Anna-Lou Weatherley – The Stranger’s Wife

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Anna-Lou Weatherley – The Stranger’s Wife

You should never underestimate a woman’s revenge. When her nanny and friend vanishes, Beth decides that – since it all will finally come out anyhow – she can also make the first step herself: she tells her husband Evan that she’s going to leave him for her affair Nick. Evan seems to accept this calmly, they have lived next to each other but hardly with each other for years now, calling this a marriage was embellishing the situation. But he warns his wife that she will be sorry for this step. At that moment, Beth doesn’t have a clue what he means, how powerful her husband actually is and first of all, WHO she has been married to all these years. With her decision to leave him, she has triggered a ball that will send her directly into hell. But Beth is a fighter, much more a fighter than Evan could ever imagine.

Anna-Lou Weatherley’s novel really deserves the title “page-turner”. From the first chapter when the nanny goes missing to the very end: it is a rollercoaster ride of emotional ups and downs that fascinatingly and almost addictively keeps you reading on. The author has created enemies who fight on a very high level – a wonderful read that I enjoyed throughout.

“The Stranger’s Wife” is a psychological thriller combined with some serious issues that make you ponder quite some time after having finished reading it. I totally adored the idea of a woman fighting back, not accepting fate and a bullying husband who knows all the important people and thinks that life runs according to his personal laws. Having his evil character slowly unfold was exciting and frightening at the same time since you always wonder how well you actually know the people around you and how much and what they might hide. Yet, the story also showed that marital abuse and physical as well as psychological violence happens in all social classes, the rich can be affected in the same way as the poor, money does not make a difference when it comes to aggressions.

A marvellous plot with interesting and multifaceted characters, thus I can easily pardon the fact that it needed a kind of coincidence to make everything fall into place. The novel literally absorbed me and I hardly could put it down.

Nalini Singh – A Madness of Sunshine

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Nalini Singh – A Madness of Sunshine

After the death of her husband and a decade abroad, Anahera returns to Golden Cove, a small town on the west coast of New Zealand. Not much has changed there and vivid memories return to the young woman who was eager to escape the poor and violent home she grew up in. It is only days she is there when the beaming young Miriama does not return from running. The whole town is on their feet to search for the girl with the promising future that everybody loves. Police detective Will, an outsider to the Maori community, coordinates the search and quickly develops the greatest fears. In a town where domestic violence is a normal part of everyday life and where common secrets tend to be buried deep, it is not easy to investigate. When the inhabitants recollect a series of hikers missing over only a couple of weeks, they start to fear that a serial killer might be among them who now has started to go for women again.

Nalini Sing’s mystery thriller is a suspenseful story which lives from the atmosphere the author brilliantly creates. You arrive together with Anahera in the small town and feel like an outsider; she had been gone for so long that she is not a part of their life anymore, but the longer you stay there, the more you dive into the culture and get a feeling of the dynamics that drive a close community which is not very welcoming to people not belonging to them. Apart from the plot around the missing women, I found the description of nature, its forces and the old culture which lives in harmony with it the most interesting.

Anahera and Will first seem to be two opposing poles in the story, on the one hand, the woman who is a natural part of Golden Cove and who shares memories with everybody and knows to read and respect the nature she lives in. On the other hand, the police detective who is a double outsider due to his job people are highly suspicious of and since he is not of Maori descent. What they share are secrets they try to hide from the community and which quickly make them bond.

The case of Miriama starts with big questions marks, Nalini Sing has well dosed the information you get about the girls, but soon you see the discrepancy between the first picture of the girl and her other side which obviously was well-hidden. The more secrets are revealed the more suspense rises captivating the reader. “A Madness of Sunshine” is a slow burn that does not only rely on the mystery part but also offers a lot in psychological respects with interesting characters in a fascinating setting.

Bernardine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

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Bernardine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

Twelve different women, twelve different fates. Bernardine Evaristo was awarded the Man Booker Prize 2019 for her novel which does not have a real plot with an all-embracing story but for each of the main characters offers a short insight in their life often at crucial turning point. Their stories overlap, are often cleverly intertwined. What they share is the fact that they address fundamental topics: first of all, I’d say “Girl, Woman, Other“ is a feminist novel since the cause of the woman in modern England, mostly the black woman, is the central topic. Apart from this, relationships, sexuality and gender identity are tackled as well as politics and what it means to be successful.

“His bredren and sistren could damned well speak up for themselves. Why should he carry the burden of representation when it will only hold him back? White people are only required to represent themselves, not an entire race.”

