Monday, 14 November 2016

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Our female protagonist has an affair with Claude, a seeming debonair raconteur. Of course, he’s neither but the sex is good. The narrator knows. He’s the foetus. The book begins “So, here I am, upside down in a woman." John, the father, is a nuisance plus he’s rich and the solution for Claude’s financial difficulties. Kill John. 
The foetus’s vocabulary is impressive. His third sentence reads, “My eyes close nostalgically when I remember how I once drifted in my translucent body bag, floated dreamily in the bubble of my thoughts through my private ocean in slow-motion somersaults . . .” You get the drift. Talk about sophistication. Nevertheless, I went with it, suspended my disbelief, hated Claude, felt sorry for the mom, (and the foetus,) and wondered about Paul and I kept wanting to know more.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

"A Man Called Ove" by Fredrick Backman

A more principled fictional character is hard to find.  Ove has a gruff exterior that is difficult to understand or get to know.  He is exactly the kind of individual who few befriend and even fewer employ.  Yet, the rewards of a friendship could hardly be greater.  The Indian woman living next door who couldn’t drive a car yet had to care for her two children and an inept husband discovers it.  His wife seemed to know when she first met him.  His best friend enjoys Ove’s company for years until he purchases a BMW.  For a right thinking Swede such as Ove, Saab is the only vehicle of choice and worst among those other choices would be a BMW or, God forbid, a Toyota. 

My dad was very principled.  Back in the days of the Cold War, he used to say that, without principles no form of government is going to work. And, he was big on rules.  Ove is also big on rules.  Heaven help you if you happen to drive into his residential area.  Cars aren’t allowed and he’ll chase you down on foot if you do.  Or display incompetence.  Say, you’re fixing a bike and he happens to see you struggling.  He’ll either show you how to do it or dive right in and do it for you.  But, don’t expect to thank him or seem grateful in any way.  That’ll just make him angry.  Or save your life. A simple thankyou or nod in his direction will suffice.

Surprisingly, for a man of principles, Ove is surprisingly tolerant.  He hates cats but when a stray shows up at his door, he grudgingly feeds it, then gives it shelter, then basically takes it wherever he goes.  His tolerance would extend to people as well.  Sure, he may ask gay men if they’re bent however should one be in need of assistance, they are few others he could better turn.   

This is a terrific book.  Funny, insightful, heartwarming and strangely more relevant today than ever in a world of where the media cares more about the sensational and meaningless than things that really matter and make a difference.  People like Trump even though he lies.  Is he really a man of his word?  When he promises to pay his contractors what they’re owed?  Does he worry about the livelihood of the tradesmen who might otherwise not receive their wages?  Is he a man of principle?  Does it matter? Thankfully, there’s always characters like my dad and Ove, working in the background, making the everyday happen without recognition or fuss.    

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

"Victoria" - crime, thriller available on Netflix.

It wasn’t until about an hour into the movie until realized it was being shot in real time with one, handheld camera.  In fact, the entire movie was shot in real-time using that same, handheld camera. The movie begins with a lonely Victoria at a nightclub where she meets Sonne and his three buddies, Boxer, Blinker and Fub.  Fear not, those of you who hate subtitles, most of the dialogue is in English.  Victoria is a Spaniard who knows little German even though she’s been living in the country for four years.  Sonne and his pals will converse in German if they don’t want Victoria to know what they’re saying. Romantic feelings develop between Victoria and Sonne.  Then. complications arise when gangsters call in a favour from Boxer that must be paid in full, that night.  Naturally, circumstances necessitate the inclusion of Victoria.  The action sequence that follows is riveting like few I’ve seen before. It’s truly masterful.  

Monday, 1 August 2016

"Barkskins" - Annie Proulx's latest novel about the forest

A lot of people die many of them you won’t care about. Also random deaths.  There’s a lot of those
too.  Over and over again in many different forms; disease, infection (there’s more than one of those) and accidents (again, lots of those, and one (ho hum) heartattack.  Few of the characters are sympathetic, except of course, the indigenous peoples and forget about rooting for them.  Mostly, it’s a story about the forest.  It begins with seeming infinite expanses that eventually get reduced to what we witness today. 
The story involves two families, the Sels who are indigenous and live in harmony with the forest and the Dukes, who exploit it.  One lives in poverty or close to it.  The other with incredible wealth.  The one happy and then torn from their indigenous roots by policies such as the establishment of residential schools.  The other unhappy with a lifestyle that would be the envy while still wanting more.  All the while, the forest, the lifeblood of our world is quickly disappearing.  This is a story about two lifestyles, one that lives in harmony with the forest and the other that believes it to be infinite and meant only for the exploited for its wealth.  A book to be read to learn about the history of the Canadian lumber industry rather than entertainment.