Saturday, 22 January 2011


Pandora in the Congo by Albert Sánchez Piñol (2005)

"This story began with three funerals and ended with one broken heart."
Thomas Thomson is a young man hired to write the story of a man jailed for murdering two Brits in the Congo. The tale the prisoner, Garvey, tells is fantastic and Thomas has no problems believing every word of the story and the man's innocence. Garvey explains how he happened to go to the Congo with the two sons of aristocrats, the way they treated their bearers and captured new ones, how they found the mine and how one day a tall weird white man came from the depths of the mine and then trouble began.

"My grandfather knew what he was talking about. The white men always do the same thing. First, missionaries arrive and threaten hell. Then, the merchants come and steal everything. Then, the soldiers. They're all bad, but the new arrivals are always worse than the ones before them. First came Mr Tecton, who wanted us to believe in his God. Today the merchants appeared. And soon the soldiers will come up. I don't want to be here when they arrive."
The link between the prequel Cold Skin must be humanoid monsters living in remote parts of our world, but there is no direct link between the books, they are set in different places and even time.

It took a lot longer to get in to this book because it focuses a lot more on the writer and his present-time and not just on the story. I didn't realise the importance of this before the very end, which is why this book is so brilliant. It is less thrilling, but the story is definitely much better than the prequel. I'm really looking forward to the last book in the trilogy which hasn't been published yet.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011


Cold Skin by Albert Sánchez Piñol (2002)

"We are never far from those we hate. For this very reason, we shall never be truly close to those we love. An appalling fact, I knew it well enough when I embarked. But some truths deserve our attention; others are best left alone"
A young man has taken up a post as the sole weather observer on a remote island close to Antarctica. When the ship arrives on the island, they can't find the man's predecessor, but find a lunatic man, Gruner, in the light house, the other building on the small island. The young man is looking forward to a year in solitude. But then the night falls on the first day and the reptile-like humanoid monsters arrive from the sea and the survival instinct takes over.

The young nameless man (I can't decide if he is a hero or not) quickly realises that he won't survive outside the lighthouse, and after a lot of struggle, Gruner finally lets him in and they coexist with little talk and the nightly struggle against the monsters. Gruner also holds one female monster as a slave, even having sex with it. The monsters are erratic in their attacks, but they seem to multiply in numbers each night.

The story is very gloomy, the only hope they have is to survive until the boat returns in a year, but they are running out of bullets and the monsters are getting cleverer and cleverer. And the men are getting more insane by the day.

But the book is really exciting, I read the 230 pages in a few hours because there is no boring moment in the book and I just had to know if they survived. I have already started on the sequel, Pandora in the Congo, and is really curious about what the link between the books is.

"February 25
They have finally appeared, and in great numbers. Our daily ration of ammunition is six bullets and we were forced to fire eight."

Monday, 10 January 2011


City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende (2002)

"Kate and Alexander were flying across northern Brazil in a commercial airplane. For hours and hours, they had been seeing an endless expanse of forest, all the same intense green, cut through by rivers like shining serpents. The most formidable of all was the color of coffee with cream. "The Amazon River is the widest and longest on earth; five times greater than any other," Alex read in the guidebook his grandmother had bought him in Rio de Janeiro. "Only the astronauts on their way to the moon have ever seen it in its entirety." What the book didn't say was that this vast area, the last paradise on the planet, was being systematically destroyed by the greed of entrepreneurs and adventures, as he had learned in school. They were building a highway, a slash cut through the jungle, on which settlers were coming in and tons of woods and minerals were going out. Kate informed her grandson that they would go up the Rio Negro to the Upper Orinoco, to an almost unexplored triangle in which most of the tribes they were interested in were concentrated. The Beast was supposed to live in that part of Amazon."
Alex is forced out of his comfortable life in California when his mother has to undergo chemotherapy and he has to go live with his eccentric black tobacco-smoking and vodka-drinking grandmother for a while. She is a journalist and is going to the heart of Amazon to search for a legendary creature named the Beast - not very different from the Yeti apparently, and Alex has to go with her.

The book is meant for young (13+ I would say) readers, so the language is simple, but also very detailed. The characters, from Kate, the eccentric grandmother, to the suspicious-looking Indian who was hired to fan banana-leaves for the award-winning anthropologist with a slight phobia for anything that moves. It is definitely a thrilling adventure, maybe a bit predictable for adults, but I think the target group will love it. It should also raise awareness for the environment and biodiversity. I already know which students I will recommend it to.

It is also the first book in a trilogy about Alex, the other ones are set in Asia and Africa, I had to buy them at once I found out that it was a trilogy.

Friday, 7 January 2011


Great House by Nicole Krauss (2010)

Four different stories, set in New York, London and Israel are linked together by a desk. A desk that has travelled around the world, from author to author, and is ever present in the life of the current owner of it.

The narrators of the stories are all lonely and somewhat resentful people. It took me a long time before I was able to follow the writing style of the book, and then I really enjoyed it. I found the first part, called All rise to be too detailed and very close to giving up after it took me a very long time to read the first fifty pages. My favourite part was definitely Lies told by children and I wish this was also included in the second part of the book. I also enjoyed Swimming holes while True kindness was too resentful for my liking.

And of course the chapters end when they are at the most dramatic peaks. I decided, while reading the book, that I need a big antique desk when I get a great house on my own.

Sunday, 2 January 2011


the Kindness of Women by J.G Ballard (1991)

After being released from the internment camps in Shanghai in 1945, Jim, a teenager, moves to England, a country he is unfamiliar with despite being English. He studies to become a doctor at Cambridge, but drops out. He goes to Canada to train as a NATO pilot, but is asked to leave after breaking the rules at the airbase. Back in England he settles in a small village called Shepperton with his wife and three children and starts to write books. But then his wife dies in a tragic accident in Spain. Jim is raising three children on his own while visiting the world of his more eccentric friends.

This is a part fictional, part autobiographical work where all the main events in J.G Ballard's life are included. It is also a sequel to Empire of the Sun and the terrors of the war in Shanghai is ever present in Jim's adult life. He never feels home in England, at least not until he becomes a father. He is also drawn to the darker side of life of his much more eccentric friends; testing LSD while being filmed, watching the making of a pornographic film which includes a girl and a dog, and staging an art exhibition about crashed cars.

I like how well Ballard writes about awful and perverse things. What I didn't like about the book is that the first part of it was more or less a shorter version of Empire of the Sun but with a different angle. I'm glad it is some years since I read that book, so I didn't remember the exact details.

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