Colson Whitehead – Harlem Shuffle

Colson Whitehead – Harlem Shuffle

Ray Carney just wants to lead decent life as a black furniture salesman at the beginning of the 1960s in Harlem. His wife Elizabeth is expecting their second child and even if his in-laws are not happy with him, his life is quite ok. His cousin Freddie shows up from time to time with some bargains and Ray does not ask too many questions about the origins of the odd sofa or necklace. But when Freddie and a bunch of crooks plan to rob the Hotel Theresa – something like Harlem’s Waldorf – and as for his help to get rid of the loot, his life becomes a lot more complicated especially since Ray quickly understands that there is not much room for negotiation.  

With “The Underground Railroad” and “The Nickel Boys” Colson Whitehead has catapulted himself at the top of the list of contemporary writers. Just as in his former works, “Harlem Shuffle” brilliantly captures the mood and the atmosphere of the time it is set in. It only takes a couple of pages to get a feeling of 125th street of the time and first and foremost, how people experienced the riots after the shooting of an unarmed black boy by a policeman. Thus, even though the plot is set sixty years in the past, he succeeds in connecting it to present day events and issues.

“The way he saw it, living taught you that you didn’t have to live the way you’d been taught to live- You came from one place but more important was where you decided to go.”

Ray has decided for a decent life with his furniture store, he keeps to himself and his family and does not want to get involved too much in any criminal doings. He has grown up with broken glass on the playground, killings where just a side note of everyday life. Yet, Freddie is his cousin and blood ultimately is thicker than water. They have grown up like brothers and the bond cannot easily be cut even though this time, it means serious consequences.

The novel develops slowly but it is those seemingly unrelated marginalia that provide the depth of the story and create the atmosphere on which the story lives. A great novel vividly written and definitely worth reading, however, I am not as enthusiastic as I was after reading his former novels.

Lisa Taddeo – Animal

Lisa Taddeo – Animal

Joan flees New York to California after he lover Victor shot himself publicly in front of her. With little money left, she finds a small place to stay and she also finds the woman she was looking for. Alice, whom she had tracked online over all those years. She thinks back to what her life had to offer so far, her mother who was unable to love her, her father whom she admired childishly. Both have long been gone. Joan can run, but somehow her bad luck follows her, she seems prone to attracting all kind of evil and so it does not take too long until it comes back to her.

Lisa Taddeo made her debut with “Three women“ which I already liked a lot. In her latest novel, too, complicated relationships between men and women are central to the story’s development. The narrator herself is unable to love unconditionally, she needs to have the upper hand over her lovers, yet, this presumed precaution measure fires back and somehow she is stuck in the role of the kid who is longing for being loved. She is addressing her account of the events to somebody, yet it takes until the end for the reader to understand whom she tells about her life.

From a psychological point of view, Taddeo has created quite interesting characters. Violence and love are constantly opposed and they seem not to able to exist without each other. Joan’s grandmother has been raped, a dramatic experience of violence, yet, we do never learn about what this did to the woman. On the other hand, Joan’s mother does not seem to be a direct victim, yet, she reacts quite strongly and refuses her daughter the love she craves for. The women in her family are no good role models, yet, her father, too, does not provide a good example of how to behave, especially at critical moments in his life. As a consequence, Joan is unable to lead a relationship at eye level and feels the need to protect herself from the things that might happen.

Thus, as a grown up, Joan replicates what she has seen as a kid and ignores the effect this might have on others, only when she is confronted with a kind of mirror, her genuine feelings offer her another way.

“Animal” is all but an easy read, yet, it offers a lot of food for thought and raises important questions concerning central human emotions and behaviour. I am not an expert, however, I would classify Joan’s thinking with all those flashbacks as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder which is highly likely from her family’s history. In this respect, the author very successfully displays the impact of traumatic events on untreated children.

