Emily St. John Mandel – Station Eleven

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Station Eleven was a very ambitious novel depicting the collapse of society as we know it. A deadly flu virus breaks out and nothing will ever be the same again. The novel spans several decades and is told from different perspectives. We get to meet an actor who dies on stage, a comic book writer and a Traveling Symphony. What I found most intriguing was the immediate reaction of the characters as the crisis enfolds. We stay mostly with one character at that time and his experience is quite harrowing. His state of disbelief and panic but we also see him springing into action, still unsure if it’s an overreaction. What follows is a very minute drama; we see the world collapsing, and his world with it. Especially this part was written so well, that I could feel the fear and doubt, the apprehension. Part of the novel is a meditation on what remains of yourself once everything else is stripped away. No friends, no family, no partner, no more of my house, my job, my profession. As this character walks through the snow in a world forever changed, the mantra of his existence changes from:

“My name is Jeevan… I was a photographer”

to simply

“Keep walking”.

Even though some parts were not perfect, I still enjoyed the novel. This last quote to me really sums up the feeling (realization?) that I had while reading the novel:

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Elizabeth insisted. “Are we supposed to believe that civilization has just come to an end?” “Well,” Clark offered, “it was always a little fragile, wouldn’t you say?”

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Joe Meno – The Great Perhaps

This is a quirky and wonderful novel about family life and all the craziness that comes with it. The father, Jonathan, a palaeontologist who passes out when he sees clouds, is struggling to find a giant deep-sea squid and with it his place in the scientific community. His wife Madeline, a behaviourist, who is studying pigeons, is following a man-shaped cloud in her car. Also, Jonathan and Madeline might possibly be separating. Their teenage daughters, the revolutionary Amelia and the obsessively religious Thisbe (who’s is trying to keep everyone alive by praying), are meanwhile busy building pipe bombs, baptising stray animals, falling in love and fighting capitalism. Lastly, their grandfather, Henry, is trying to disappear, from his retirement home and possibly this earth and:

“…what follows is both astonishing and quite ordinary.”

What’s linking these isolated characters is, that they all are dealing with different forms of fear. And so all the uncertainty, the pains of growing up, of making an impact and finally growing old and saying goodbye, each of these phases entails demons but also beauty. “It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful because it’s complicated. Because there is not one thing. There’s not one thing that makes sense of everything.” This was suggested to me by Aidan.

Haruki Murakami – Kafka on the Shore

I did not like this. It started off really great and I actually really liked the dark atmosphere of the first half of the book. The mystery of the children passing out was quite intriguing and the story of a boy who runs away from home was catchy and well written. But then things quickly got ugly. A 50 year old women has sex with a teenager, the same teenager later rapes the same women and it is all ok because hey, it’s a dream in a novel where people can talk with cats. Things like that are not ok just because it’s magical realism. So it definitely left a weird aftertaste. Even though the mood might be intriguing, there were just too many passages about his penis and weird sexual thoughts about (potential) family members. I wouldn’t mind the depiction of rape as such, but here the characters didn’t really agonize over it, it was just something „they had to do“. there was no depth to it. Also, nothing added up in the end, so i think I need a break from Murakami.

Marlon James – A Brief History of Seven Killings

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A brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James wasn’t really brief and contained far more than seven killings. I must say that this was not an easy read. Told by numerous characters (mostly in Jamaican patois) the story that unfolds over 688 pages of fine print consisted of a lot of bloody gang violence, political turmoil and the attempted assassination of Bob Marley. I had my difficulty with this novel, especially the language was extremely hard to understand and I felt that I would have to read it again, just to understand it in its total complexity. There were definitely some characters that I really cared about and whenever it was their turn to speak I was fully engaged with the story. Also, the author managed to paint a very authentic (or so i assume) picture of Jamaican politics. I am definitely looking forward to the HBO series that is being created based on this novel, I think it could be great. One quote that stood out:

“Who want peace anyway when all that means is that you still poor?”

Chigozie Obioma – The Fishermen

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The novel is told from the perspective of one of the (now adult) brothers and can be read in many ways. On the surface it is the story of a family, the father takes on a job in another city and the dynamic of the household changes drastically. Then one day the brothers receive a deadly prophecy and their lives are forever changed. But the story is also a snapshot of Nigerian politics, a fairy tale, a fable, a crime- and coming of age story. Many times Obioma is questioning the prophecy through his characters but he still leaves room for imagination. Even though a sentence like:

“you are all doing this to yourself because of your fear”

seems rational at times, at others I found myself being drawn into his mystical world of curses and visions and am not so sure what to believe.

Teju Cole – Open City

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I have rarely read a book that has made me feel such a range of different emotions. While reading (actually I had to force myself to read it) I felt I couldn’t connect with the storyline. It just seemed like the main character was stringing together meaningless observations. He met strangers, he went to Brussels, he expressed opinions on political matters. It was also extremely uncomfortable to be with the main character, his life seemed so lonely, so devoid of true emotions.
My opinion about the novel did however change drastically when I got to its rather disturbing end. Then everything made sense. The way the story was told, the lack of emotion, the shreds of memories from his past. I now feel that Teju Cole has written a very brave and important book, describing rather perfectly what for so many women is a sad reality.
From now on I will never judge a book until I have finished it.

Jonathan Lethem – You don’t love me yet

I found in the little bookstore just down my street. I must admit that I haven’t really read anything by Jonathan Lethem before. Years ago I had read the beginning of The Fortress of Solitude but back then it wasn’t my thing. I will give it another try now, considering I really liked this novel. It was a quirky blend of music, sex and kangaroos. So quirky that at times it reminded me of Miranda July. The story was almost soapy, like the literary equivalent of a mumble core movie. What I liked most about it were the descriptions of Los Angeles:

“[…] the largest inhabited abandoned city on earth.”