Michael Ondaatje – Warlight

michael-ondaatje-warlight
Michael Ondaatje – Warlight

Rachel and Nathaniel were still teenagers when immediately after WW II their parents packed to leave the country. The kids were supposed to attend boarding school after summer break, but only a few days after the school had begun again, they left and went completely to live with a man they named „The Moth“ who was supposed to be their caretaker while the parents were away. Even though they at first felt left behind, it was a time of freedom and carelessness, the house often full of interesting and mysterious people and both, Nathaniel and Rachel, became somehow used to the situation. When their mother suddenly showed up again, they understood that things were not what they had thought them to be. It was only after their mother’s death, when Nathaniel is approached by special operations, that he gains insight in who his mother had actually been.

“Warlight” – during the time of the second world war, when there were frequent blackouts in London, there was only the so called “Warlight”, dimmed lights to guide emergency traffic, the rest was covered in black and you could only sense movements in the shadow but not see them. This is the perfect title for Michael Ondaatje’s novel: a lot of what happens remains somewhere in the dark for the protagonist to see. He can only assume things from the quick glances he is granted, but he cannot be sure if his hypotheses are correct. It also represents quite well the atmosphere which is always a bit gloomy and melancholy and certainly never joyful.

At the beginning of the novel, the reader just as the protagonist and narrator is quite irritated by the parents’ behaviour. They leave the country, neither telling their children where exactly they are headed too or why after all they have to leave. The teenagers stay with people they hardly know and not to forget: the war has just ended and the memories of the bombings are still fresh. How could ever parents do such a thing? It becomes even more infuriating when they find their mother’s luggage which she obviously didn’t take with her. It takes some time to figure out the mother’s real role and thus to understand her behaviour. This is also when the novel becomes the most interesting.

This is also where Michael Ondaatje’s virtuosity becomes evident: none of the characters, no matter how random he or she seemed, was introduced without a reason and they all have their specific role in the novel. It all makes sense and culminates in much greater questions than the nucleus of a single family we are presented with at first can ever offer: how far would you go for your country? What are you willing to sacrifice? And it clearly shows that the two categories of “good” and “bad” are simply inadequate for the world we are living in.

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Ruth Rendell – Dark Corners

ruth-rendell-dark-corners
Ruth Rendell – Dark Corners

Nachdem Carl Martin, ein junger Autor, von seinem Vater ein Haus in London geerbt hat, findet er in dessen Nachlass eine Reihe von mysteriösen homöopathischen Pillen und Tinkturen. Er will sie entsorgen, aber wie das Leben so spielt, vergisst er sie. Aus Geldnot und weil der Wohnungsmarkt lukrativ ist, vermietet Carl die Räume im Obergeschoss. Da er keine Lust auf lange Interviews hat, erhält der erste Interessent den Zuschlag: Dermot McKinnon. Als eine Freundin ihn zufällig um Rat bzgl. einer Diät bittet, fallen Carl die Pillen wieder ein, eine Sorte war seiner Erinnerung nach auch zur Gewichtsreduktion geeignet. Das Angebot, ihm diese abzukaufen, nimmt Carl gerne an. Am nächsten Morgen wird die Freundin jedoch tot in ihrer Wohnung aufgefunden, offenbar sind die Tabletten Schuld an ihrem Ableben. Carl macht sich Vorwürfe, doch damit nicht genug: sein Untermieter hatte den Deal zufällig belauscht und droht nun zur Polizei und zur Presse zu gehen und Carl als Mörder zu entlarven. Die grausame Spirale ist in Gang gesetzt und Carl sieht sich gefangen in einer Situation, aus der es scheinbar keinen Ausweg gibt.

Ruth Rendell, die auch unter dem Pseudonym Barbara Vine schrieb, hat die Veröffentlichung ihres letzten Romans „Dark Corners“ nicht mehr miterlebt. Mit weit über 60 Romanen zählt sie nicht nur zu einer der eifrigsten, sondern auch der erfolgreichsten Krimi- und Thrillerautoren Großbritanniens. Mehrfach erhielt sie den Gold Dagger Award für den besten Krimi des Jahres.

