Danya Kukafka – Girl in Snow

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Danya Kukafka – Girl in Snow

No morning routine for janitor Ivan: on his tour around the high school premises he finds the body of Lucinda Hayes, golden girl and now dead. It does not take long to identify possible murders: Ivan first of all, it hasn’t been long since he’s out of prison. Cameron Whitley, the boy from next door who has been stalking Lucinda for quite some time. Jade Dixon-Burns, a slightly overweight outsider who openly hated Lucinda. Mr O. the art teacher who was seen with Lucinda’s diary. Officer Russ Fletcher’s first murder case comes to a very bad moment, his wedding is all but ok and additionally, Ivan is his wife’s brother and Cameron his former partner’s son. How can he objectively investigate this case?

Danya Kukafka has chosen a well-known topic for her debut novel: the murder of the popular teenage girl. Even though many have written about this, she manages to create something new and singular. She provides us with the narrators who tell the story from their point of view and thus slowly unfolds the tragedy of all the three of them – it is not that much the victim herself whom we feel sorry for in the end but much more those three. The author succeeds in creating outstanding characters who really have to tell a story which I found actually from one point on much more interesting than the question who committed the deed.

Let’s start with Jade. From the outside she seems to be the hateful reclusive teenager who is difficult to love due to her negative attitude. Yet, behind this surface, we find a thoughtful girl who has experienced domestic violence, who has to work several jobs in her free time and who lost her best friend Zap to Lucinda. They were really really close, almost could read each other’s thoughts but when they get older and the interest in the opposite sex arises, Zap rejects her mercilessly and in a most offending way which leaves scars forever. Jade has never been popular, often was the victim of bullying, but this rejection breaks something in her. And makes her especially sensitive for other people’s emotions.

Russ, on the other hand, is caught in a conflict. He has a bad conscience for what he has done years before – he always backed his partner, even when he knew that this was not right and when in doing so he was hurting others, especially Cameron and his mother. Is this the point to correct a mistake? However, his mind is also dancing around his wife Inés and how he never really understood her. Do they actually know each other? He doesn’t have a clue about her past in Mexico and doesn’t know how she spends her days. He wanted to make her happy and give her the chance to stay in the USA, but can this, what they have, still be called love? Was it ever love?

Last comes Cameron. He is strange and odd. He is talented in drawing but his obsession with Lucinda is not only weird but morbid. He observes her, spends hours in the evening and night outside her house looking into her window. He even breaks into the Hayes’ house one night and watches her sleeping. He is a bit creepy, but he is also the boy whose police officer father was accused of murder a couple of years back and who has been living only with his mother. As soon as the suspicion falls on him, everybody remembers what his father was suspected of. Cameron does not know what his father has done or hasn’t, but he strongly fears that there is something bad running in his veins. This keeps him from thinking clearly in this situation. And the fact that he has seen the body, doesn’t help to rescue him from being the prime suspect for the reader, too.

The development of those three narrators who tell the story alternatingly gives the novel much more depth than I had expected. Apart from the big question of who is the murder, there are many smaller questions circling around the characters which keep the suspense constantly high. It is not a typical murder novel you cannot put aside due to the high pace and high suspense, no, it rather slowly unfolds and provides you with a complex psychological network of emotions and memories.

C.E. Morgan – The Sport of Kings

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C.E. Morgan – The Sport of Kings

The saga of a family. A family whose life is linked to the soil on which they live and to the horses they breed. John Henry Forge raises his son Henry in the tradition of the white settlers of Kentucky. The supremacy of the white race is never questioned and on the family farm, the roles are clearly ascribed. Young Henry has a dream, already when he is just a small boy, he sees their land as the perfect place for breeding horses, but his father will hear nothing of this. When he takes over the farm, his chance arises and he becomes one of the best in the business. Yet, not only in horses is it important to take care of the blood line, he also chooses his wife with care and thus can produce the perfect white child: Henrietta. Like father like daughter does she grow up learning about the white race’s authority and rule. But times are a changing in the 20th century and creating the perfect race horse and the perfect daughter might not be enough anymore.

