Garth Greenwell – Cleanness

garth-greenwell-cleanness
Garth Greenwell – Cleanness

An American teacher comes to Sofia, Bulgaria, to teach his mother tongue to students who hope to find a better life abroad with a good knowledge of the world language. While the work is satisfying, his love life has become a lot more complicated since homosexuality is not something that is openly shown in the eastern European country. In a Portuguese exchange student, he finds his love, but things are complicated with the countries’ economies struggling and offering not much to foreigners.

The narrator finds himself in a surrounding which differs a lot from his life before, he roams the streets of Sofia discovering and re-discovering old and mysterious places, being lost physically and emotionally. The political and economic situation aren’t easy either which makes it hard for him to fully enjoy his time in this country of wild nature and rich history.

Greenwell definitely has an eye for the details, e.g. the wind playing outside or hitting the windows and smoothly running over his characters’ backs and brilliantly captures his protagonist’s emotional state. Even though the chapters are often like independent episodes, together they form a complete picture. Just like them, all the narrator experiences are pieces of a mosaic that are unique when look at closely, but you have to take a step back to get the full picture.

Some very interesting observations put in a beautiful language, yet, the mass of explicit scenes annoyed me a bit, a lot of it could have been left to the readers’ imagination.

Jo Baker – The Body Lies

jo-baker-the-body-lies
Jo Baker – The Body Lies

After having been assaulted on her way home a couple of years before, a young writer never feels secure in her London house anymore. When she is offered a job by a remote university, this could not only solve the small family’s financial problems but also bring her away from the bad memories. She is supposed to take over a creative writing course and soon figures out that she is completely left alone since her colleague who was supposed to mentor her is on a leave. The trimester starts slowly but she gets along well with her students even though they seem to be quite unique. When they read out their first writing attempts, the situation becomes complicated since one of them, Nicholas Baker, insists on only telling the truth and not inventing anything which is not taken very well by his fellow students. As the time advances, the professor feels more and more uncomfortable around him and his texts as they become increasingly more personal and Nicholas develops into a real stalker who is ready to turn his bizarre fantasies into reality making her the protagonist of his weird story.

“The Body Lies” is completely different form Jo Baker’s novel “Longbourn” which I read and enjoyed a couple of years ago. Reading it was not easy at times since, due to her vivid style of writing, you can imagine the event narrated without any problem and some of the violence really gets under the skin. This is really a psychological thriller as you follow the invasion of the protagonist’s private life and you are not sure if there could actually be a happy ending.

What I liked most about the novel was that, apart from being suspenseful and entertaining as a psychological thriller, it also conveys an authentic picture of reality and an important message. The unnamed professor is exposed to violence and does not really have a chance to fight the men who assault her. Defending herself would have led to more injuries in the first case and in the second, she feels ashamed for what happened to her which, unfortunately, is quite common. But not only the physical violence hurts her, it is first and foremost the psychological threat that slowly hurts her and the fact that she has nobody to believe her version of the story makes it even worse. Sadly, I have no doubt that the story told could happen anywhere everyday.

A great read even though it is at times hard to support.

Johannes Lichtman – Such Good Work

johannes-lichtman-such-good-work
Johannes Lichtman – Such Good Work

After losing his teaching job at a college because of his very peculiar assignments, Jonas Anderson moves to Sweden to change perspective and to have a fresh start. Even though he is some years older than the students there, he socialises with them easily and leads the life he had in his early 20s. After the break-up with his German girlfriend, he moves from Lund to Malmö, the town where 2015 masses of immigrants from the Middle East arrived. Seeing the hottest political topic in front of his own door, Jonas decides to get active and to volunteer in the work with the migrants, too. He soon realises that all that is meant to be supportive and good, doesn’t necessarily turn out to be such a good idea in the end.

Johannes Lichtman’s novel isn’t easy to sum up or to describe since his protagonist goes through tremendous changes throughout the novel which also affect the plot and the tone a lot. I really enjoyed the first part a lot when we meet Jonas trying to be a creative writing teacher. The tone here is refreshing and the character’s naiveté makes him sympathetic and likeable. With moving to Sweden and becoming a stranger and outsider, his role changes, yet, he still needs more time until he actually grows up and does something meaningful with his life.

The last part, his work with the unaccompanied minors, was for me personally the most interesting because I could empathise with him easily. Having myself worked with those youths when they came to Germany in 2015 and 2016, I went through the same emotions that Jonas went through. And I had to do exactly the same learning process: you want to help and you have good ideas, but actually they sometimes go past the needs of the refugees. The struggle between the news where all the immigrants were treated as a homogeneous mass and where the focus was put on the danger that came with them, and the everyday experiences with real people made it often hard to cope with the situation. In this respect, Lichtman did a great job because he depicted reality as it was back then.

All in all, a novel that addresses so many different topics with a lively and highly likeable style of writing, a great read not to be missed.