never took off with the promise her beauty once held. Having left her small village for bigger things, she works hard and falls in love with Wei Loong, they marry and she works full-time at the Paradise Theater until she is discovered by filmaker “visionary” Iskander Wiryanto. She has the perfect beauty, like a mask, exactly who he desires to play the Pontianak (folklore, a ghost of a woman who dies in childbirth and preys on men, in the form of pale beauty, long dark hair) in his films. We follow Amisa through the making of the film, witness to the ‘bloom of her ego’ even in the face of grief for her losses back home. Playing the Ponti takes it’s toll on her, the filmaker difficult, pushing her harder than she can stomach, not as enraptured by her sexually as all men are. Three films in, and her shining star dims, the movie becomes a cult classic, but of the times no one is interested in superstitions nor films about ghosts. The parts dry up, Wiryanto no longer needs his beautiful ghost and life with Wei Loong leads to just another part, of poor housewife. It isn’t long before she is pregnant with Szu, and feeling dreadfully close to her own mother and the life she trudged through. Amisa is more like a ponti now than a starlet. Wei Loong leaves before Szu turns 8, and then it is three, Szu, Amisa and Auntie Yunxi.

Aunt Yunxi and Amisa earn their living as fakes, mediums who ‘trade in hope’, milking the desperation of their clients. It’s necessary to con people for their survival, what with her tragic mother more a ghost of a woman, sleeping away her life. Szu is a misfit and completely friendless, until she befriends Circe. The two of them ‘citizens of nowhere’, feel unique, bonding over their discontent with the world. For Circe, the allure is Szu’s mother and mysterious aunt, even in their ugly home, there is a pull. Jump ahead to 2020, Circe’s team is going to be working on promotions for the new re-make of Ponti, hence “it feels like a can of Amisa-shaped worms has been opened.” The reader is dragged through time, guest to each character’s perspective. Szu, once seeming so bitter, strong, solid begins to fade, retreat into herself.  Something many female relationships wrestle with is the discomfort of familiarity, seeing too much of yourself in another. Sharlene Teo exposes this uncomfortable bond perfectly, there is a pull and push between Circe and Szu, a sort of marriage. They feel warm and cold toward each other, until Circe can’t stomach Szu, when Szu needs to be anchored most to the here and now! “She started wearing her hair in a bubble ponytail just like mine and mooched  about my house all day drinking gallons of diet coke and draping her sadness over my things.” It’s too much heavy sadness, Szu is dwindling, and she isn’t going down with her!  Circe wants to be young, fun, free and this friendship is suffocating, she needs to shake her off, shake off this stale depressive air. Circe of the present day isn’t sure she wants that Szu back in her life, and is surprised to hear of a Szu who turned out differently then she imagined.

Szu doesn’t really hate her mom, she hates that she wants her love and never gets it. That her mother was more a phantom through her entire childhood, never happy to play her part in her real life role. What is more melodramatic than a fallen star? Despising all the ordinary living that remains. How did Amisa, so beautiful, so alluring allow her promise to fizzle out? How could this woman, who as a young girl showed so much grit and courage by venturing into the city, the unknown to become something more, simply surrender? Auntie Yunxi is the bones of the household, maintaining the only structure in Szu’s life. But she is a mysteriously strange woman herself, and where is Szu’s father? Is she right in blaming her mother, for chasing him away being like a Ponti, a threat to his happiness? When he makes an appearance again, after life turns tragic, he has some truths to unveil.

This novel is disquieting, because the real ghost here is grief, blindness, and starry eyes. It’s about the whims of fate, beauty isn’t always a promise of anything solid either, you can’t bank solely on dreams nor a face. It’s giving up and closing your eyes to what you have, haunting your own future and destroying those nearest you in the process. It’s a child trapped by her mother’s shadow, who sees nothing but disappointment reflected back at her, a girl who hungers for the love she will be denied even from the grave. It’s clinging to another person for dear life, because they are a sort of stand in for the mother/daughter bond. Circe and Szu represent that awkward hunger girls have for connection, and how easily it can turn monstrous and all you want is your freedom. The Ponti in this story isn’t so much about the folkloric ghost, the more terrifying creature is Amisa, and what she allows her disappointments to do to her future.  She was so sure her beauty signled her out for more, made her special and she simply retreated from life when it knocked her back to earth. Szu follows in her footsteps for a breath of time, devoured by her own form of grief, like a disease. I found this to be terribly sad, heavy to carry.