C.E. Morgan’s novel has been nominated for most of the important prizes for literature in 2016 and 2017: It has been shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017, for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2017, for the James Tait Black Fiction Prize 2016; it was finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2017 and won the Kirkus fiction prize 2017 and the Windham–Campbell Literature Prize 2016. It made the second place on the BBC books of the year 2016 list. Coming with so much glory, the expectations were high and the author easily matched them.

To say what the novel is actually about, is not that easy. Quite logically considering its length, there is a lot in it. First of all, the Forge family. The way the children are raised, the relationships between the generations but also between the spouses are interesting to observe in the way not only they are at a fixed moment in time – I really pitied young Henry when he wanted to share his dreams and visions with his stubborn father – but also how they develop over the time, here Henrietta plays the most important role. Even though she is a woman and as such by nature inferior to men, she can take over the male role and successfully lead the dynasty. But there is not much affection between the characters. It is especially Henrietta who realizes that she is lacking love and warmth and since she has never learnt how to express her feelings, she seriously struggles in getting involved with somebody. It is the women who struggle most with society’s expectations and their inner feelings – not only at the beginning, but also after the year 2000:

“The irony was bare and bitter and unavoidable: she was a woman, so she was a slave to life. Never before had she understood the brutal actuality of life in a body she didn’t choose. (…) Women invited death when they let men inside their bodies! Why did they do it? Love couldn’t possibly be worth it.”

Apart from the humans, the breeding of the horses plays a major role in the plot. I am not into horses at all and know almost nothing about these animals. But it is fascinating to see how close the characters get with them, how they observe details and can communicate with and understand them Also the idea of breeding the perfect race horse is quite appealing and interesting. Admittedly, would I have been asked before if I was interested in the description of a horse race, I certainly would have disagreed, but I was wrong.

Last but not least, a major topic is also slavery, resp. the formal abolition of it but the remaining prejudices in the heads – of the whites as well as the blacks. Even in the year 2006, equally has not been established. There have been improvements, but due to inheritance, a family name and the like – unfortunately not only in literature.

Apart from the plot, it is also C. E. Morgan’s masterly writing which makes reading the novel a pleasure. To tell the stories of the different family members, she finds an individual tone for them. John Henry is reserved, unkind and rather factual. Young Henry is full of childish amazement and effervescent until he becomes the head of the family. Strongest are the women, first of all Henrietta, but also her mother Judith and the housekeeper Maryleen and Allmon’s mother. She gives them a voice and especially thoughts they share with the readers which make them really come to life. She finds metaphors as well as comments by the narrator which sometimes even addresses you directly. The tone is serious at times, funny at others, sometimes sad, rarely joyful – just as life can be.

Jane Austen – Mansfield Park

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Jane Austen – Mansfield Park

Anlässlich des 200. Todestages der großen britischen Autorin war es mal wieder Zeit für einen ihrer Romane, tatsächlich der einzige von ihr, den ich bisher nicht gelesen hatte: Mansfield Park.

Fanny Price wächst in einer kinderreichen und verarmten Familie auf. Ihr Onkel Sir Thomas Bertram holt sie in jungen Jahren nach Mansfield Park, um dort mit den Cousins Tom und Edmund sowie den Cousinen Maria und Julia aufzuwachsen. Die vier Jugendlichen behandeln das Mädchen nie gleich, aber sie hat Zugang zu Bildung und lernt das gesellschaftsadäquate Verhalten ihrer Zeit. Als junge Erwachsene beginnt die Suche nach Ehemann und Gattin. Edmund, der einzige der Verwandten, der sich stets für Fanny einsetzt, plant seine Zukunft als Pfarrer und Mary Crawford hat er als seine zukünftige Braut auserkoren. Deren Bruder Henry hat offenbar Gefallen an den Bertram Schwestern gefunden. Überraschend macht er jedoch Fanny einen Heiratsantrag, den diese sehr zum Ärger ihres Onkels und Cousins Edmund zurückweist, denn Henry Crawford ist eine ausgesprochen gute Partie und weit über ihren Möglichkeiten. Um sie wieder zur Vernunft zu bringen, schickt man sie zurück zu ihren Eltern.