What does it mean to be different? To be black or brown in a predominantly white community. To be homosexual or gender fluid in a primarily heterosexual society. To be a working woman when women are supposed to stay at home to take care of the children and the household. Even when the point of disdain has been overcome, the problems and strange reactions have not necessarily and quite often, the singular example who enters a new community has to represent a whole group and loses his or her individuality.

What the characters unites is to differ from the mainstream which does not go unnoticed and uncommented. Most of them go through a tough time which leaves them stronger and makes it easy to empathise with them. The characters are complex, their lives are complicated and at the end of their chapter, they are not the same person they were at the beginning. Which also offers the reader the chance to leave their stand point and to change perspective on certain topics.

The novel is full of life and with the award, the spotlight has been turned on to black female and queer literature which have been awfully underrepresented in literary discussion. This is surely one of the strongest novels of 2019 since it contributes to the ongoing public discourse.

Karina Sainz Borgo – It Would Be Night in Caracas

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Karina Sainz Borgo – It Would Be Night in Caracas

Adelaida Falcón has just buried her beloved mother and finds herself completely on her own, when not just her own life but the lives of all inhabitants of her hometown of Caracas crumble. Outside, protesters fight, looters take everything they can and leaving the apartment surely means an immediate death. When her small world is invaded, too, she tries to fight, but in vain, she not only has nobody to turn to anymore but also has to consider herself homeless. The fight for her life makes her do things she, the literary translator, would never have dreamt of. But these are not times to act morally, these are times of trying to survive only.

Karina Sainz Borgo’s debut is a work of fiction, but to anybody who followed the news of South America in the last couple of months, the question of how much truth and reality might be found in the novel inevitable comes to mind. In an interview, the author underlines the fictitious nature of the plot, yet, she also stresses that all the rioting, murdering, fraud and random acts of violence are true. They do exist and they certainly exist in fragile countries.

“Generous in beauty and in violence, two of the qualities that it had in greatest abundance.”

Not all is bad in Venezuela, Adelaida remembers the time of carelessness outside Caracas where she spent her childhood summers. But she also knows city life where all was welcoming for children, but simply a waste since going outside and enjoying the playgrounds was too dangerous. She finds herself oscillating between extremes, her country does not seem to know any state of moderation.

“Human beings transformed into meat, which someone else would turn into news items displayed on the newsstands the next day.”

At times, it is hard to endure what Sainz Borgo narrates. In particular, the report on situation in Venezuelan prisons under the watch of the paramilitary troops made me hold my breath. One does not want to read about it, does not want to know about it, however, you are totally aware that this is how it is.

“Only a small difference in sound separates ‘leave’ from ‘live’.”

How can one live under such circumstances? One cannot. Dot. So, if the chance of escape presents itself, seize it. And that’s just what Adelaida does, though, not without a guilty conscience.

A novel full of brutality and misery, the portrait of a country on the ground. Corruption and violence dominate; humanity is hard to find. It is not an objective report, it remains a work of fiction and the first person narrator underlines the subjective point of view, which in this case, however, only renders the atmosphere gloomier and more depressing. A novel that goes under your skin and forces you to face what people have to endure day in, day out.

Edwin Hill – The Missing Ones

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Edwin Hill – The Missing Ones

Finisterre Island, a small isolated place off the coast of Maine, is normally a lovely and peaceful place. But a house with strangers annoys the locals as well as the summer guests since it seriously disturbs the idyllic atmosphere. When on 4th July a boy goes missing, suspicion rises. Just a couple of weeks afterwards, another boy vanishes. Is there a connection between these incidents and the newly arrived woman of the suspicious house? Annie seems nice enough, but she obviously has some secrets, not only her affair with a local policeman, but also her mysterious and sudden appearance in town.

The plot sounded intriguing to me, children going missing, a small island where everybody knows everybody, characters with secrets, but unfortunately, the novel didn’t really reach me. I found the beginning of the novel quite slow and it took me a lot of time to sort out the two lines of the plot. The toughest for me was the fact that I didn’t sympathise with any of the characters which makes it hard to really care for them and their fate. Additionally, what I really detested was how they all treated children. Just like some object that you thoughtlessly can move from one person to the next.

As I figured out much too late, this is the second instalment of a series. Maybe I just didn’t understand the crucial point of the novel since I hadn’t read the first book, there were actually some perplexing aspects that did not make too much sense to me. I also missed some kind of explanation for the characters’ really strange behaviour which unfortunately never came. All in all, a novel that I couldn’t really relate to.