I admit I was disappointed by the ending. I felt the story was a gathering storm, waiting for a climactic moment (big things do happen throughout, in their own unassuming way, with death) but I was waiting to be a part of Circe and Szu’s reunion, which was more hinted at. It never culminates. The writing is gorgeous, it’s an emotional upheaval which is strange considering there is a great distance between all the characters. There is an air of detached coldness, but it seems more a defense, Szu isn’t as strong as she seems. Her anger is a wall. Maybe it’s true that grief  ‘makes ghosts of us’ and that is part of why Amisa is more a suggestion of a mother, having lost someone dear to her early on. I am mixed on the novel, this is a talented writer but again I kept waiting for the big ending. Despite the aforementioned issues, the novel itself is beautifully written.  Circe is haunted by the past friendship, and years later carries the burden of her reaction to Szu as she began falling apart. It’s a complicated look at friendship, unwanted motherhood, dead dreams  and the terrible ways we allow certain moments to define our lives, for better or worse.

Sharlene Teo is one to watch. I am wildly curious what her next novel will be about.

Released Today! September 4, 2018

Simon & Schuster

The House in the Hills by Rowan Hanlon

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The house stood out but it didn’t brag. It stood back from the street and wowed passersby with its unintentional difference but didn’t necessarily invite them in. While not standoffish it didn’t really care one way or another if you liked it or not.

This novel wasn’t what I expected. The house of Marc and Harmony’s dream is more nightmare than fairytale. From the beginning it doesn’t bode well, it’s cheap for a reason but once Harmony is cajoled by Marc to give the home a chance, she is wooed by the beauty within, such as the perfect kitchen that fits the needs of her life as a food blogger. Like most folks, if an ‘amazing’ house is super cheap you know there is a catch, either an infestation of rodents, insects or ghosts! All joking aside, this house has inhabitants of the paranormal sort. Marc admits, maybe just maybe it’s cheap because… someone died. But hey, people truly do die every day and we have to die somewhere right? But what if the ‘death’ wasn’t some natural passing from old age or illness in bed but possibly domestic in nature?

Oh and did he mention, the guest house on the property comes with a tenant? Just what a young couple needs! A pretty young actress, Darcy Flynn. Upon meeting them, she eyes Marc and asks “Who’s this tall drink of water?” But don’t worry, she promises Harmony she won’t sleep with him. Really, very big of her!

Don’t feel too bad, our Harmony has her shameful guilty secrets too. Things begin to happen, Harmony starts hearing and then seeing apparitions, and questions her sanity? Marc thinks it’s just her nerves, in that patronizing way of his, shrugs her off. Of course, maybe there is even more to the ‘domestic’ story than he lets on. Strange in this day and age Harmony didn’t look into the house from the start. But she starts to piece things together and Marc just has that ‘hey ok, maybe I didn’t tell you everything’ attitude.

The character who gives the novel some life is her elderly neighbor Josephine, another southerner like Harmony (who hails from Tennessee). Two peas in a pod!  Josephine is a self-described big mouth and far more interesting than the young and beautiful characters that should be center of the novel. She is more interesting than the ghosts too, in fact I wish the story was all Josephine. Why are people always trying to shut little old folks up when they are trying to give us all the dirt on our evil homes? Seriously, let them talk- you might just learn something!

Marc, half the time you just want to throttle him. Everything is a secret with him, no harm done right? Guilt by omission doesn’t count, right? Lawdy lawdy! What if it could cost you your life?

I think for me I have read really horrifying stories that are hard to compare to. I got to the point where I didn’t care if they were in danger or not. Marc and Harmony were equally screwed up and self-centered, their marriage was more terrifying a prospect than any earthbound souls tormenting them. It’s a fast read, again Josephine is salvation for a story that would have otherwise remained flat. It was okay but not as haunting as I wanted.

Available now

Reverberator Books

How to Set Yourself on Fire: A Novel by Julia Dixon Evans

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The world is a wall of heavy noise. I want to take a big breath exactly as much as I want to stop breathing.

