“Smilla’s Sense of Snow” by Peter Høeg

Smilla's Sense of Snow(Author: Peter Høeg) + (Year: 1995) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Denmark)


Review:

Smilla’s Sense of Snow depicts the victims in the world of the strong. The struggle of the outsiders in the country of their conquerors. It tells a lot about the systematical overtaking of the Danish culture against that of the Inuits. It also shows the cold world of power, money and desire for fame and glory, which is common for all people, but has no equal than that of the Western, developed, world, where people have already managed to get what they need to cover their basic needs, so they now have the spare time to struggle for things less essential, but just as important to them. Smilla’s Sense of Snow in some ways encapsulates everything that I have heard about the cold north of Europe.

This is also the point in which you can see the gap between the developed world and the third world countries. In the former, they fight for glory, in the latter – for survival.

However much Smilla’s Sense of Snow told me of Denmark, as a book it was a lot more mediocre than I hoped. While I do have my prejudices against people whose main motivation in life is power and money, I am not saying that I dislike the people in countries like Denmark. On the contrary, I have recently developed quite a fascination with this small and less loved Scandinavian country (especially as I have so many Swedish friends who dislike it). Therefore, I did have high expectations for Smilla’s Sense of Snow.

The first 100 or so pages were very good and riveting. The mystery developed fast and it went deep. I had no idea what to expect and I was eager to go further. After those first 100 pages, though, things started getting increasingly worse. There was a constant stream of characters who served the same purpose, had the same personality, and all hated the main character, Smilla. At one point, more than halfway through the book, I just gave up trying to keep track of everyone. Too many names, too many unimportant stories, too much fluff.

And don’t even get me started on the stories. From the mystery around the death of a young boy, this book took so many turns, went through so many sub-plots, so much insanity… The author didn’t stop for a second to throw one thing after the other. Each of these elements could have made a fine book all on their own, but Høeg was relentless: murder, drugs, smugglers, Nazis, meteorites, legends, science fiction, ships, agents, killer parasites, Inuit culture, snow, ice, ice, snow, BDSM, ice, missing mothers, dead fathers. Not one of the stories was even finished. Most of all, I expected some sort of a conclusion to the death of Isiah, but I did so in vain. Høeg tried, but failed miserably, to explain the death and give closure. And I was there asking myself “Was that it?” Not to mention that the meteorite story did not fit into the world of this book at all. It was as if I was reading two different books simultaneously, and neither me, nor the characters could understand what to make of it.

If you think that, taking all of this into account, this was a fast-paced book, you would be wrong. For every half a page of intense action, there were 20 pages of descriptions of how many centimeters there are from the door to the light switch, and what the quality of the silence in the room is, and last, but not least, ice and snow and ice. I know that the book’s title is Smilla’s Sense of Snow, but to be describing in detail every state of snow and ice for pages on end is quite special. Not in a very positive way.

Lastly, Smilla might be one of the least pleasant main characters that I have read about. She is extremely angsty, but I failed to understand WHY exactly that is. Sure, her life was not a fairytale, but for example, why did she hate her father so much? What was the reason for that? I never got it. I just knew that she hates him, so by default we have to hate him, too. Also, Smilla is so self-contradictory that she is not a realistic character at all. She spends 99% of her time in the present moping around and daydreaming about 50 shades of snow; and in her memories, she is spending extensive amounts of time reading to Isiah or giving him baths. However, while that was happening, she also managed to go to 20 expeditions to Greenland, to write 2000 papers, to get 89 university degrees, to be arrested 50 times, to tag polar bears, to spend time on ships, to be a part of a million institutions, to sit around and hate her father, to run away from home and go to Greenland without money or documents, to become a person of interest to the police, to investigate, to be well schooled in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, engineering… Do you see where I am going? And now, her age: 37. As a conclusion, I would say that Smilla is not a very well built character. She is mean for no reason whatsoever, she hates everyone, despite having had a mostly good life, and she is rude and self-important.

I like him. I have a weakness for losers. Invalids, foreigners, the fat boy of the class, the ones that nobody ever wants to dance with. My heart beats for them. Maybe because I’ve always known that in some way I will forever be one of them. 

Err… why?

“Bad Monkeys” by Matt Ruff

Bad Monkeys(Author: Matt Ruff) + (Year: 2007) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Before starting the book, I skimmed through the Goodreads reviews. Also, my flatmate, who let me borrow the book, she shared the opinion of everyone on Goodreads.

So, I need only but confirm this: This book starts amazing and then falls flat on its sad, miserable face.

The story of Bad Monkeys might not have the most original concept ever, but the thing is, I really liked the basic idea. I wish that it had continued working on that, instead of developing into a weird sci-fi-wanna-be-karate-freakshow.