J. Courtney Sullivan – Friends and Strangers

J. Courtney Sullivan – Friends and Strangers

After becoming mother for the first time, journalist and author Elizabeth agrees with her husband’s wish to leave busy New York for a quieter place closer to his parents. Yet, the new life does not really seem to fit to Elizabeth. She feels exhausted from the baby and finds it difficult to make friends in her new community, the other women seem to be happy with dull pseudo-occupations and spend their days gossiping. When she decides to hire a babysitter to gain some tome to work on her next novel, things change finally since she immediately bonds with Sam, an art student in her final year at the local college. Sam herself comes from a decent background and is fascinated by the woman who seems to get everything done easily, who has style and taste and has made an astonishing career. Despite the age gap they become friends, but there are things they just ignore which, however, become more and more apparent the better they get to know each other and when they need each other most, a gap opens which is unsurmountable.

I totally liked J. Courtney Sullivan’s novel from the start. Sympathising with Elizabeth was easy since I can imagine a lot but not leaving a big town to become a full-time mother and spend my day with gossiping neighbours. Sam, too, was easy to like, still young and unsecure but with a good heart and totally in love with her British not-so-boyish-anymore boyfriend. From the start, it is a challenge between two characters who actually like each other but where there is an imbalance in power in several areas which puts at time Elizabeth, at times Sam in a better situation.

The author explores a lot of aspects in her novel which give you food for thought. First of all, Elizabeth’s move to a small town which does not offer much. Also her struggle with being a mother is something a lot of women surely can emphasize with. Quite interesting also the dynamics between her and her husband who cannot really cope with a more successful wife on the one hand, on the other he is relying on her financial situation to realize his own dream. Elizabeth looks down on him since he has never really accomplished anything in professional ways – not a good basis for a new start in a new place.

Sam lives the typical student life, yet, her fellow students all come from rich families and can afford things she can only dream of. She manages to live in both worlds, but feels often closer to the women in the cafeteria kitchen she works with than with the girls she shares the dorm. Her relationship with Clive is mysterious form the start, yet, totally in love, she forgets to question his behaviour and falls prey to him. She is still young and simply makes mistakes young people make.

Both characters as well as the plot have a lot to offer, yet, at times I found the backstories a bit too long, a bit too detailed since they always slowed down the main action. Nevertheless, a wonderful read I thoroughly enjoyed.

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.

Austin Duffy – Ten Days

Austin Duffy – Ten Days

When his wife Miriam days from cancer, Wolf has to take care of their 16-year-old daughter Ruth whom he hardly knows since the couple has been separated for quite some time. Miriam had one last wish: to have her ashes scattered in the Hudson River. Thus, Wolf and Ruth leave London for New York where he also hopes his daughter can find a new home with his former wife’s Jewish family. They arrive at the holy season between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; Wolf has never really been religious and also their daughter has not been raised to follow religious traditions. Yet, with Miriam’s believing relatives, conflicts lie at hand. They only seem to have one mission, yet, there is something else the father has to announce to his daughter.

Austin Duffy’s novel “Ten Days” tells the story of people who have to cope with the loss of a beloved mother and wife. Even though they have not been living as a couple anymore, Wolf’s memories come back when he shows Ruth where they met, where their first kiss took place and where everything began. It seems to be quite difficult for him to deal with his intelligent and at times rebellious teenage daughter, however, the more the narration advances the more questions arise about Wolf’s behaviour which becomes not only quarrelsome but strange.

I totally enjoyed the novel since the characters are lively drawn and really appear to be authentic in the way they try to make sense of Miriam’s death. Ruth is quite independent and strong-willed, when Wolf’s secret is revealed, however, we also get to know another side of her character.

Not a totally emotional read, much more a slow novel which makes you ponder.

Courtney Summers – The Project

Courtney Summer – The Project

Lo Denham has lost her parents in a car accident in which she herself was also seriously injured and which marked her with a scar for life. Her sister Bea, six years her senior, is the last bit of family she has, but she has not been able to contact her for months. It must be The Unity Project’s fault, the sect Bea joined when she couldn’t make sense of the loss she experienced anymore. When a man claims that The Unity Project killed his son, Lo decides to take a closer look and to get nearer to the charismatic leader Lev Warren with the aim to expose the group’s doings in the magazine she works for. However, Lo is not prepared for the experiences she makes there.