Sheila’s life isn’t full, she spends much of her time listening to Torrey, her neighbor Vinnie’s daughter, grow up through the walls of her apartment, working dead-end jobs with zero ambition, and dodging calls from her mother. Rosamund, her Grandmother, has just passed away and left behind a shoebox full of letters from one Harold C. Carr. A shoebox  her mother doesn’t know she has, letters she was meant to bury to honor Rosamund’s wishes. Sheila’s father is a distant memory, her mother nothing but a headache. With the sad truth that she was never close to her grandmother, the mysterious letters reveal a sad affair that began with her mother’s (a child at the time) destroyed beloved doll and the hard truth about the difficult life Rosamund couldn’t dare leave, not even for love. Sheila is consumed by her grandmother’s past, easier than dealing with her own painful childhood and the black hole where her father once stood. The lover’s letters aren’t the only missives she builds stories upon. There is the UPS man , Jesse Ramirez’s dropped personal letter that sits in a ziplock in her nightstand drawer. A letter she cherishes and cannot return to him, as she should. A line she memorized, a feeling she wishes someone felt about her, is like a drug that fills her lonely heart. The job was her last-ditch attempt at normalcy, her therapist gave her ‘mild’ meds. “I hated her for calling me mild.  I hated how she could posit to measure feelings on a chart, in a table, with a thermometer.”

When Vinnie and his daughter Torrey suffer a tragedy, Sheila slowly begins to befriend the young girl and it’s painfully and beautifully awkward. She is beyond rusty when it comes to people, relationships. Her grandmother’s affair saddens her, knowing the choice she made and how her life played out, that she is the legacy, a mess of a granddaughter, directionless, unable to anchor anywhere. Her family has issues with bonding, unable as a child to dare ask her mother where her father is, why he isn’t in their life any longer. Her mother always a bit cold, distant, unable to be the sort of mother we all hope for. Sad more for never really knowing her grandmother than about her passing, her mother trying to contain what she sees as her mother’s ‘shameful’ secret by not honoring her last request, unaware that through the letters Sheila knows everything. There is a moment in the novel when Sheila sees a picture, a favorite of her mother’s with her own parents, one that shows how much Sheila and her mother looked alike as children. She says “It almost hurts how much she looked like me. I want to be as different from her as possible and she wants to be as close to me as possible.” The lines are a gut punch, and hint at the damaged mother/daughter relationship. Nosing through her grandmother’s letters, she begins to understand her own mother’s relationship with her grandmother Rosamund.

Working temp jobs, she has a special gift for working even that system. She isn’t exactly respectable, in fact seems to struggle with being an adult altogether. Interacting with Vinnie after an accident involving his ex-wife, her tasteless questions expose her social ineptidue.She doesn’t mean to be so ridiculously clueless, such a mess.  I spent so much of this novel cringing from her behavior, which is why I loved it so much. It’s hard to relate to perfect characters, I have a weak spot for the wounded, for strays. I adore the relationship between she and Torrey. Torrey is happy to join the quest in finding out if Harold is still alive, if Rosamund’s letters to him still exist. Unlike other fiction, it stays in the realms of reality, where not everything turns out the way you expect it.

Through Torrey’s savvy, there could be a way to locate this Harold, but like Torrey tells her when she proposes the idea and Sheila isn’t ready, ” You’re weird. You do things weirdly.” Sheila is a strange bird, her inheritance is pretending everything is normal as the roof caves in. For me, the letter she cherishes that isn’t hers to hoard, that belongs to the UPS man, that is like a drug for her says more about her state of loneliness and need. It leads to a strange obsession that is important to the novel, yet not the entire center of it. It is through Torrey she starts to abandon her quiet life, begins to see the real problem lies within herself, even if her mother shoulders a fair amount of the blame. At what point do we move on and stop blaming others for who we have become?

Vinnie is important too, they begin a relationship too, minus strings and while he is mostly on the periphery of the story, he has his big moments, particularly toward the end. The most important relationships are between all the women. The bonds are imperfect, but there could be room for healing.

A moving story about a woman who is stunted, until her grandmother’s past affair and  precocious young neighbor inject life into her. Lovely.

 

Available Now

Dzanc Books

In the Name of the Children: An FBI Agent’s Relentless Pursuit of the Nation’s Worst Predators by Jeffrey L. Rinek, Marilee Strong

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“To handle the horrors we must deal with on a daily basis, many in law enforcement become hardened and compartmentalize their emotions, which has its own deleterious effects. I was not able to do that, nor could I stand at a clinical distance and rely on some technique or one-sixe-fits-all theory of criminality and remain untouched by the horrors I saw.”