Ihr letztes Werk bleibt jedoch weit hinter den zugegebenermaßen hohen Erwartungen zurück. Was ihr sehr gut gelungen ist, ist die psychische Anspannung, unter der Carl durch die Drohungen seines Untermieters steht, zu transportieren. Das ungute Gefühl, die unmittelbare Bedrohung sind durch die ganze Geschichte hindurch zu spüren. Es kriecht unter die Haut und setzt sich dort fest, sehnsüchtig wartet man auf die Erlösung. Bevor diese jedoch endlich kommt, muss man es mit den leider sehr eindimensionalen Charakteren aushalten. Weder Carl noch sein Untermieter oder ihre jeweiligen Lebensgefährtinnen können überzeugen, von dümmlich bis einfältig, von passiv bis einfallslos – sie sind einfach sehr schwer zu ertragen und wirken unausgereift. Auch die Lösung seiner Probleme, die Carl findet, scheinen mir zu konstruiert, um sie wirklich als authentisch anzusehen und sie passen in keiner Weise zu der Anlage der Figur.

Alles in allem hat der Roman durchaus Potenzial, das er jedoch leider nicht ausschöpft.

Rebecca Fleet – The House Swap

rebecca-fleet-the-house-swap
Rebecca Fleet – The House Swap

After the hard time they have gone through in their relationship, Caroline and Francis need a vacation, best without their son Eddie. A house swap seems to be a good idea so they leave Leeds for a week in the suburbs of London. Somehow the house is strange, it looks like nobody actually lives in there, it is absolutely impersonal, almost clinical. But the woman seemed to be nice enough to let her into their own apartment. When Caroline receives a strange message on her cell phone, she is alarmed: did something awake the ghosts of the past? Did her ex affair Carl get in contact again? And who is this strange neighbour Amber who seems to observe them and behaves in a very strange way when she comes to visit them late in the evening. Caroline can sense the danger but she doesn’t know where it is really coming from…

The novel starts at quite some low pace and admittedly I was a bit annoyed because I couldn’t make sense of a lot of things at the beginning. It was obvious that Francis and Caroline had some problems in the past, she had an affair with a colleague, he was addicted to pills, but since this had happened obviously two years before, I didn’t quite understand the relevance of all this for the house swap. And there was this voice talking to Caroline, but it was not clear where it was coming from. I do not really like to be in the dark and not understanding anything.

However, the further you get in the novel and the more you understand, the more thrill you feel and the better the plot gets. Of course you are supposed to run in the completely wrong direction with the assumptions of what is behind all this – eagerly I did – just to learn then that it is not only much more complicated, very cleverly constructed, and also a lot more dangerous for the characters than you would have assumed.

“The House Swap” is a fantastic thriller as soon as you get over the first few pages. It can surprise and offers an especially interesting psychological aspect which is only revealed towards the end.

Heather Child – Everything about you

heather-child-everything-about-you
Heather Child – Everything about you

21-year-old Freya is not very happy with her life as it is: she is still living together with her ex-boyfriend Julian, her job just serves to earn money but is not actually promising a career and she still misses Judy who first was a friend and then moved in with Freya and her mother and became something like a real sister. When Julian is not interested in the latest technological device from his father, Freya accepts to use the high-tech personal assistant. Since she is still longing for Ruby who went missing without any trace, the assistant is modelled according to the young woman’s features: it can copy her voice, react just like Judy reacted and knows everything about Freya and Ruby. Can this virtual version of her sister also lead to the one in flesh and bone?

Since technology becomes more and more present in our everyday life and since we rely increasingly on our smart phones to do the thinking for us, the idea of this futuristic personal assistant was quite intriguing. Especially since we tend to ignore the negative side effects of handing over more and more data to these uncontrollable technical devices.

However, the novel did not hold up to the high expectations. I liked Freya’s first steps with her new assistant; her incredulously questioning where this machine got all the information from and how she slowly loses control over her life were portrayed in a really authentic way that is easy to imagine in the very near future. Then, however, the more the plot progresses and the more the whole story becomes a kind of computer game in a virtual reality environment, it was a bit too much for me. I am all but into computer games and not at all interested in any virtual realities where completely different rules apply and the unthinkable is possible.  Thus, the moment we lost the track of reality I was more or less out. This might work better for those readers who are really into VR.

All in all, an interesting concept, yet a bit too unrealistic for my liking.

Aminatta Forna – Happiness

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Aminatta Forna – Happiness

They meet by accident, but somehow they have known each other forever. Attila, a Ghanaian psychiatrist, has come to London to give a speech at a conference. He is a specialist in post-traumatic stress and has seen the worst the world has to offer. But this is not the only thing he has to do there. First of all, he has to find the daughter of some of his friends who hasn’t called for a couple of days and who, together with her son, seems to be missing. Another thing task waiting for him is to visit Rosie, his former colleague and lover. She is in a home, not aware of the world anymore, waiting for her life to come to an end. While Attila is occupied with the humans around him, the American biologist Jean cares a lot more for the animals. Especially foxes around town. She is fighting a hopeless battle against those who want to kill them all and do not understand that this is not how things work with wild animals.