Courtney Summers narrates the story from different points of view at different points in time, thus we get both sisters’ perspective on the highly emotional events in their lives. This also creates a lot of suspense since from the beginning, there are gaps which need to be filled to make sense. It also underlines the different characters of Lo and Bea which, nevertheless, does not hinder them from being fascinated by the same man.

The crucial point is most definitely the psychological impact a major tragic event such as the loss of the parents can have on young persons. Coming to grips with such a stroke of fate which does not make sense and is hard to understand is not only very hard but also makes people fragile and prone to others who are eager to exploit their situation. The leader of the group is surely an interesting character, it is easy to see how he manages to win people for his project and how he can make them follow him blindly. In this way, the novel also cleverly portrays the mechanism which work behind sects and which make it difficult to immediately see through them and more importantly to leave them.

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel due to the multifaceted characters and the message beyond the suspenseful and entertaining plot.

Cristina Alger – Das Kartenhaus

Cristina Alger – Das Kartenhaus

Annabel ist am Boden zerstört als sie erfährt, dass ihr Mann Matthew bei einem Flugzeugabsturz ums Leben kam. Aber wie kann das sein? Er sollte bei einem Kunden in Zürich sein und nicht in London und wer war die ominöse Schönheit, der der Privatjet gehörte? Dies sind nur die ersten Fragen, die sich der ehemaligen Galeristin stellen. Bald schon wird für sie offenkundig, dass die Genfer Privatbank, bei der ihr Mann beschäftigt war, auch zweifelhafte Kunden hofierte und ihnen dabei half, Geld zu verstecken. Aber dies ist nur die moralisch verwerfliche Seite, die brutale lernt sie bald ebenso kennen und muss feststellen, dass auch sie selbst in Gefahr schwebt, wie auch Matthews Assistentin Zoe und die Journalistin Marina, deren Chef gerade ermordet wurde, da er offenbar eine undichte Stelle bei der Bank ausmachen konnte.

Cristina Algers Thriller erweckt zunächst den Anschein, sich vorrangig um die Trauer der jungen Witwe und die Aufklärung des Flugzeugabsturzes ihres Gatten zu drehen. Die parallel erzählte Geschichte um Marina, einer investigativen Journalistin, die sich jedoch auf die Hochzeit und dann die Aufgaben als repräsentative Gattin eines Spross einer New Yorker Superreichenfamilien vorbereitet, schafft lange nur lose Verbindungen. Über die beiden Frauenfiguren war ich zugegebenermaßen etwas entsetzt, erfolgreiche und clevere Frauen, die mir nichts dir nichts ihre Karriere für die Ehe hinschmeißen und im braven Hausweibchen-Dasein die Erfüllung finden, können mich leider nur wenig begeistern. Glücklicherweise hat die Autorin diesbezüglich jedoch den Dreh gefunden und weiblichen Figuren nicht ins Dummchen-aber-hübsch-Kabinett verfrachtet.

Die Geschichte wird zunehmend komplexer als man mehr über die dubiosen Machenschaften und die internationalen Verstrickungen der Finanzwelt erfährt. Geld, Macht und Skrupellosigkeit scheinen Hand in Hand zu gehen und jede Form von Respekt gegenüber Menschen vermissen zu lassen. Der Roman greift geschickt das auf, was man in den letzten Jahren wiederholt erleben durfte: Whistle-Blower, die ihr Leben riskieren, um unmoralische und illegale Geschäfte an die Öffentlichkeit zu bringen. Die Figuren werden dabei ganz persönlich gefordert sich zu positionieren und ihre Ideale dem schönen Leben im Reichtum gegenüber abzuwägen. Gut und Böse bleiben lange diffus, was die Geschichte recht authentisch macht.

Ein spannender Thriller mit letztlich interessanten Frauenfiguren, da es nebenbei auch gelingt, die vorherrschenden Schubladen, in die Frauen gepresst werden, kritisch zu betrachten.