During his 30 year career working as a FBI agent, Jeff Rinek witnessed the most vile crimes against children from sexual abuse, torture, abduction, murder and child abuse, sometimes from their family members. I had to read this book in parts, human depravity is beyond belief at times and I had the option of putting it down until I could catch my breath, Rinek and other’s in his line of work don’t have that privilege. I have the utmost respect for the brave men and women that work in this particular field. Not many have the stomach for it, and it isn’t surprising that the work he has done has stayed with him, for how could it not?  This is the stuff of nightmares, but Rinek isn’t writing in the vein of sensationalism. This is a man who has kept every victim and their families within his heart, everything he has experienced has touched his own wife and children. Jeff shares not only the horrific cases he has helped solve, but the troubling ways it effected his family life. How could he not be overwhelming concerned for the safety of his own sons, having seen the darkness that befell so many innocent children? How could he sleep peacefully at night with the images of crime scenes floating in his mind, just as horrible the confessions of child molesters and serial killers thundering in his ears? It’s impossible to truly separate the two worlds.

Jeff Rinek had a way about him that made the criminals feel comfortable enough to confess, I think it is most evident in his dealings with Cary Stayner. Not many could keep their emotions in check enough to empathize with someone who has committed monstrous acts. I know when we label something evil or monstrous it makes it impossible to understand how someone can commit such atrocities and maybe prevent them, but it’s hard not to feel this way. Without his ability to reach into whatever humanity resides in the criminal, we may never know the truth. It is important to be able to understand the psyche of man as much as we can, whether we’re repulsed or not. It matters to the victim’s family, particularly when bodies are missing. Maybe there is truly no such thing as closure, maybe the ‘knowing’ is more horrifying than what the mind can imagine, but living without answers is to be further victimized.

In reading about these tragic, horrifying crimes, it made me think about why it is so important for people to report crimes that happen to them, or things they witness that don’t sit well within them. Nothing truly happens in a bubble, and often in abusive relationships, be they physical or sexual, often men or women go further in victimizing others, especially children (the most helpless and vulnerable of us all). The hard truth is, if someone has harmed you, you aren’t the first, nor likely to be the last. One of the most shocking realities is how often child molestation is enabled by other adults, such as wives. I’m not surprised children don’t come forward more often, the feelings of shame involved, the stigma boys in particular (especially as they become adults) are met with in coming foreward about sexual abuse is heartbreaking. I’m reading another book right now about Evil, it’s more from a  psychological standpoint, but when I read true crime books, or listen to a victim recount their harrowing experiences it is damn hard to want to understand the psyche of criminals. How do you remain removed from cases, its human nature to empathize, particuarly being a mother or father yourself. Of course seeing the body of a child that has been defiled in every way imaginable one would think of their own son or daughter, fear would be rooted inside your being. Rinek dealt with the worst of human nature, how could he not imagine the worse if a phone line home is busy, or his child doesn’t get off his bus?

The violence, ritualized sexual abuse, physical, and mental trauma, torture the children suffered under the ‘religion’ Allen Harrod (their own father) started is as hard to stomach as every story within yet it is with the tenderest of care Rinek, along with others, helped the children find their strength to seek justice and have kept watch over the children long after the case ended. The bravery of Harrod’s eldest daughter in coming forward is incredible, though shocking that it took her going through three different police agencies to get anyone to look into the matter. Without her, who knows how long Harrod and Labrecque’s crimes would have continued, under the guise of religion. Much like the people involved in seeing justice served, it’s gut wrenching to know the truth of how the children suffered, but worse to imagine being the children involved. Human depravity is boundless but it’s knowing the children (their victims) will carry not just physical evidence of their nightmare for the rest of their lives, but have to cope with PTSD, have to navigate the world without an example of healthy family relationships, and in a sense deprogram from what for them was ‘normal’  that remains with you long after reading their story. That these things happen in our so-called ‘modern times’ is worse than any fictional horror I can conjure. You don’t have to be close to the case to feel the frustration and anger at the justice system, how easy it seems for criminals to continue their abuse once captured, still victimizing everyone involved through ‘legal manipulation.’ Then there is the game of going to trial. Evidence is a peculiar thing, what is left out as to not ‘prejudice the jury against the defendant.’ Ridiculous in many cases, such as pictures of adults raping children in this situation shouldn’t it be admissible, doesn’t the victim deserve to see justice served? It’s one thing to hear it, but when there are photos to back the child’s confession, well? Statute of limitations is infuriating in and of itself, if a child comes into adulthood and finally has the ability to seek help, to expose the abuser only to find out they can’t be charged anymore, how is that just? Something is certainly broken. It’s hard not to feel like children don’t matter enough, it certainly feels like criminals often get a slap on the wrist, are released only to commit even more gruesome crimes. But I feel heartened that men and women like Rinek work hard for them, it seems to even the balance, at least a little.