Aminatta Forna’s novel has a title which could hardly fit better: “Happiness”. The whole story is about happiness and the question what you need in life to be happy and what happiness means after all. But maybe it is not happiness that we are looking for, but rather – as one of the characters puts it – hope. Without hope, there is not future, but you can have a whole lot of future without happiness.

Both Jean and Attila are most interesting characters in their very own ways. The author has done a great job in creating them and in opposing them, their view of the world and the way they approach life. They have some similarities, too, their principles and beliefs and the fight for what they believe is the right thing – it is not easily nowadays to find people with such strong convictions.

Yet, what I loved most about the novel were the really poetic ways of unobtrusively talking about life and love in a philosophical way. She captures the fragility of love and our existence in a way that is hard to excel. I really fell for the language in this novel and was waiting eagerly to find more of those passing comments that capture so much truth in this unassuming, shy way:

The reckless open their arms and topple into love, as do dreamers, who fly in their dreams without fear or danger. Those who know that all love must end in loss do not fall but rather cross slowly from the not knowing into the knowing.

It is a bittersweet story, full of love and loss, life and death. And certainly one of the most remarkable novels of this spring.

Diana Evans – Ordinary People

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Diana Evans – Ordinary People

Melissa was always happy on her own, she never needed a man to feel complete. Maybe this was due to her father who was everything but a good husband and when her mother had finally left him, things got a lot better. But now she is with Michael and with their two kids they moved into a new house. She already had a bad feeling when she first visited it. Somehow she feels haunted in there and it is obvious that the kids are getting ill and that their relationship is slowly breaking apart. Their friends Damian and Stephanie are troubled, too, Damian is convinced that he is not leading the life he wants to lead whereas his wife is in constant fear of not being the perfect mother. Should all of them maybe just leave London which also seems to become a constant threat?

Diana Evans wrote a novel about “Ordinary People”, people who are caught between the dreams they once had – leading an independent life, having a career, writing a novel, enjoying themselves – and the reality which is full of demands and everyday nuisances that keep them from doing what they would like to do. Apart from daydreaming about the lives they could have, they start questioning if they have chosen the right partner for them. They don’t even know anymore what is more annoying: daily routines or the person next to them.

While Melissa sees more and more ghosts who have a negative influence on her family, Michael turns to his attractive colleague. Stephanie becomes more and more severe in her manners and Damian phantasises about Melissa. None of these options is a way out of their dilemma and when they spend the holidays together and get a closer look at the other couple’s struggles, they realise that they are not alone with their thoughts and fears.

I really liked the author’s way of describing how the characters feel, for example, their not wanting to grow up and consider themselves serious and responsible adults:

They were insisting on their youth. They were carrying it with both hands.

They feel somehow outside themselves in their lives and at some point, even their meant to be significant other cannot make them feel complete since they just don’t understand each other anymore. But, Diana Evans is not too pessimistic, there is some hope:

Sometimes, in the lives of ordinary people, there is a great halt, a revelation, a moment of change. It occurs under low metal skies, never when one is happy.

There will be better times and the sun will also shine again for you. A wonderful novel about most ordinary people and their ordinary lives.

Deborah Levy – Heiße Milch

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Deborah Levy – Heiße Milch

Sofia fliegt mit ihrer Mutter nach Spanien, um dort in einer Spezialklinik endlich die richtige Therapie für sie zu erhalten. Immer wieder kann die Mutter ihre Beine nicht spüren, benötigt permanent Hilfe und erwartet von Sofia, genau diese zu liefern. Dr. Gomez‘ Klinik scheint allerdings unkonventionelle Behandlungsmethoden zu haben, was auch ein junger Mann bestätigt, den Sofia beim Schwimmen am Strand kennenlernt. Dieser lebt, ebenso wie die Deutsche Ingrid, sein Leben nach eigenen Maßstäben und lässt sich nichts vorschreiben. In Sofia beginnen die Gedanken sich zu drehen, ist die Krankheit ihrer Mutter nur eine Reaktion auf den Vater, der sie schon vor vielen Jahren verlassen hat? Bindet die Mutter sie so an sich und verhindert, dass sie endlich ihr Leben beginnt?