Guillaume Musso – La vie est un roman [dt. Eine Geschichte, die uns verbindet]

Guillaume Musso – La vie est un roman

Gut gelaunt kehrt Autorin Flora Conway mit ihrer Tochter Carrie in das Apartment im Lancaster Building zurück. Wie immer spielen sie eine Runde verstecken, Flora hört noch, wie das Mädchen davontapst, doch als sie die Suche beginnt, kann sie Carrie nicht finden. Die Tür ist abgeschlossen, die Fenster ebenso, wo also steckt sie? Verzweifelt ruft sie die Polizei, die ebenfalls vor einem Rätsel steht. Wer treibt ein perfides Spiel mit der erfolgreichen, aber sehr zurückgezogen lebenden Schriftstellerin? Die Antwort findet sich in Paris: Romain Ozorski, seines Zeichens ebenfalls beliebter Autor, der jedoch gerade in einer persönlichen Krise steckt, nachdem seine Frau Almine nicht nur die Scheidung will, sondern auch den gemeinsamen Sohn Théo in die USA bringen möchte. Die Verbindung liegt in Fantine de Vilatte, Verlegerin mit Gespür für Bestseller.

Nachdem ich vor wenigen Tagen zum ersten Mal einen Roman von Guillaume Musso gelesen habe, war ich neugierig auf weitere Werke des französischen Erfolgsautors. Sein aktuelles Buch hat die Erwartung nicht enttäuscht: wieder werden verschiedene Geschichten angerissen, deren Verbindung sich erst im Laufe der Handlung aufzeigt. Der Titel verrät eigentlicher schon alles, was einem jedoch als Leser erst spät klar wird. Clever konstruiert bleiben lange Zeit offene Fragen, deren Beantwortung man mit Spannung verfolgt und die sich schließlich glaubwürdig und restlos klären.

Die Handlung beginnt in New York mit dem mysteriösen Verschwinden Carries. Man kann die Verzweiflung der Mutter nachvollziehen, vor allem als sich bei der Befragung durch die Polizei der Verdacht aufdrängt, dass sie selbst beschuldigt wird, hinter der Geschichte zu stecken. Der zweite Handlungsstrang fokussiert ebenfalls auf einem verzweifelten Elternteil, Romain sieht sich seiner noch Ehefrau ausgeliefert, die geschickt das öffentliche Image lenkt, um ihn als gewalttätigen und aggressiven Gatten und Vater darzustellen, um so den gemeinsamen Sohn ganz für sich zu haben. Aus Romains Sicht stellt sich die Lage gänzlich anders dar, mental labil und unter dem Einfluss zweifelhafter Extremisten sollte Almine keinesfalls das Sorgerecht für Théo erhalten.

Floras und Romains Verbindung klärt sich rasch, aber die anderen Figuren bleiben mysteriös. Nach dem Prinzip einer russischen Puppe steckt immer noch eine weitere Geschichte in der gerade erzählten, Ähnlichkeiten und Parallelen zeigen sich, aber was auf welcher Ebene liegt, muss erst enthüllt werden.

« Vous allez supprimer les fichiers de votre disque dur, c’est ça? Vous allez mettre ma vie à la poubelle, d’un simple clic sur votre ordinateur ? – C’est un peu réducteur, mais ce n’est pas faux. »

Gleich mehrere Autoren, neben Flora Conway und Romain Ozorski auch noch Frederik Andersen, die verschiedene Geschichten erzählen. Ein großer Spaß für Literaturliebhaber, zudem spannend geschrieben, so dass man das Buch gar nicht mehr weglegen möchte.