Über die Bedeutung Jane Austens in der britischen Literatur gibt es nicht mehr viel zu sagen. Sie porträtiert die Sitten ihrer Zeit und zeigt unverblümt ihre Absurditäten und Schwächen auf. So auch in Mansfield Park, wo der schöne Schein nach außen und die Frage des Einkommens die entscheidenden Elemente bei der Partnerwahl sind. Nur die junge Fanny hat einen Sinn und Auge dafür, welchen Charakter die Menschen um sie herum haben und kann ihrer Linie treu bleiben, auch wenn sie dafür bestraft wird. Dass sie am Ende Recht behalten sollte, war nun nicht weiter überraschend.

Interessant zum Roman ist die Diskussion, inwiefern Jane Austen als Vorreiterin der Chick-Lit zu sehen ist, hat sie doch einem der Hauptwerke des Genres (Bridget JonesDiary) die Protagonistin geliefert. Das COBUILD Advanced English Dictionary definiert das Genre wie folgt:

Chick lit is modern fiction about the lives and romantic problems of young women, usually written by young women.

Ähnlich die Definition, wie sie auf Wikipedia zu finden ist:

Chick lit or chick literature is genre fiction, which „consists of heroine-centered narratives that focus on the trials and tribulations of their individual protagonists“. The genre often addresses issues of modern womanhood – from romantic relationships to female friendships to matters in the workplace – in humorous and lighthearted ways.

Nimmt man diese als Basis und dazu das Wissen, dass Jane Austens Roman eine Zeitlang im englischsprachigen Raum gezielt mit Covern der typischen modernen Chick-Lit Büchern ausgestattet und in den Buchhandlungen gezielt neben diesen platziert wurden, liegt der Verdacht nahe. Inhaltlich bewegt sich Austen auch in Mansfield Park in ziemlich genau diesem Rahmen, so dass der Verdacht durchaus naheliegt. Dies lässt jedoch die sprachliche Leistung der Autorin und Intention der Gesellschaftskritik ihrer Zeit außer Acht, die beide in modernen Werken des Genres eine untergeordnete bis keine Rolle spielen.

Joshua Cohen – Moving Kings

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Joshua Cohen – Moving Kings

David King is the head of “King’s Moving“, a New York based family business specialised in moving homes. Couples moving in together, couples going separate ways. David and his wife Bonnie also separated, their daughter Tammy wastes his father’s money and his secretary Ruth now manages not only the office but all of David’s life. There is just one thing she cannot help him with: David’s cousin from Israel asked him to welcome her son Yoav for some time. He just came out of the IDF and like all the others, needs some travelling to forget the years in the army. David has only met Yoav once many years ago when he spent a couple of hours with his family in Jerusalem. But he is sure to offer the young man exactly what he needs, not taking into account what serving in one of the world’s toughest armies means.

Joshua Cohen’s novel appears in the beginning to be some lightweight and funny story about making business in New York and knowing (or rather: not knowing) the rules of conduct among the super-rich. David is not the classic businessman who knows his way around the upper class, he disposes of some cleverness which helped him to set up his business, but he is not really familiar with the codes. The same applies to his visit in Israel a couple of years earlier. As a Jew, he feels like having to know the historic sites in Israel but cannot connect anything with the places – just like his cousin who shows him around. When family duty calls, in form of accommodating young Yoav, he does not hesitate to fulfil the wish.

However, with the appearance of Yoav, the novel changes its tone. It is not the humorous atmosphere which prevails now, but a rather despairing and depressive mood that comes from Yoav and takes over. Having served three years in the IDF did not go without scars for him. He was in a special unit which was of no special use in peaceful times but well equipped for the emergency. Now as a civilian, he has serious problems integrating into normal life. He can only accomplish small tasks every day and spends most of his time on the couch doing nothing. He can hardly cope with being alive, not speaking of building friendships and a new life in a foreign country.