Ich hatte große Erwartungen an Deborah Levys neuesten Roman. Zum einen konnten mich ihre vorherigen Romane „Was ich nicht wissen will“ und „Heim schwimmen“ vollends überzeugen, zum anderen war „Heiße Milch“ 2016 auf der Shortlist des Man Booker Prize, wo ich normalerweise immer mich ansprechende Literatur finde. Dieses Mal jedoch empfand ich die Geschichte etwas zäh und langatmig.

Aus psychologischer Siecht hat der Roman einiges zu bieten, was interessante Figuren und Konflikte verspricht: die Erkrankung der Mutter, die offenkundig nicht rein physischer Natur ist und maßgeblich die Mutter-Tochter-Beziehung bestimmt. Die junge Frau, die planlos durch ihr Leben irrt und trotz Hochschulabschluss ihren eigenen Weg nicht findet, sich schnell zu extremen hingezogen fühlt, aber doch weitgehend passiv verharrt. Ihr Vater, zu dem sie seit über 10 Jahren keinen Kontakt mehr hat, der ihr als Grieche in England die zweite Sprache verwehrt hat so dass sie zwar einen griechischen Namen trägt, aber offenbar keine Verbindung zu diesem Land hat. Dann noch die Randfigur Ingrid, die Sofia fasziniert, die selbst jedoch auch eine Vorgeschichte hat, die wiederum ihr eigenes Leben maßgeblich prägte.

Die Atmosphäre des Romans ist dauergespannt. Die Figuren haben keine angemessene und lockere Art gefunden, um miteinander umzugehen. Sie beobachten sich, ja taxieren sich geradezu. Dieses Spannungsverhältnis wird zu einem beängstigenden Höhepunkt geführt, der jedoch endlich alles löst. Das Setting – einerseits im krisengeplagten Andalusien, wo die Gebäude wegen der Krise halbfertig verlassen wurden, später bei einem kurzen Intermezzo in Griechenland, wo die Lage sich noch schlimmer darstellt – ist passend gewählt zur Stimmung der Figuren.

Ohne Frage ist vieles in diesem Roman sehr stimmig und interessant, aber der Funke ist bei mir nicht übergesprungen. Ob es allein an der Form als Hörbuch lag, vermag ich nicht zu sagen. Svenja Pages hatte ich bislang nicht als Sprecherin gehört, sie war ein bisschen zu wenig moduliert, aber nicht in dem Maße, dass es sich beim Hören als störend gezeigt hätte.

Lynn Brittney – Murder in Belgravia

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Lynn – Brittney – Murder in Belgravia

London, 1915. Lord Murcheson has been stabbed and murdered in his house, his wife Lady Harriet was found there wounded, too. She claims to have committed to crime with a pair of scissors, which is highly unlikely due to her severe injuries.  While Lady Harriet is fighting for her life at the hospital, Chief Inspector Peter Beech takes over the case. The city is at war and thus, men are scarce with the Metropolitan Police. Beech has quite an innovative idea which seems to be more than reasonable for the case at hand: he wants to employ women for the investigation. Thus, Victoria Ellingsham, trained in law, and medical doctor Caroline Allardyce join the small team of Beech, charming ex-boxer PC Billy Rigsby and former Special Branch Arthur Tollman. While London is under attack of the Germans, the unusual squat investigates the case, comes across masses of legal and illegal drugs, prostitutes and the abduction of a young girl who worked in the Murcheson household.

“Murder in Belgravia” follows the lines of classic murder cases in the style of Agatha Christie. The most striking about the novel is the atmosphere. Not only is the situation of World War I convincingly portrayed with the city under fire at night and the shortage of men for the police and other forces, but you also feel yourself transported back to the times when lords and ladies lived in a completely different world which only scarcely overlapped with average or lower class people.

The case itself has to be solved without any modern forensics or other sophisticated medical or technical means which I liked a lot. It is due to a quick-witted intellect and particularly the women’s sharp observation that they can assemble the necessary pieces of evidence to rumble the murderer.

Lynn Brittney’s book is a cosy crime novel that I really enjoyed to read. She has created awesome characters of whom I would like to read more.

