Questioni in Sospeso – il 2015 in libri

Ho passato parte del 2015 a iniziare a scrivere recensioni di libri, senza riuscire a finirle.

Questo format evidentemente per me non funziona, quindi ho deciso di fare una prova col contrario per concludere l’anno almeno con un post finito e pubblicato.

Passiamo quindi senza indugio all’elenco di libri che non ho finito quest’anno:

  1. J. S. Le Fanu, In a Glass Darkly: probabilmente mi aspettavo qualcosa di meno “ottocentesco”, che lo fa entrare dritto nella categoria non sei tu, sono io. La cornice della storia non mi intrigava particolarmente, e rendeva la lettura ancora meno scorrevole. Abbandonato a metà prima di raggiungere Carmilla.
  2. G. Perec, La Scomparsa: questo romanzo è stato scritto originariamente in francese senza mai usare la lettera e, rendendolo probabilmente l’incubo ricorrente dei traduttori. La trama dovrebbe essere una parodia di un romanzo noir; io ero troppo occupata a cercare parole sul dizionario per riuscire a concentrarmi sul filo. La lettura in inglese era complessa, poco piacevole e mi ha scoraggiata molto presto.
  3. V. Nabokov, Lolita: non sono sicura che riuscirei a sintetizzare in poche righe tutto ciò che trovo di sbagliato in questo romanzo. La voce narrante è morbosa, il testo è morboso e disturbante. Non ce l’ho fatta ad andare avanti, la tentazione di prendere a legnate Humbert Humbert prevaricava il piacere della lettura costantemente.
  4. H. Macdonald, H is for Hawk: libro sbagliato nel momento sbagliato. Volevo interrompere la lettura della saga della Torre Nera tra volume 6 e 7. La mia forza di volontà ha ceduto molto presto, e ho rimandato la lettura a tempi migliori
  5. S. King, The Dark Tower VII – The Dark Tower: chiaramente il mio affezionato ebook reader mi ha abbandonata a 200 pagine dall’inizio. Sono ancora ignara della fine della saga perché non ho ancora ceduto a comprare il cartaceo non esattamente tascabile di questo volume. Qualcosa mi dice che dovrò porre rimedio in fretta.
  6. D. De Lillo, Americana: quando passi la maggior parte del tempo a chiederti “ma cosa diamine sto leggendo?”, è un chiaro segno che è tempo di passare oltre. Io però sono caparbia, ho tenuto duro e ho sono passata al livello successivo, “tutto questo non ha senso”. Poi ho chiuso perché la pazienza è la virtù dei forti, e la forza è esattamente la qualità che mi manca al mattino sulla metropolitana prima di andare a lavoro.

E voi? Cosa avete ributtato sullo scaffale quest’anno?

 

Burial Rites – NLBC February 2015

If you were wondering: yes, I skipped one month. January’s book was Georges Berec’s A Void, and unfortunately I haven’t got much to say about it. I tried to read it quickly before the meeting, but although it is not a massive volume, I could not manage to finish it in time.

On the other hand, I finished Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites in less than a week. Here is what it is about and why.

The story is set in Iceland in 1820s and is inspired by the story of the last woman to be executed in the country, Agnes Magnúsdóttir. The author concentrates on the months preceding her death, when she is allocated to a local farm, to spend her last time helping the family. The story is told through different points of view, among which Agnes’ and Toti’s, the priest she has chosen to guide her before her death. At the beginning, silence is the the most conspiuous element: the silence of Icelandic landscape, the stubborn silence of Agnes, who is convinced that everyone would twist her words if she decides to speak; the suspicious silenece of the  District Officer Jón Jónsson and his family; the embarassed silence of reverend Toti, who feels inadequate for the task. However, the story slowly unravels as Agnes and the inhabitants of the house start getting used to her presence in the house. The family will learn that nothing was as it seemed to be, and they will need to learn how to live with their own judgement.

At first, I was a bit skeptical about the book. It was presented to me as an introspective crime novel and I have to confess that it was not entirely enticing. As I read through thouh, I resigned to change my mind.

First of all, I am very passionate about Iceland; having been working for months on a project involving the Sagas of the Icelanders and Norse mythology, I found myself thrilled at the discovery that the story is based on true events. I made some basic research, and stumbled upon a list of the records of the last women subject to capital punishment in Europe; I read it with unexpected interest (did you know that the last woman to be sentenced to death in Licchtenstein was a thief called Barbara Erni in 1785? Criminal punishment was to be abolished two years later). Sadly, I found very little about Agnes’ true story. I suspect that I would benefit from Icelandic classes, but for now I will rely on Kent’s writing.

Second, the characters are multifaceted and relatable: each one of them has its flaws and weaknesses and I could not be completely partial to anyone because different actions made me feel contrasting feelings.

Third, the plot is interesting and gripping. Although you already know how it is going to end (unless you decided not to google Agnes), the story is a journey into the past, into the complex reasons the lead the woman to her actions.

For this reason, the book maybe suffers the lack of dramatic plot twists or turns of events, having those happened before the narration, but I believe it has other good selling points, as I already described.

In addition, the portrait of Icelandic daily life is convincing, detailed and sometimes even cruel: Hannah Kent definitely knows what she is talking about.

Finally, Agnes is a female protagonist with strong dignity and self-consciousness, even when she faces the other characters filthy and soiled after months of detention. I could not always relate with her, but I feel I respect her and I felt her more human than other fictional characters with historical pretension I read in the past.

I would definitely recomend the book to the lovers of Iceland, of introspective fiction and historical fiction. If you are all three, you will certainly be satisfied.

We Are All Completely Behind Ourselves – NLBC October 2014

K. J. Fowler’s has chosen a surprisingly long title for her book, I have to say, but a witty one. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves  was the North London Book Club choice for October 2014, discussed in front a good meal and a glass of wine in West Hampstead.

The book, shortlisted for this year’s Manbooker Prize, was presented in most of the reviews as a family drama, which I have to confess was not very appealing to me. Most of the time, I tend to prefer fantasy, historical and weird over literary fiction. As I am going to explain soon, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves might have won my first reluctance towards literary fiction.

The story is about Rosemary’s family and how the relationship with her siblings have changed and shaped her. She starts her tale “in the middle”: she is now a student at UC Davies, struggling with her studies and with interpersonal relationship. We are told that she once spoke a lot, to the point she could be annoying to others, but now she is very reclusive and tries to talk about her family the least. When she meets Harlow, a boisterous drama major,  a series of flashback are triggered, and we start understanding where her story started and, above all, where it it is going.

The plot construction is very lively and clever: the progression of the story and the flashbacks together feed the reader with small bites at a time, so that (s)he keeps feeling somehow tricked out of the complete context. The book is well written, and generally flows smoothly.

The only flaw I can find, and here I agree with my friends of the book club, is that Harlow is not a well developed character as she could be. I have come to think that her sole purpose was to bring Rosemary’s true personality on the surface during their first meeting. However, considering that she stays around for quite a long time, maybe something more could be said about her (like detailing a bit more the reason why she keeps lying about her family and her life), but I think I am just being overcritical here.

The story mainly revolves around family bonds, especially brotherhood and sisterhood: the most important events in Rosemary’s life are the disappearing of her sister Fern first, and of her brother next. These events have severe consequences in her family life, to the point that she represses some memories from that time. We Are All Completely Behind Ourselves is a beautiful story of self- (re)discovery and growth, which I warmly suggest to book lovers who like literary fiction and unexpected plot twists, even in apparently uncomplicated plots.

Because there is a great plot twist, but I am trying to write a spoiler-free review. Hence, read the book!