Chloë Ashby – Wet Paint

Cloe Ashby – We Paint

Eve has lost her mother when she left the 5-year-old and her father and never made contact again. Even though she somehow managed to cope with this experience, losing her best friend Grace totally throws her off the track. At 26, she is waiting in a bar despite having studied art at Oxford. Yet, she does not keep that job for long, just like any other job or the flat she shares. Nothing seems to linger in her life except for the painting she visits over and over again in a London museum and Max, a teenage friend. But even for Max it becomes increasingly harder to see how Eve throws away her life and does not accept any help.

Chloë Ashby’s debut novel brilliantly captures the protagonist’s being lost in the world after the death of a beloved friend that she has never gotten over. “Wet Paint” shows a young woman in survival mode who is far from unleashing her potential as she is straying in her life without aim or goal, from time to time colliding with reality but more often lost in thought and locked away in herself.

Eve is incapable of good relationships as she is far from being at ease with herself. Connecting with other people, being honest and really caring for them is impossible for her in state she is in. The only other being she shows real affection for is the young girl she babysits, but here, too, she is too lost in her thoughts and puts herself and the girl in danger.

The only constant in her life is a painting she observes closely and which calms her. Just the thought of the museum closing for a holiday makes her get nervous and when the museum loans her beloved pieces of art to another one, she almost freaks out, losing the last straw in her life.

It is not easy to watch how a young woman, lovable despite the way she treats others, is going down the abyss, yet, you can only help those that want to be helped. That’s what some characters also experience, they really care for her but can’t do anything to as long as she refuses to acknowledge her situation and to take necessary measures to improve her situation.

Not an easy read but in my opinion an authentic representation of the protagonist’s state of emergency.

Lauren Oyler – Fake Accounts

Lauren Oyler – Fake Accounts

When the unnamed narrator seizes the chance to snoop through her boyfriend’s phone – which he normally does not let out of his sight – she discovers that he has a large Instagram account on which he spreads conspiracy theories. She is confused but admittedly, she was already thinking about splitting up and now she’s got a good reason. However, her plan – telling him after returning from the women’s march against Trump – fails totally because when she’s still in Washington, his mother informs her of his fatal bike accident. Even though she already was detached emotionally, this hits her hard and literally throws her out of her life. She quits her job and travels to Berlin, the city where they first met and where she hopes to find out what she expects from life and what she actually wants to do professionally.

Lauren Oyler’s novel is a portrait of a somehow lost generation who lives a double life: one in the real world, where many of them are lost and orbiting around aimlessly, and one in the online world, where they can create an idea of themselves, a person they would like to be and play a role according to their likes. Yet, the more followers they generate, the more narcissistic they become and inevitably, the fake life in the world-wide web has an impact on reality, too. Slowly, they also start to create fake personalities there and increasingly lack the necessary authenticity and sincerity it needs to have serious relationship with others.

The narrator lives such a life in both spheres at the same time, her job involves roaming the net for good stories she can re-use and pimp for the magazine she works at. After leaving her old life behind and moving to Europe, she does not even start to create a new life in Berlin, neither does she try to learn German nor does she really make acquaintances. She dates people she gets to know online simply to tell each one a different story about who she is – she successfully transfers the possibility of a fake online account into real life. However, this does not make her any happier.

In a certain way, this is funny and ironic since it is so much over the top that it cannot be real. But is it really? Are people still able to make a distinction between the two? And which consequences does this have for us? We are all aware of how photos can be photoshopped, how information online can be embellished or simply wrong and we pay attention when we are approached by someone online whom we don’t know. In real life however, don’t we expect that people tell us the truth at least to a certain extent? And especially in a relationship, aren’t sincerity and truthfulness necessary foundations to build trust in each other?

An interesting study in how far our online behaviour may fire back – not something we can really wish for. Even though the tone is light and often funny, is leaves you somehow with a bad aftertaste.