The novel takes another turn when Yoav’s fried Uri makes his appearance. Being allocated the same unit should have created a lifelong bond, but the young men are very different and their diverting points of view create more and more tension between them. Yoav is reflecting on his place in the world and what he has seen and done in the army:

“you can’t stop being a soldier, just like you can’t stop being a Jew […] You were born a soldier, because you were born a Jew. “ (pos. 1392)

By birth he is denied the chance of making a choice in his life. And as an Israeli, people will never be impartial when they meet him. Everybody has an opinion, either on Jews, or in Israelis, or on both. They are held responsible for things they are neither responsible for nor had a chance to do something about it.

A third party is contrasted with them. A black veteran who fought in Vietnam and has lost in belief in the Christian God as well as the American state who should take care of those who have served the country abroad. His only way out is converting to Islam and seeking refuge in addiction. So, who of them is worse off? The forgotten veteran, the black American, the American Jew or the Israeli Jew?

How defining is religion after all? For most of the characters it does not provide help or relief from everyday burdens. It also does not seem to provide a framework to organise their life around. So, build your life without it, but what are the rules then? It seems to be a minefield and you can only survive of you are stronger and live at the expenses of the others it seems.

Olivier Adam – Die Summe aller Möglichkeiten

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Olivier Adam – Die Summe aller Möglichkeiten

Zweiundzwanzig Figuren, deren Wege sich im L’Estérel im Hinterland der Côte d’Azur kreuzen. Antoine, großes Fussballtalent, der jedoch an seinem unkontrollierten Temperament immer wieder scheitert und beruflich sowie im Privatleben nicht auf einen grünen Zweig kommt. Mit Baseballschlägern niedergeknüppelt und beinahe tot wird er ins Krankenhaus eingeliefert. Sein Freund Jeff scheint etwas zu wissen, ist aber selbst vor Angst wie gelähmt. Antoines Schwester Louise hat andere Sorgen, sie will nicht mehr länger die Ersatzmutter für ihn spielen. Die Mutter seines Sohnes Nino, Marion, ist zwar in einer neuen Partnerschaft, kann jedoch die noch vorhandenen Gefühle für ihren Ex nicht leugnen. Im Krankenhaus liegt auch Paul, der gerade seine geliebte Hélène verloren hat, dabei wollte er doch mit ihr in den Tod gehen. Ebenso wie Léa, deren Eltern sie seit Monaten vergeblich suchten. Die Polizei hat viel zu tun, nicht nur der Überfall auf Antoine wirft Fragen auch, auch ein Einbruch und das mysteriöse Verschwinden gleich mehrerer Bewohner stellt sie vor Rätsel.

Die Figuren geben sich buchstäblich den Staffelstab in die Hand. Nacheinander begegnen sie sich und erzählen ihre Geschichten und Sichtweisen. Antoine beginnt, bevor er an Marion übergibt, die bei ihrem Job im Hotel dem alten Ehepaar Paul und Hélène begegnet. So setzt sich die Geschichte fort, bis sie wieder mit Antoine beschlossen wird. Durch die unterschiedlichen Perspektiven ergeben die einzelnen Kapitel erst zusammen eine vollständige Geschichte.

„Das ist das Problem mit dem Leben, dachte Antoine. Dasjenige, das man hat, ist immer zu eng, und das, das man gerne hätte, ist zu groß, um es sich auch nur vorzustellen. Die Summe aller Möglichkeiten ist das Unendliche, das gegen null tendiert.“ Alle Figuren haben in ihrem Leben ihre Träume nicht verwirklichen könne. Sie haben Entscheidungen für und gegen etwas getroffen und sinnieren darüber nach, wie es auch, womöglich besser hätte sei. können. Zum Beispiel als erfolgreicher Fußballer, oder mit einem anderen Partner, oder ohne einen Schicksalsschlag. Das Leben, das sie ihres nennen, führt zu Frustration, Langeweile, Verzweiflung. Doch einen Ausweg gibt es nicht, sie haben nur das eine. Und andere Möglichkeiten bieten sich nicht mehr, dafür ist zu viel passiert.