Retired now, Rinek remains just as passionate about making the world a safer place for children and for us all, as he did when he was working full-time. He has remained in contact with the children victimized by Harrod and Labrecque. It is obvious his job was his life, and he is the sort of agent the world needs, someone who puts all of his being into solving crimes, and caring for the victims. It’s hard to review this type of memoir, because it comes from a deeply personal part of Rinek’s life. It’s enough to say that if you can’t even read it, because it’s our natural instinct to close our ears and eyes to terrors, imagine how the victim’s loved ones feel, how the men and women in law enforcement have to go home every night with the knowledge of such horrors branded in their minds. It’s important to be a voice for those who have been silenced, and to see those who have harmed children caught, so they can’t leave more families destroyed.

This truly is an unflinching look into the life of FBI Special Agent Jeff Rinek and how his job effected every facet of his life.

Out today!

BenBella Books

 

Wait, Blink A Perfect Picture of Inner Life: A Novel by Gunnhild Øyehaug

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What a typical situation that she should try to understand and understand and that everything should have meaning and more meaning, but that the only understand she could get was from a pair of eyes on the back of a book, or the stars over the mountains at night- it strikes her as she sits there with a book in front of her,  and the walls suddenly feel like walls and the ceiling feels like a ceiling, as sometimes happens when the magic of the moment when you feel there is hope disappears and all that remains is this: walls, and ceilings, and walls and ceilings. 

A story of intersections, this first English-language translation of award-winning Norwegian author Gunnhild Øyehaug has  gorgeous writing, the challenge may lie for some readers in how the novel flits from one character to the next. There is no denying the insights into each life, emotional states, longings, hopes, and regrets. The narration was difficult to transcend for me, which is a shame because the depths the author goes to in exploring what is happening in the hearts and head space of her characters is flawless. Take Sigrid, there is much amusement in her thoughts about the vulnerability of women in film and literature, and I’ll be damned if the whole oversized male t-shirt tidbit isn’t, in fact, true. The most important musings are really about her feelings for the author’s photo on a book and the fact that later in the novel they meet. Film director Linnea struggles with the frustration of what she wants to express in her films, the impossibility of it all, as with many of her wishes in life, as if met only by an insurmountable wall. As she longs for Göran, he too, asleep beside his wife, wishes he were in Copenhagen . Then we cut to Trine, the performance artist, regretting the aggression of her latest ‘artistic expression’. Why has she allowed herself to love someone? How will motherhood affect her art?

Then we flash back ten years ago to Viggo, crashing on his bicycle. Falling in love, trying to ‘unwind out of himself’, and then a loss all the while pondering on Dante. The novel does a lot of hopping around, which can lose some readers. There is a lot of thoughts about films, and the female’s role in them throughout, certainly something to chew on. A ‘quarrel’ between the characters Käre and Wanda about the relationship between the Bride (Uma Thurman) and Bill, a movie that has a lot of arse-kicking women, and how ‘conventional’ her admiration of Bill seems to be. But why is she, really, so bothered by this scene, why does it birth fears for her own relationship with Käre? Jealousy eats at her, though she is a sort of superwoman, strong-minded, like any other human being she has her weaknesses.

This book is steeped in self-reflection, Linnea longing over a past affair, when her mind should be on her film, Trine struggling with her art, now a mother, self-doubt overwhelming her, a sort of love triangle between Käre, Wanda and Sigrid. Käre isn’t sure of his own heart, but when he is, there is nothing for it, sometimes you have to break hearts for happiness. Then there is Viggo, lots of trembling for our Viggo, a character I enjoyed, and just who is this Elida, the fishmongers’ daughter dreaming of being in Viggo’s strong arms, treasuring his lost tooth ten years later? Maybe there are some happy endings here within, ” And one would wish that everything was like that, always. But then things always slide, out and out!” I wonder if there are other novels by Gunnhild Øyehaug that aren’t as populated, that doesn’t move too fast when you just begin to dive into the telling, begin to cozy up with the characters because her writing really is provocative. It’s simply a matter of feeling overwhelmed and dizzy with not being still long enough, and the narrator, thinking much of the time what is up with the narrator? Aw, it all makes sense at the end, but still… I’m not sure every reader will have the patience, I don’t know if something was lost in translation, or if it’s the style that makes it difficult to flow with. I enjoyed it, but keeping up was a chore at times. I would like to read another novel by the author because she clearly has a lot to say about love, the female role in life, and the general struggles we all face, how we are often in our own way.

Available now

Farrar, Straus and Giroux