Rachel Hawkins – The Wife Upstairs

Rachel Hawkins – The Wife Upstairs

Jane is on the run, she hasn’t simply given up her old life, there are things which need to be forgotten und buried and never talked about. When she comes to Thornfield Estates, the McMansion area of Birmingham/Alabama, she sees a life which could hardly differ more from hers. Having grown up as a foster child, she has never known love and affection and surely not the riches she can observe in the families for whom she walks the dogs. One day, she meets Eddie Rochester who recently lost his wife Bea. They fall in love and suddenly, everything seems possible for Jane. Leading a carefree life, no worries about money anymore and a loving husband. But at times, she wonders if she sees something different, threatening in his eyes. Then, however, she remembers that she herself also has some secrets. Yet, there is a third person in that house also having secrets.

Rachel Hawkins does not hide that her novel is a modern version of Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”. The names are identical and even parts of the characters’ biographies show large similarities, only small Adèle has been turned into a dog. The plot is not set among the British upper class but among the newly rich who are driven by greed, egoism and the conviction that they can have it all.

What I liked about this version of the classic plot is that Rachel Hawkins created some unexpected twists which keep suspense high and make you reassess the characters. You can never be totally sure about who is good and who is bad, actually, they are all some dark shade of grey. I would have liked the protagonist to be a bit more complex, Jane remains a bit plain and shallow throughout the novel for my liking even though the other characters repeatedly consider her rather clever and strong. On the other hand, everything around Bea was quite surprising and I actually adored the utterly malicious character.

An enjoyable read with a lot of Jane Eyre to be found and some new aspects which added to the suspense.

Cormac McCarthy – The Road

When a disaster has destroyed almost everything and surviving is the only things that matters – can you keep up your moral standards?

cormac-mccarthy-the-road
Cormac McCarthy – The Road

The world has been devastated, what it was is not quite clear. But there are ashes everywhere and the few survivors are on their way to the south, where it is warmer. On the road are also a father and his young son. They follow the road to the sea where the father hopes that life will be better. At times, they almost starve, at others, they have to hide from raging groups who recklessly kill everybody in their way. Sometimes, they are lucky, enter houses which have not been cleared completely and where they can rest, eat and rebuild. Sometimes, they become the victim of robbers and find themselves empty-handed. The father tries to live the life of a “good guy” and keep up the ethical standards, albeit they often come across human beings who seem to have forgotten which species they once belonged to.

The focus of the post-apocalyptical story is on the father’s attempt to raise his boy under those very poor conditions and to keep up to the high moral values he had before the destructive event.  Seeing the world and the human race in decay does not make it easy for him, at times, ignoring his principles could make life a lot easier, but he wants to be a role model and live up to the boy’s expectations. Along their way, they meet different kinds of people, good ones and bad ones, some who need their help, others who try to harm them. With those encounters, the full spectrum of human emotions is portrayed by Cormac McCarthy and especially the scene in which the mother decides not to share their way is quite heart-breaking.

In 2007, the book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I find it hard to classify the novel, it is neither science-fiction, nor a dystopia; some critics called it a kind of fable or even horror story. Yet, it is not really important to pigeonhole it; the novel can convince by the radical focus on the two characters and their way to an unknown future. The only interruptions of their march are the encounters which vary in their length and (emotional) significance. It does only offer one possible way for coping with an apocalypse as the one presented: go on and remain human.

 

Elizabeth Bowen – The Heat of the Day

review, novel, war, London,

1942, the war is raging in London, but Stella Rodney did not flee the city like so many others. Her son is a solder and she is in constant fear of losing him. She finds some hours of relief with Robert, her lover. When a man, Harrison, approaches her, she does not really know what to think of him. When he tells her that her lover is a double-agent handing over secrets to the enemy, her world crumbles. Harrison warns her not to tell him that he has been uncovered since this would have serious consequences. Stella does not know whom to trust anymore – just like her son who uncovered the truth about his father.
Even though the novel is labelled as a thriller of suspense, I did not really perceive it as that. Of course, we do find agents and double-agents and the bombing of London is in full course, but for me this was much more a novel about a woman in a complicated situation and the question of whom to trust, what to reveal about yourself and family secrets. I appreciated Elizabeth Bowens unagitated tone which made the novel run smoothly gave you some feeling of security before the big secrets were revealed. It is obvious that she is a master of making use of ambiguous language and of close observance – she knows that everybody has secretes and she is interested in opening Pandora’s box and letting them free.