Neben einer Sozialstudie des gesellschaftlichen Randes, der Kriminellen, der Gescheiterten, derjenigen mit mehreren Jobs, um zu überleben, bleibt auch eine gewisse Spannung nicht aus, denn die Frage, was mit Antoine geschehen ist, wer ihn aus welchem Grund beinahe ermordet hätte, zieht sich durch das Buch, wenn sie auch nicht stringent verfolgt wird. Die Auflösung ist symptomatisch für das Leben der Figuren und daher ausgesprochen passend und logisch.

Der Roman überzeugt aufgrund zweierlei Aspekte: die Form der Konstruktion ist ungewöhnlich und erfordert einen exakten Plan, um am Ende in dieser Weise aufzugehen und stimmig zu werden. Die Figurenzeichnung schafft die Balance, den einzelnen Charakteren eine Stimme zu verleihen ohne Mitleid zu erregen, obwohl die meisten in irgendeiner Form Verlierer sind, und ohne sie für ihr Leben zu verachten, auch wenn sie für vieles an ihrer aktuellen Situation selbst Verantwortung tragen. Alles in allem hat Olivier Adam erneut die hohen Erwartungen erfüllen können.

Paula Cocozza – How To Be Human

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Paula Cocozza – How to be Human

 

Five months after Mark has left her, Mary still lives in a kind of bubble disconnected from the world around her. She goes to work and returns home, but somehow she is numb and dehumanized. When one evening a fox appears in her garden, she is mesmerized. The animal returns regularly and a bond between the two lonely beings slowly forms. The more Mary feels connected with the wild animal, the more hysterical her neighbours become. They want to kill the foxes, they feel threatened in their own homes and their nerves are on edge. When suddenly Mark shows up again to rescue Mary and to save their relationship, she has to make a decision.

„How to be human“ – it seems to be contradictory to use the contact with a wild animal to illustrate what represents a human being. However, in Mary’s case, the beast helps her to overcome her numbness, to rediscover feelings she once had and the innocence and unassuming attitude of the fox make her become a human again. She feels sympathy with the animal, especially when the whole world seems to be against it. Just like baby Flora she can approach the fox without hesitation and reservation.

The humans apart from Mary do not really make a good impression in the novel. Her neighbours Michelle and Eric are quite egoistic and only think about their habitat and needs. I am not sure if Michelle actually suffers from postpartum depression as mentioned in the novel, to me, she is rather a neurotic egoist. Eric in contrast, is weak, servant and obeys his wife without questioning her decisions. Mark does not play a major role, but the fact that after half a year he realises that life with his wife was better, does not really speak in his favour.

What I liked most were the fox’s thoughts. The author got in his mind convincingly and portrayed his simple and natural character quite well. Considering all the beings, he is the human one, unobtrusive, decent and not demanding anything. Thus, he can help the lonesome and forlorn protagonist to find herself and her strengths again.

 

Omar Robert Hamilton – The City Always Wins

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Omar Robert Hamilton – The City Always Wins

The promise of a better life. A fight against an unbeatable enemy. A love in a time of upheaval. Almost 20 years under the dictator Mubarak come to an end when masses of people inspired by revolutions in other Muslim countries gather in Tahrir Square in Cairo and force Mubarak to resign. Social media are the new weapons and Mariam and Khalil are in the centre of the protests. They broadcast what is happening to the world and they treat the wounded always in fear of becoming a victim of the police, the army or any other group. Over months they keep their revolution alive, actually living from it, forgetting to eat, forgetting their own life. They feel their power to change something, but is there really hope for Egypt?

Omar Robert Hamilton, known for his fight for the Palestinian cause, combines the real events which took place in Egypt over 1.5 years with the fictitious story about Mariam and Khalil. Both of them are interesting characters. Mariam, on the one hand, who helps the doctors and could, together with her parents, establish a kind of camp hospital where immediate treatment is possible, who consoles the mothers of those who died in the protests and who is stubbornly following her ideals. Khalid, on the other hand, is not even Egyptian but find in the protests a kind of proxy for his family’s omitted fight for the Palestinian cause. With his American passport, he has no need to risk his life, but he is fully immersed in the revolutionary power and the mass movement and helps with his journalistic and technical knowledge. Their love is strong in the beginning, but the common aim slowly makes them drift apart. This becomes obvious when they talk to Mariam’s father about their plans for the future – marriage and children? No common ground can be found anymore, so what hold them together?