The story is as follows: Jane Charlotte has been arrested for murder. While she’s already in custody, she meets with a psychiatrist and starts retelling her story to him. Jane admits to being a member of the division Bad Monkeys of a secret organization, which deals with assassinating dangerous, evil people. Jane explains in detail her childhood, her integration into the organization, and what lead to her being in custody. While many of the things she says turn out to be the exact truth, many are proven wrong by the official facts her doctor manages to unearth in his investigation. Is Jane really part of an assassin organization? Is she simply crazy?

The thing which drew my attention was the idea behind the organization: it intervenes when a really evil person is set loose and is probably going to cause a lot of damage to society. The basic notion behind this, I would say, is the mistrust toward the justice system. If you asked me about it, I would say that I absolutely don’t believe that criminals get the deserved punishment. As there is no retribution, it’s really hard to believe in justice.

More so, Bad Monkeys puts a very simple question to its readers: If there was an ex-director of a Nazi concentration camp, who caused the death of half a million people, and who’s now 90 years old, and living hidden in the forests of South America, and a guy who has only killed one person, but he has found a lust for violence, and is fairly young, which one would you kill?

I’ll let you answer that for yourselves.

However, no matter how intriguing and thought-provoking this core idea was to me, the book came short on so much more. For starters, the main character, Jane, was so confusing. I, as a reader, had a hard time caring about her as a person, and cared only about her story. She herself was just some side noise around everything that was happening in the story itself. Also, the author made some valid points taken from religion and the Bible, but at some point, there was so much religion and religious remarks and comparisons, that I wasn’t sure where he was going. As a person, who on the surface seemed to lean more on atheism, than on religiousness, he definitely didn’t prove it but his use of Christian allegories.

And, last, but by far not least, the ending of the book was absolutely ludicrous. Somewhere around 1/3 in, the book started getting increasingly ridiculous and messed up. And not in a good way. From a slow, methodical thriller, it turned into a really bad acid trip, which to me was like “Why do I even care?”, which made me read with less and less interest.

I am stubborn. I read the book despite the warnings. Don’t be like me, save yourselves the time. Read something else.

“The Lie” by C.L. Taylor

The Lie

(Author: C.L. Taylor) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)


Review:

*** 3.5 stars ***

I should add this to the “Unexpected Netgalley Gem” shelf. I had not set any expectations and I was pleasantly surprised by the book.

My initial thought was that this can potentially turn in The Girl on the Train, which I really didn’t like despite all of the positive reviews it got. But I was surprised to find myself with a much more interesting and suspenseful novel.

The story revolves around a woman, Emma, who went on a nightmarish trip to Nepal with her friends after which she was forced to change her name and escape her previous life.

The setting was great, both the story in the past and the one in the present were engaging and creepy and I found myself having no idea what to expect will happen, which has become a rare occurrence nowadays. I was eager to read on and on and I kept that pace up until the book was over (and I was just about expecting someone to jump from under my bed). Personally, I found the events in Nepal to be scarier and  very unsettling. This is my second book of this type in the last couple of months (I will not disclose the other one because the common denominator in both is not shown in the description and can be seen as a spoiler by the pickier readers), but this was surely the better one. The entire storyline in the resort made me feel bothered and creeped out, which is always exciting when you are reading a book or watching a movie on a similar subject. Overall, the author did a very good job setting up the atmosphere, especially the jumps from the present to the past and the other way around, which were set in the exactly right moments.

As for the characters, I think they were also a writing success, that not meaning that I liked them. In fact, I disliked the majority of them with a special fire and I think that was the intention of Taylor, so good job, buddy. Daisy was a very unpleasant person, and although I saw what the others might have liked about her, she was overall just so damaged that I am surprised anyone could find her “the best one” in a group, which says a lot about the group itself. But it was Leanne that I could have punched in the face with… a chair or an ax or something. She was just the most horrible human being. Isaac was a close second but it was immediately obvious that there was something wrong with him and the entire hippie group in Nepal. However, among the four friends there was a certain normalcy at the beginning so it was both interesting and unbelievably frustrating to see how their relationship began falling apart because of their disgusting personalities. Al was just annoying, because she was the real peoplepleaser. She sided with whomever was convenient, not with whomever she really liked and trusted. As to Emma/Jane, she was by far the most normal one, but I do agree that she was a wet blanket. Especially considering how drastically her personality changed from the past to the present, which made it obvious that she could act like a normal person if she wanted to.

My issues with the book were of less importance, to a degree. I did not like the ending, specifically. The tension did not build to a high enough degree. The author did a masterful job of building it throughout the entire book and there was no outlet in the end. It kind of just dropped.

As for the other thing, it is not a problem as much as I found it weird. There were two expressions that I have never in my life seen in a book. Ever. I would have paid attention like I did now and I would have remembered it. I realize that they are probably local expressions to the author, but as they are clearly not that popular, as for me to have never read it among hundreds of books, I ask myself, why were they repeated so often. One of them in particular seemed like a joke the first time I read it but then it was repeated over and over and over again:

“But Leanne and Daisy have been living in each other’s pockets for days now.”

