Heather Child – Everything about you

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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.

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Helen Callaghan – Everything is Lies

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Helen Callaghan – Everything is Lies

One evening when Sophia is out with her colleagues, she gets a strange phone call from her mother who asks her to come back home. It is always the same and thus, she cuts her short and goes on amusing herself. The next morning, the bad conscience is nagging and she gets in the car to visit her parents. What she finds in their house is horrible: her mother hanging from a tree, her father badly injured. What happened? The police soon close the file, for them the case is clear: an extended suicide. But when Sophia find her mother’s diaries, she is convinced that her mother would never have attempted suicide. And what about the burglaries? Over months, her parents had been the victims of break-ins. The deeper Sophia digs in her mother Nina’s past, the more complex and strange things seem to be, but there are not many people who believe her.

Helen Callaghan caught me immediately. Even though the beginning leads into a completely different way, centring about Sophia’s work at an architectural agency, she soon accelerates and with the first part of Nina’s diary, I was completely absorbed by the novel.

The most striking part is definitely Nina’s past in the cult she joined as a student. It is a wonderful example of how easy it is to manipulate a young woman who lacks self-confidence and experience. Cleverly they approach her and they use the right amount of charm to trick her into their community. At the moment she arrives at their house, there is no way out anymore for her, she is already too deeply involved emotionally to think and act clearly.

The thriller is full of suspense, offering twists and turns at the perfect moment to keep the plot running on. The protagonist also seems to be quite authentic and you can easily sympathise with her.

I really enjoyed the novel, it is a most accomplished psychological thriller which leaves nothing to be desired.

Kirsty Logan – The Gloaming

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Kirsty Logan – The Gloaming

Peter, a boxer, falls in love with Signe, a ballet dancer. This unusual match somehow triggers nature and becomes something very special. Signe soon falls pregnant, but of the three babies, only one, Islay, survives. After they had their second daughter, Mara, they move to a remote Scottish island into a huge house. This is where their third kid, the long awaited boy, Bee, arrives. Yet, the forces of nature demand donations and soon the rough sea catches young Bee and leaves the family devastated. Islay flees the haunted island as soon as she can. Mara remains there with the parents not only grieving but also deteriorating more form day to day. With the arrival of Pearl, the chance for Mara to have a more positive look on life suddenly opens up. But Pearl is mysterious and she, too, has a close connection to the earthly forces.

“The Gloaming” is an outstanding novel. It is not exactly fantasy, nor can it completely be classified as a kind of fairy tale. It is somewhere in between the reality as we know it and hardly palpable forces that come from the earth. They are not supernatural, quite the opposite, they are natural and thus guide the characters and decide on what happens. It is somehow close to very old cultures, old folkloristic sagas and beliefs that revive and are called back to the people’s memory.

What I liked best about the novel was the way Kirsty Logan created the atmosphere. Throughout the novel, you have the feeling that there is something about the island or the house, something beyond the characters’ control. It is spooky somehow and gives you the creeps at times. On the other hand, there is a sadness and melancholy which weighs especially on Mara and with is often hard to support.

There is something magical in the novel, yet, it wasn’t exactly the kind of book I love to read.

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.

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.

Emily Koch – If I Die Before I Wake

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Emily Koch – If I Die Before I Wake

When Alex wakes up in hospital, he finds himself locked-in in his body. His mind is absolutely clear, but he cannot communicate with his surroundings; neither can he move his body the least bit, nor can he show the doctors or his family that he is not in a coma. It takes some time for him to figure out what actually happened. Since he cannot ask, he has to rely on what his visitors share with him. First of all, his girlfriend Bea, but also his father and his sister. He obviously was climbing when he fell from the rock. Since is never wore a helmet, the impact left a serious damage to his brain. But slowly he comes to the conclusion that the different pieces of information he gathers while listening do not really fit together. There must be more about it.

Emily Koch surely has chosen a very special point of view for her novel. Giving a voice to a locked-in character is something you do not read that often. Yet, it made the story especially appealing since you as the reader were completely with Alex and had no chance of getting more information than the protagonist. Not all you learnt made sense, at times, you even suspected the girlfriend of having tried to murder him – just like Alex did. Thus, the choice the author has made is simply great and adds a special bit to the story.

It was an attempted murder, this becomes clear quite early in the novel, yet, it takes some time to really understand what was behind it all. The limited access to information really supports the suspense here. At some points I got a bit annoyed, wishing it all to advance a bit more quickly. However, imagining this as a real life event, there is nothing one could do to accelerate it, so even though I was curious to get to the solution, it was a good decision to delay it.

A risky point of view which I find quite innovative. The plot was solved convincingly and the author found a way out of the story that I absolutely liked.

Joy Ellis – Beware the Past

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Joy Ellis – Beware the Past

It was his most important case, 25 years ago, and now it all seems to be coming back to him. Detective Matt Ballard was still young when a series of murders of three boys hit the remote area of Gibbet Fens. The killing suddenly stopped when their main suspects was killed in an accident, but nevertheless, doubts remained and now the killers seems to have resumed his series. The team is working around the clock and soon they have to realise that this is not just a normal murder case, it is a cat and mouse play with Matt Ballard at the centre. The killer wants his full attention and he want to hurt the detective – therefore everybody close to him is in the highest danger.

Joy Ellis’ thriller is just want I’d suspect from a crime novel: full of suspense, many clues and leads that only lead to dead-ends. Interesting characters with a past and buried secrets. A fast paced story with twists and turns and quite a surprising motive of the predator.