The strongest aspect of the novel, however, is the description of the fight. The risks the protesters take are impressively narrated. Their belief in a better country is strong and passionate. Some pieces were scary for somebody who was never close to such a situation: the young people writing the phone numbers of their nearest of kin on their arms so that the beloved can be informed in case of serious injury or death. I can only imagine people not really being ready to die, but accepting a possible death as a necessary danger to take for the cause.

Additionally, the narrative structure is remarkable. Omar Robert Hamilton has structured the novel in thee chapter: Tomorrow, Today, Yesterday. This diametrically opposes the chronological order and makes you wonder. Furthermore, the narrative is accelerated by frequent insertions of newspaper headlines, tweets and the like. The author thus managed to create an atmosphere of tension and excitement, you are really drawn into the plot and the characters’ emotional state of thrill.

Even though the plot is highly political, it is not judgemental at all. We get the uprising from a very personal point of view which I found most interesting and fascinating and important for outsiders. All revolutions are backed by ordinary people who risk everything. This novel most certainly gives them a voice and, most importantly, hints at a critical situation of a country which we tend to forget due to even more serious problems.

Arundhati Roy – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

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Arundhati Roy – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

In Old Delhi, the hijra Anjum sets up her life in a graveyard. She is joined by a former mortuary worker who calls himself Saddam Hussein. Another outcast joins them, Tilottama, and there is a baby who seems to have appeared from nowhere and belong to nobody. This group’s fates are narrated through time and in different places of India and Kashmir. All of the characters face struggles due to the political situation, either protest in Delhi or the long-lasting conflict in the Kashmir region and thus portray India in a very special way – India of the people at the fringe of society.

Arundhati Roy’s second novel might be the most awaited book of 2017. It took her twenty years to write it after her debut success “The God of Small Things” and the yardstick has been set very high for the successor. Admittedly, I struggled with the novel which is mainly caused by the plot’s structure. The story is only in party narrated in a chronological way, other sections are meandering and at times the different characters and setting were not always easy to link with each other for me. Second, the novel is highly political and if you are not familiar with India’s recent history and political struggles, a lot might be lost for you as a reader of this novel (at least I assume so).

Nevertheless, there were also a lot of aspects that I really liked. Arundhati Roy definitely is a master of words. In subtle ways she finds possibilities of expressing what happens and thus adding second or even third meanings. When Anjum has set up her small guest house in the graveyard, she is regularly inspected by municipal officers who are not “man enough” to chase her away. Considering Anjum’s situation as hermaphrodite, this is quite interesting to observe. Then her permanent resident who calls himself “Saddam Hussein”, another outcast who chose this name in admiration for the former leader’s courage in the face of death. Or when Tilo ponders about some men killed in a car accident and their fate and whom this actually concerns since they would have died anyway and wonders about “how to unknow certain things, certain specific things that she knew but did not wish to know” (pos. 3095). Summarising the stat’s situation in political upeheal best are the following two quotes:

“There were rumours and couterrumours. There were rumours that might have been true, and truths that ought to have been just rumours”. (pos. 3681) and “Life went on. Death went on. The war went on.” (pos. 3835)

How can one survive in this situation, especially as an outcast? You have to fight for yourself and accordingly, it is the two women who become strong and leaders – quite a surprise in the country’s strict caste system.

The insight in how India’s society works is for me the most remarkable aspect of the novel. Not considering it as a whole, there are many stories within the novel which give you an understanding of the country’s culture and are thought-provoking.