Imbolo Mbue – Behold the Dreamers

review, Rezension, novel
Imbolo Mbue – Behold the Dreamers

 
America – the land of dreams and unlimited possibilities- But only if you have the right papers. Jende Jonga, an immigrant from Cameroon now living in Harlem, does not have them yet, but is cousin and his lawyer are optimistic, everything will turn out fine for him and his wife Neni who also came to New York to get an education to become a pharmacist. When he gets the chance to work as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers, Jende seems to have reached all he ever dreamt of: his income is good, the can put aside a lot of money for a better future and his boos appreciates his discretion and good work. The Jonga family and the Edwards seem to get closer, Neni can help out Cindy in the Hamptons and thus earn some extra money, the kids also like Jende a lot. When the crisis hits Wall Street, Jende and Neni cannot immediately see that this will also affect their life, but as the Edwards struggle more and more, also the couple from Cameroon has to re-adjust their dreams and future plans.
One of the most talk about novels this summer can fulfil all the promises. A wonderful piece of art which can hardly be summarized in a couple of words. Imbolo Mbue does not only tell the story of the modern American Dream. Of course, Jende and Neni do have some wrong ideas of what awaits them in the USA – but: everything is better than their paternalistic home country where Jende as a member of the wrong family can never make a career and where Neni’s options in life as a woman are clearly limited. They are the role model of the immigrant: they work hard, they are decent and obedient, they never ask for anything they are not entitled to and their high moral standards keep them from making the wrong choices. However, this is just the surface of the story.
What struck me most were two aspects the author narrates casually: the way the relationship of Jende and Neni changes when their situation gets more complicated and stressful. First, we get to know Jende as a man who keeps up the Carmeroon morale and ideals but he treats Neni as his equal, his love for her grants her a very different position from what it would have been like in Africa. When his situation deteriorates and he understands that he will never be able to achieve his aims, he falls back into macho patterns and treats his wife like an inferior who is not allowed to make decisions and whom he even beats at a moment of highest despair. You can go to another country, but there are things you can never get rid of. The second aspect also affected Neni: when she talks to her dean about support for a scholarship and he tells her that she is never going to be a pharmacist, I first hated him because he destroys her dreams. However, he is not completely wrong and it does make sense to make people see reality: the American Dream will not be fulfilled for everyone.
Apart from the richness of the content – there would have been so much more to mention: the collapse of the Edwards family, community structures in Harlem, the treatment of black people in America etc. – Imbolo Mbue has a wonderful voice which makes you really enjoy the novel. She finds the right words to narrate her story which deserves all the praise it has received.
 
 

B.A. Paris – Behind Closed Doors

Roman, Krimi, Rezension, review, crime novel


He has the perfect look, the perfect manners, he is absolutely charming and he even likes her sister Millie who suffers from the Down syndrome. Grace cannot believe her luck when Jack Angel proposes, she must be in a dream. There is just one favour he asks of her: she should give up her job at Harrod’s which is needs a lot of travelling. Grace reluctantly agrees, but since she expects to have children and then be a stay-at-home-mum for some time, this does not seem to be too bad. Everything is perfect – but it is all just a façade. The ink on their wedding certificate has not yet dried when Grace realizes that she might have made the biggest mistake of her life. However, she does not know that hell on earth is waiting for her.

The novel slowly reveals more and more of Jack’s atrocities before you can see the full extent of his evil character. You know that this cannot go on forever, the suspense slowly rises. First, you only feel pity for Grace, then you want to find out how she could end up in this situation and finally, you tremble and pray for her to find a way out. All this is really thrilling and sometimes the nerves are really on the edge while reading.
B.A. Paris’ novel plays with the greatest fears you can imagine: being held prisoner and abused and having people around who only see the outside and cannot look under the surface. Feeling and actually being completely helpless while not only your own life but also the one of your beloved is at risk, must be one of the most awful nightmares imaginable. At the same time, everybody envies you for your perfect life which is everything but not what what it seems to be. Albeit it is just a novel, it makes you think about what you really know about your friends and acquaintances and if all those perfect lives that you see from the outside, are really the same behind closed doors.