For me, the strongest aspect of the novel was actually the plot and the motivation of the killer. It is hard not to tell too much since it really comes as a surprise, but the way Joy Ellis drafted the novel, the killer’s procedure and the solution of the case was just brilliant. I was kept in the dark about who is behind it all for such a long time – ok, one might have guessed, but actually, the fact that I was totally taken by surprise makes it an outstanding thriller for me.

William Boyd – The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth

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William Boyd – The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth

William Boyd’s collection of stories “The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth“ is not easy to review. As it often with such an assembly of very various texts, differing in length and topic, not connected in any way, you cannot pay them all the due respect in a review. The opening is great, I absolutely liked the the story about the art dealer and womanizer Ludo who immediately after having married one is looking for the next wife. The story about the thief did not really appeal to me, it was a mere enumeration without a real story, whereas the story of the freeing of the monkey had some deeper message. The longest and title providing story was the one about Bethany Mellmoth. Actually, I think it would have also made a good novel if extended a bit. Bethany is an interesting character and I think her make-up could have provided more to fill the pages of a whole book. In the last story, we even get a kind of short thriller which I also liked a lot. You sense that there is something odd about the woman and job for Dunbar, but it is hard to say what is wrong about it. William Boyd knows how to tell a story and he definitely is best in longer narrations such as the one about Bethany’s dreams.

One reoccurring topic in several stories is love, or rather: unfulfilled love. The characters are looking for the one person with whom they can spend the rest of their life, but they only encounter the ones who do not really match or who have mischievous plans. Or they themselves are actually unable to love and to be faithful. Loneliness can be found in many of them which gives the whole collection a kind of underlying melancholy.

All in all, there is something in every single story and a lot of wit in Boyd’s writing make reading the stories a great pleasure. In the narration of Bethany’s dreams he somehow sums at a point what life and the core of his stories are about, what he not only tries but masterly manages to portray:

Bethany is suspicious – this is not normal: everything seems to be going well and this is not how the world works – no. Life is a dysfunctioning system, she knows: failure, breakdown, disappointment, frustration – where are you hiding?

Graham Swift – Ein Festtag

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Graham Swift – Ein Festtag

Wie alle Hausmädchen hat auch Jane Fairchild am Muttertag des Jahres 1924 frei. Nur hat sie keine Mutter, zu der sie fahren könnte; als Kind ausgesetzt, wuchs sie in einem Heim auf, bevor sie ihre erste Anstellung aus Hausmädchen annahm. Doch an diesem Tag hat sie etwas vor, sie wird sich mit Paul Sheringham treffen, dem Sohn eines befreundeten Ehepaares ihrer Arbeitsgeber, den Nivens. Es wird vermutlich eines der letzten Treffen mit Paul sein, denn in zwei Wochen wird er Emma Hobday heiraten, ein Mädchen, das aus denselben Kreisen stammt und eine angemessene Gattin sein wird. Paul hat sie gebeten zu ihm zu kommen, ganz offiziell auch den Vordereingang zu benutzen. Ihr Treffen wird etwas Besonderes werden, das spürt Jane und ahnt noch nicht, dass sie diesen Tag in ihrem ganzen Leben nicht mehr vergessen wird.

Graham Swift zählt zu den bedeutendsten britischen Gegenwartsautoren, seine Romane erhielten zahlreiche Literaturpreise, unter anderem den Booker Prize, den James Tait Black Memorial Prize und „Ein Festtag“ (Im Original „Mothering Sunday“) wurde mit dem Hawthornden Prize, einem der ältesten britischen Literaturpreise, ausgezeichnet.

Bemerkenswert an der Erzählung fand ich vor allem den Stil, den Swift findet. Der ganze Text erscheint sprachlich geradezu aus der Zeit gefallen und passt ganz hervorragend in das Jahr 1924, in dem die Handlung angesiedelt ist. Dabei gelingt ihm eine stilistisch bemerkenswerte Vermischung zwischen Introspektion der Protagonistin und zeitlichen Brüchen, die immer wieder in eine ferne Zukunft springen und ein Licht auf das werfen, was Jane erwarten wird, wenn dieser Tag vorbei und diese Episode ihres Lebens abgeschlossen ist.

Trotz zahlreicher Wiederholungen und Schleifen, minutiösen Detailbeschreibungen und bei realistischer Betrachtung sehr wenig Handlung bleibt der Roman immer lebendig und wird nie langatmig. Es ist dieser eine entscheidende Moment im Leben von Jane, der sich einbrennt und eine Wendung herbeiführt. Noch ist für sie alles wie gehabt, die Welt draußen ist jedoch schon einen Schritt weitergegangen, was sie noch nicht weiß. Der Leser ahnt schon, was sich zugetragen haben muss, gönnt Jane aber diese kurze Pause, die die Standesunterschiede aufhebt und ihr einen Vorgeschmack auf ihr späteres Leben gibt. Ein Leben, in dem sie viel von sich offenbaren wird, aber nicht diesen Tag im März 1924.

Graham Swift konnte mich mit diesem Roman, eher eine Novelle, vollends überzeugen. Sein Schreibstil erinnert an Ian McEwan, ebenso unaufgeregt kann er intensiv beschreiben, was seine Figur bewegt. Das Hörbuch wird von Iris Berben gelesen, was sehr gut zur reifen rückblickenden Jane passt, die die notwendige Lebenserfahrung und Weitsicht hat zu wissen, was man offenbart und was man besser als Gemeinsinns für sich bewahrt.