Dan Mooney – Me, Myself and Them

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Dan Mooney – Me, Myself and Them

Everything is at its best in Denis Murphey’s life. As long as things go as he plans them and as long as there are no odd numbers. His days are highly regulated: waking up at exactly the same time, the amount of minutes he needs in the bathroom, his breakfast. Once a week, he visits his friend Eddie who is in hospital and also once a week, he sees his mother. Everything is at its best. But then Rebecca reappears in town. His ex-girlfriend. How could she? And how can he avoid meeting her? He cannot and soon his life and the life of his four housemates is turned upside down.

At first, there were a lot of things I was wondering about. First of all, of course, Denis’ strange behaviour. That there is a kind of over-control impulse which limits him in his life is quite obvious. He has a fixed plan and he cannot tolerate any variation from it. He seemed to me to suffer from autism spectrum disorder due to his repetitive behaviour patterns and his restricted range of activities and friends. Soon, however, it becomes obvious that something has triggered this behaviour and that he certainly was not born with it. So, the big question arises: what has happened?

Second, the housemates. There are four of them, very singular creatures with distinctive features and somehow destructive traits of character. The fact that they talk to Denis all the time did not necessarily mean for me that they were humans, I guessed at times that they were cats, but this assumption did not really fit with everything in their description and behaviour. When I finally sorted out who or rather what they were, it all made sense.

It is not revealing too much of the story when saying that the protagonist is suffering from a serious mental health problem. A lot of what happens only happens in his brain but he cannot cope with it or even fight it. The demons that haunt him are real for the time being and what is in his head cannot get out or be explained to anybody. He is alone with his fight and several times prone to give up the war he is waging. I really appreciated the metaphor of the four housemates who inhibit Denis and who tell him what to do since this renders it possible for people who have never been in close contact with such an illness to understand not only how those affected feel but first and foremost how difficult it is for them to get back to a “normal” life and to be in command over their life.

All in all, a difficult topic masterly transferred into literature and thus a valuable contribution in the fight for understanding mental health problems.

Howard Jacobson – Pussy

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Howard Jacobson – Pussy

Prince Fracassus, son of the Duke and Duchess of Origen, grows up in the Republic of Urbs-Ludus. This small republic is famous for its high skyscrapers (which do not even let you see the moon) and for its casinos. The boy hardly has any contact with people outside the palace, most of his time he spends in front of TV where he watches reality shows and history lessons on emperors such as Nero. His teachers try to bring the world to him and especially to enlarge his vocabulary, but this is not very successful. Therefore, they go on a trip, maybe the direct contact with the real world might have an impact on him. In the meantime, the old Duke dies, the republic is slowly crumbling and Fracassus will be the one to save his dukedom.

Howard Jacobson’s novel is a satire which makes you laugh out loud and want to cry at the same time. He did not even try to convey his message very subtly, no, he openly holds the mirror up to the electorate and asks them: What have you done? So far, many have criticised President Trump, this is not very difficult since he provides you with so much to attack every day. This is quickly done. Jacobson, however, has a very elaborate way of confrontation.

First of all, the protagonist’s name. “Fracassus” reminds me of the French adjective fracassant which has two meanings: on the one hand, it comprises the idea of spectacular and surprising, on the other hand, it is destructive like a wrecking ball. Both significances go well with the current POTUS. The dukedom was also provided with a telling name: a very original idea to call it the capital of play. The surroundings of the small prince match somehow the Trump tower and the fact that he is famous for building houses and known due to his TV shows is not that very subtle.

Second, the prince’s attitude towards life and people. Even though he has a very limited vocabulary, he knows many words for women, or to be more precise, for prostitutes – which equals women from his point of view. He’d like to reign like an ancient Roman emperor, feeding underlings to the lions, building walls to keep out the unwanted and destroying any kind of protest with strong and quick police intervention. He wants to fight terrorism even if there is none.

Third, his use of twitter – just hilarious. His electoral campaign and the fight with his female opponent and the sharp analysis of her weaknesses – I have hardly ever had to laugh that much while reading. All this is accompanied by Chris Riddell’s charming and funny illustrations of the prince.

Fracassus’ return to his home country to make it great again on the basis of all that he has learnt – e.g. to lie to the people, so they will never expect the truth from you –  it is all very funny to read. Until you realise that this satire of this novel is a reality.