Anthony Horowitz – Die Morde von Pye Hall

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Anthony Horowitz – Die Morde von Pye Hall

Der Autor, von dessen Büchern die Existenz des Verlags abhängt, ist tot. Alan Conway war unheilbar an Krebs erkrankt und hat sich das Leben genommen. Aber glücklicherweise hat er seinen letzten Roman noch kurz vor seinem Ableben in den Verlag gebracht. Seine Lektorin Susan Ryeland freut sich auf die Lektüre, doch mitr Entsetzen muss sie feststellen, dass die letzten Kapitel des Romans fehlen. Der Protagonist Atticus Pünd kann den Mord in Pye Hall nicht aufklären. Susan Ryeland findet nicht nur das, sondern auch die Umstände von Conways vermeintlichen Selbstmord seltsam und beginnt selbst zu ermitteln. Im Stile von Hercule Poirot oder auch Atticus Pünd befragt sie das Umfeld von Conway und stößt gleich auf eine ganze Reihe Menschen, die ein Interesse daran hätten haben können, den Autor aus dem Weg zu schaffen.

Anthony Horowitz kann immer wieder überraschen. Mit „Die Morde von Pye Hall“ hat er einen Roman im Roman geschaffen und geschickt beide Handlungen ineinander verwoben. Er wechselt spielerisch die Erzählebenen und lässt seine Rahmenhandlung dadurch umso authentischer wirken. Die Tatsache, dass er auch dem Leser dieses Romans das Ende des fiktiven Krimis (zunächst) vorenthält, verstärkt unter anderem diesen Effekt und lässt einem munter mitfiebern und ermitteln.

Ein Krimi im Krimi, beide Fälle haben einen gewissen Charme und können auf ihre altmodisch-konventionelle Art überzeugen. Horowitz spielt nicht nur mit dem Genre, nein, er macht sich einen Spaß daraus, gnadenlos alles zu entlarven, was über Jahrzehnte funktioniert, obgleich es unheimlich durchschaubar ist. Agatha Christie war keine begnadete Schreiberin, trotzdem war sie enorm erfolgreich und hat Charaktere für die Ewigkeit geschaffen, die stilbildend für das Genre geworden sind. In gewisser Weise greift Horowitz genau diese Widersprüchlichkeit auf: sein fiktiver Autor ist enttäuscht, dass er sein Geld mit den Kriminalromanen, einem in seinen Augen literarisch minderwertigen Genre, verdient, wo er doch von der hohen Literatur träumt. Belächelt werden diese Autoren, kommerziell erfolgreich zwar, aber doch keine wirklichen literarischen Genies. Nichtsdestotrotz liebt sie die Leserschaft.

Beide Handlungen in „Die Morde von Pye Hall“ folgen den klassischen, vorhersehbaren Mustern und dennoch begeistern sie – deutlicher kann man seine Hommage an den Kriminalroman kaum zum Ausdruck bringen. Und ja, auch diese Bücher haben nicht nur ihre Daseinsberechtigung, sondern sind ein Gewinn in der Buchlandschaft.

Lexie Elliott – The French Girl

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Lexie Elliott – The French Girl

It‘s been ten years since their legendary summer holidays in France. Now, the six friends reunite in London. They have all pursued their careers, found new partners and almost forgot what happened on their last day in France that summer. The French girl who spent a lot of time with them went missing, already back then a murder investigation was set up by the French authorities, yet, without success. But now, her body has been found, buried in a well on the premises and she obviously did not fall into it by accident. Kate does not have a clue what might have happened, she only remembers her quarrel with her then boyfriend Seb. But now things are different and soon, Kate finds herself prime suspect in a murder case.

Lexie Elliott tells the strange murder case only from one point of view, Kate’s, which adds a lot to the suspense of the novel. Kate is telling her story, we, as the reader, only know what she knows, we only get her thoughts and thus are limited in getting the whole picture. Additionally, during the course of the story, you start doubting your narrator – is Kate reliable or is she lying to us and leading us to false clues? I liked this play with uncertainty and the fact that only bits and pieces of the whole story are revealed.

The strongest aspect of the novel are the characters. First of all, Kate who is quite lively drawn, second and even more interesting is Caro whom you cannot trust which is obvious right from the start. But also the other characters are suspicious, Kate’s friend Lara and her affair with the French investigator or Tony who is making advances towards Kate. The story itself, however, does not advance at a high pace, at times you wait impatiently for something to happen. The fact of only giving one perspective, on the one hand, adds to the suspense, on the other, it temps to skip pages you to learn what actually happened because the information you get is quite limited. The end and the solution was not really convincing for me, for me, the motive was too weak to justify such an act.