Livia Franchini – Shelf Life

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Livia Franchini – Shelf Life

After ten years together, Ruth finds herself suddenly alone. Neil has left and all that her life consists of now is her work as a nurse in an old people’s home and shopping groceries at the small Tesco close to her flat. How did she get here? First, the escape of her ill-willed mother, then her friend Alanna whom she met in nursery school and with whom she still works together, the different patients and their respective needs, and Neil whom she despite all the time together seems to have hardly known.

Shelf Life – a. the period during which a good remains effective and free from deterioration. B. the period for which an idea or piece of information is considered an advantage over the competitor.

Still after having finished reading the novel, I wonder about the link between the title and the plot. Yes, the groceries Ruth buys somehow play a prominent role since they provide the titles for the different chapters. But beyond this? So what else could the title refer to? The time the main character is considered young – might be, but Ruth is beyond this discussion and her age is of no importance. Even as a young girl she wasn’t actually judged pretty or attractive. An innovative idea or piece of information is also something I didn’t find.

Thus, just as the titles leaves me a bit perplex, the whole story only slightly touched me. There is some red thread, basically between Alanna and Ruth, which is a bit strange since her relationship and breakup with Neil somehow nevertheless make up the centre of the plot around which everything revolves.

I liked Livia Fanchini’s style of writing and I am sure she can tell an interesting story, but somehow “Shelf Life” confused me much more than it made sense. Her characters are definitely interesting in their very peculiar manners, but somehow it all seemed not fully developed to me.

Ji-min Lee – Marilyn and Me

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Ji-min Lee – Marilyn and Me

1954, the war in Korea is over but there are still some soldiers waiting to see their big star come for a short visit: Marilyn Monroe. Alice J. Kim, working as a translator for the Americans, is one of the few Koreans fluent in both languages and who could accompany the blond film star on her tour. But with the arrival of Marilyn also comes somebody else Alice had almost forgotten: Joseph, her former lover who turned out not to be a missionary but an American spy. Alice thought she could leave her past behind, like the war, just bury it all under the ruins and build a new life. But now, it all comes up again.

Other than the title suggests, the novel is not really about Marilyn Monroe and her visit to Korea. She appears as a character, yes, and I found she was nicely depicted, a sensitive woman lacking all kind of allures one might assume. However, first and foremost, it is a novel about Alice and the two loves she had: first, Min-hwan, a married man working for the government, and second, the American Joseph. None is the loves is meant to last and the political developments in the country add their part to these unfulfilled loves.

What I found interesting was the insight in the possible life of a Korean woman at the time of the war. I have never read about it and this part of history is not something I know much about. Nevertheless, the book could not really catch me. Somehow I had the impression that the two stories – Alice’s one the one hand and Marilyn’s visit on the other – did not really fit together and especially the last seemed more a feature to make the story a bit more interesting by adding a big name.

„These sleeping pills are a better friend than diamonds for those of us who want to forget their past.“

Parallels between Marilyn and Alice are evoked: a past they want to forget, well-known lovers who in the end always decide against the affair and for their wife, the change of name to start anew – but the link is too weak to work for me. Unfortunately, Alice also remains a bit too distant, too hard to grasp and to really feel sympathy for her and her fate.

J.M. Monaco – How We Remember

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J.M. Monaco – How We Remember

When her mother is about to die, Joanna returns home in the US after years of living in London. What she was not prepared for are the memories that come back to her and that are closely linked to her childhood and teenage years:  the plans to run away from home together with her brother, the times when her uncle approached and molested her, her way out of middle-class life, the beginning of her academic career and the realisation that she will never fit in and that she is simply not good enough to marry a son of a well-off family even though she excels at an Ivy-League University. A week of mourning and memories that not all are welcome to Jo and her family.

What I liked about the book was how easily one could sympathise and bond with Jo and thus follow her thoughts. The springing back and forward between the events around the mother’s death and funeral and her memories helped to keep the story lively and authentic; some words or people just trigger memories that you can neither prevent from coming to the surface nor control in the extent that they hit you.

The novel addresses several interesting topics that are worth pondering about: what keeps a family together and why do some women over and over again forgive all their husbands’ wrongdoings? Is there some kind of escape from your family, can you ever really cut the links that were established by birth? Coming from a certain class, working hard and doing everything right, what keeps you still from really belonging and being considered an adequate match? A lot of food for thought, especially when you share the protagonist’s background and visions of life. A quiet novel that is perfect for calmer days.