Guillaume Musso – Parce que je t’aime [Weil ich dich liebe]

Guillaume Musso – Parce que je t’aime

Nachdem ihre 5-jährige Tochter Layla in einem Einkaufszentrum verschwunden ist, bricht die Ehe von Mark und seiner Frau auseinander. Der Vater ist verzweifelt und landet nach Jahren der vergeblichen Suche schließlich auf der Straße. Doch auf den Tag fünf Jahre nach ihrem Verschwinden taucht sie wieder auf, Mark fliegt nach LA, um sie abzuholen, überglücklich ist der Psychologe auf dem Rückflug, wo er auf zwei Frauen trifft, die ebenfalls schwere Schläge hinter sich haben, die sie aus dem Leben geworfen haben: die reiche Erbin Alyson hadert damit, dass sie bei einem Unfall ein Kind getötet hat, die noch junge Evie hat ihre Mutter wegen eines Ärztebetrugs verloren und sinnt auf Rache. Lange Gespräche entspinnen sich zwischen den drei Schicksalsgenossen, doch als sie an ihrer Destination ankommen, erleben sie ein unerwartetes Erwachen.

Guillaume Musso gehört zu den Autoren, die mir seit langem namentlich bekannt sind, von denen ich jedoch bislang nichts gelesen hatte. Dem Titel nach dachte ich erst, es handele sich um eine seichte Liebesgeschichte, der Hinweis Krimi hat mich dann doch neugierig gemacht und in der Tat erwartet einem eine spannende und vor allem sehr unerwartete Handlung. Im Wesentlichen spielt sich diese im Flugzeug ab, die Erinnerungen der Figuren führen jedoch immer wieder in die Vergangenheit und legen so nicht geahnte Verbindungen offen.

Alle Figuren verhalten sich auf individuelle Weise seltsam, man kann es zunächst nicht einfach einordnen, woran das liegt, auch die Verbindung bleibt lange Zeit nicht nachvollziehbar. Erst am Ende löst sich das Mysterium und der Autor liefert eine stimmige, wenn auch nur begrenzt authentische Erklärung, wobei letzteres der Unterhaltung keinen Abbruch tut. Mit den ganz unterschiedlichen Lebensgeschichten konnte mich Musso eher packen als mit dem Spannungsaspekt. Insgesamt eine überzeugende und ansprechende Lektüre, die Interesse an den anderen Romanen des Autors weckt.

Sara Sligar – Take Me Apart

Sara Sligar – Take Me Apart

Journalist Kate flees New York and her job and hopes to have a new start in Callinas close to San Francisco where she is staying with her aunt while working as an archivist for Theo Brand. He is the son of the famous photographer Miranda Brand whose legacy has been stored unattended in their home for more than two decades. Even though Theo is quite reserved, Kate gets on well immediately with his kids Oscar and Jemima; the deeper she digs into Miranda’s work and story, the more fascinated she becomes. Spending hours daily at the Brand home ultimately also brings her closer to Theo and makes her challenge her luck: he explicitly prohibited her from accessing some parts of the home which he considered strictly private. Kate cannot resist and thus finds Miranda’s diary which sheds a completely new light on the artist and her mysterious death.

It only took me a couple of pages to be totally enthralled by the story. Sara Sligar’s debut is a clever combination of an extraordinary artist’s (fictitious) biography, a crime novel and also feminist psychological thriller. Miranda’s death is the central aspect which Kate investigates, but what I found much more interesting was, on the one hand, how Miranda’s relationship with her obsessive-aggressive husband develops and, on the other, how Kate, herself just having recovered from an episode of mental struggles, reacts to it and becomes increasingly fixated. A brilliant study of two female characters who try to cope with psychological issues and being misunderstood by the world around them.

“I must figure out how to be exactly the right level of insane.”

The crime part of the novel is not that obvious from the beginning, it develops slowly and is surely reinforced by Kate’s prying in Theo’s home. It does not seem to make sense why he hides important information from her while paying her to sort out his mother’s legacy. Their getting closer over the time, not surprisingly, makes things even more complicated.

Even though some serious topics are addressed, Sara Sligar keeps a light tone and works on suspense rather than having the novel turn into a too melodramatic story. Added to this, her characters are not just black or white but give an authentic representation of the complex layers of grey which exist when it comes to relationships, violence and mental issues.