And this one… every time they were talking about blushing, this was used instead.

“… the base of her throat coloring pink.”

rainbow unicorn of the day the more you know

…about the English language.

“The Girls” by Emma Cline

The Girls

(Author: Emma Cline) + (Year: 2016) + (Goodreads)


Review:

I received this book from Netgalley and I had a certain curiosity, sure, but I tried not having too high expectations. The result was that I actually quite enjoyed it. There were negative sides to it, but overall, it was a good read.

In terms of writing, there was a certain poetic masturbation in the lines of the novel. I read some other reviewers downright abandoning The Girls because of it. I can’t say that it bothered me to such an extent, but it could have been dealt with better. Sometimes the descriptions include analogies too far fetched to be good and sometimes – too vague to make sense.

On the other hand, while the writing has its ups and downs, it is nonetheless truthful and engaging. The bit that I enjoyed the most by far – and the one that I think actually makes the book special – is not the events themselves, the cult, the girls and all that. The entire time I thought that the special thing about The Girls is the beautiful yet tragic description of the mind and desires of teenage girls and the lengths they would go to to get attention and affection. Having been a teenager, I do remember the need to get attention, to be liked or admired, enough so that you would act badly, just to get those things. Like I would be much more rude than I am just so that somebody thinks I’m tough. And in the case of Evie, to be so desperate for attention that even years later you would wonder whether you would kill in order to be liked by a person you admired. If not a good person, Evie is a very honest narrator. She describes her feelings, desires and the reasons behind her actions in an almost painfully truthful way and with the realization that she was wrong. Even older, she would put some of the realities of being a woman into very clear and somewhat saddening phrases.

Later I would see this: how impersonal and grasping our love was, pinging around the universe, hoping a host to give form to our wishes.

That same aspect of Evie’s narrative can be used to describe how interesting and accurate her description is of a person such as Russell. While Russell as an individual is not really shown directly, he is described through his manipulations and lies. It makes this book a very clear way of unmasking such a cult leader. As in, it is hard to believe for some people that there are figures so powerful that they would not force their victims to do anything, but instead the victims would want to please such a manipulator. The Girls shows why and how exactly his tricks worked, because Evie describes what flaws in her and the others he used to make them dependent and hung up on him. She shows that he was not charismatic, and yet he had a sway based on her own insecurities and that is much more interesting to read about than if he was just shown as a power figure and/or a tyrant.

To the matter of the cult, while that was the actual story going on, all the other elements added to it made it just a background noise, disturbing, but secondary to the metaphysical aspect. But taking the popularity of cults in the 60’s and 70’s, it was still interesting to receive a look at the form, structure and idea of cults at those times. And what I though was important, the role of drugs, which I think many people just choose to ignore when they talk of such things, instead focusing on brainwashing and insanity, well, guess what, half the time or more they were unaware of the planet they were on. Not too hard to see that that had a huge impact on people like the Manson family or the People’s Temple.

“The Girl and the Rat” by Jari Jarvela

The Girl and the Rat

(Author: Jari Jarvela) + (Year: 2016) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Finland)


Review:

Great start, bad ending. In short.

I found the book on NetGalley and it sounded ludicrous enough to catch my attention: Metro, an black woman from Finland, who saves the world through graffiti. The book itself has three parts, the first two were pretty good and interesting and then I’m not entirely sure the author knew where to take the story, so the third part basically sucked.

I want to note that this is the second book of a series, but I learned that more than halfway through the book and I’m convinced Jarvela did good because I did not feel like I was missing something. The references to the previous book were clear and explained all on their own. That was a definite plus but one that added to my opinion about the book later, as I didn’t know it from the start.

Now on The Girl and the Rat itself, funny story, right when I started reading it, I was on a bus which passed by Vienna and that really helped me soak into the atmosphere, since the novel is set in Berlin. I think I could envision everything and vicariously live through it in a much more intense way than if I was sitting in my bed at home.

The book shows us a very dark, neo noir setting, reminiscent of that of China Mieville’s The City and the City. On the atmosphere itself – it was very disturbing. Abandoned buildings, junkies, underground graffiti movements. The characters were a personification of that, they themselves were outcasts, unable to fit in their worlds, and damaged by it: Metro, who was assaulted because of her race, Vorkuta, a homosexual man from Russia, Alyosha, a survivor from the Chernobyl disaster, Verboten, a man with ruined face, that doesn’t fit in today’s standards for looks.

The first two parts of the book were full of mystery and tension and action, on a background of a dark and gloomy city which is the playground of the above-mentioned outcasts.  The third part was very rushed, not very likely, sloppy, confusing and not engaging enough. I am almost convinced to read the first one just to compare the style.