Christina Dalcher – Vox

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Christina Dalcher – Vox

Woman – the root of all evil. Therefore, under the new POTUS, women are confined to the house, forbidden to work, thy only have to care for their husbands and children, and most importantly, they aren’t allowed to speak more than one hundred words a day. “Bracelet” is what they call the device which counts their words and sends electronic shocks in case they exceed the set number. Dr. Jean McClelland, once a successful and renowned scientist, sees her life limited in a major way and she regrets all the marches she hasn’t taken part in, the petitions she hasn’t signed and the signs she has misinterpreted. When the president’s brother has an almost fatal accident, the most capable doctor is needed, thus Jean unexpectedly comes into the position of possibly setting conditions and finding a way out of her once beloved home country.

In many respects, this dystopia is highly disturbing. Not just because of what is narrated and imagining what happens there, but because you can easily reckon how such a situation might become a reality. Even though we believe to live in a world where men and women are equal and where women have gained their place in work and society, a group of men feeling deprived of their rights of superiority and therefore doing everything to turn back the time, is simple to picture.

I had heard a lot about Christina Dalcher’s novel and quite often, if too many people praise a book I become increasingly reluctant of agreeing. Yet, in this case, I totally consent to the majority of readers. The plot is very well developed, the characters seem absolutely authentic to me and the author’s style of writing is captivating. I especially appreciated how Jean’s eldest son is brainwashed, not for the fact itself, but as a convincing illustration of how easily people can fall prey to false prophets and walk right in the trap. Dalcher gets to the core with her protagonist, she has to make decisions that nobody wants to make and each reader has to answer for him- or herself which side they would be on and, first and foremost, what they do in reality to prevent such developments from happening.

Ottessa Moshfegh – My Year of Rest and Relaxation

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Ottessa Moshfegh – My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Looking at her from the outside, she has everything one could wish for: she is blond, pretty, thin, a Columbia graduate, stylish without effort and she has a job at a gallery. Due to her inheritance, she can afford an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. But that’s just one side of the medal, her relationship with Trevor has been all but healthy, her parents never showed any affection and thus losing them both when she was in college was a minor affair. What she is lacking is an aim in life, something that gives her a reason for being alive. She feels exhausted and just wants to sleep until everything is over. She slowly extends her time in bed, she even falls asleep at work and then, finally, she decides to hibernate. A crazy therapist provides her with medication that allows more and more hours of sleep at a time. She hopes that after a year of rest, she will awake as somebody new.

Ottessa Moshfegh is a US-American writer who earned a degree in Creative Writing from Brown University and whose short stories were received with positive reviews. After her novella “McGLue”, her first novel “Eileen” was published in 2015 and made it on the shortlist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. Having chosen a mostly unsympathetic protagonist for her former novel, I found it much easier so sympathise with her narrator in “My Year of Rest and Relaxation”.

The young woman who is portrayed is quite typical in a certain way. She is the modern New Yorker who takes part in the glittery art circus, is a part of a subculture of believes itself to be highly reflective and innovative. At a certain point, the superficiality becomes exhausting and the aimless tittle-tattle and prattle don’t provide any deeper insight.

“The art at Ducat was supposed to be subversive irreverent, shocking, but was all just canned counterculture crap, “punk, but with money”.

Also her relationship does not go beyond superficial sex and one-night-stands that lead to nothing. Added to this is the easy availability of all kinds of drugs, of therapists who themselves are too crazy to detect any serious illness in their clients and therefore just fill in any prescription they are asked for. Even though the plot starts in 2000, the characters are quite typical for the 1990s and they need a major event to wake them up and bring them back to real life.

The narrator tries to flee the world and takes more and more pills mixed with each other, as a result she is sleepwalking, even gets a new haircuts and orders masses of lingerie without knowing. Her radius is limited to her blog, her only human contacts are the Egyptians at the bodega at the corner where she buys coffee, the doorman of her apartment house and Reva, her best friend who still cares about her. Even though she is bothered by the things she does when she is not awake, she has become that addicted that she cannot let go anymore.

Even though the protagonist is highly depressive and seeing how badly she copes with her life is hard to endure in a way, the novel is also hilarious. I especially liked her meetings with her therapist since Dr. Tuttle is riotous in her eccentric ways and their dialogues are highly comical – despite the earnestness of their actual topics. Ottessa Moshfegh most certainly earns a place among to most relevant authors of today.