Book Review – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

So obviously I’m a massive Potter-head. (And then I’m talking about the books. I don’t care much for the films. But the books, oh man…) I mean, me and Harry, we grew up together! I remember the books being totally new, no one at school had heard about Harry. I was about 10 years old when I got introduced into the World of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And from that year onwards, every summer, me and my family had a fight about who got to read the new book first. Mom, dad, brother, me. As I grew older, Harry and his friends grew older and his adventures went from exploring his newly found magic to and playing quidditch to defeating Voldemort once and for all.

I’ve read all the books at least 15 times. I’m not exaggerating. I really have. I even got a Harry Potter-themed birthday party after reading the first book. My mom was Professor McGonnagal and my dad professor Snape, and my brother Pieves. My friends all got an invitation for Hogwarts and we spend the whole evening doing magic tricks and brewing potions out of all sorts of brightly coloured soft drinks. Best. Birthday. Party. Ever.

So naturally, this new “book” has been on my mind. I wasn’t sure whether or not to read it. I mean, it’s not really a book. Seeing the play would’ve been better maybe, but who’s got money for that shizzle, right? I’d heard some mixed things from friends about reading the script. From “fun read” to “it’s just not what you want it to be”. So when I finally did give in and started the first page of the script, I tried to read with no expectations. And after finishing the book, all I can say is I have mixed feelings.

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First of all, let’s not forget, it is just a theatre script, not a book. And that means that what I liked most about the books, the magical world it creates and makes you become a part of, it just wasn’t gonna happen. The set directions gave only very basic info as to the location (which still, in theatre terms, seemed pretty complicated to make happen on stage), and your memories as a Potter-head would fill in the gaps. (That way it was quite smartly written, revisiting a lot of old locations and stories.) But because it lacked all of the detail that created this wonderful new world, and our familiar characters had changed so much and new characters were introduced, there just wasn’t enough backstory. You know, the fun-in-the-Hogwarts-hallways scenes, the quidditch games, potions class, Christmas dinners,… Far from crucial to the story, but unmissable in the Potter-world.

At the same time, the story was a fun read. Already quite early on, you were shot into the level of suspense we are used to when reaching the final part of each book. What starts out as a little adventure goes more and more wrong, plot twist here and there, more suspense, turn-the-page-how-is-this-going-to-end. Perfectly readable in just one cozy couch session.

On the one hand, it scratched my Potter itch by reconciling me with my old friends. On the other, it left me wanting more. More Hogwarts. More adventure. More silly Weasleys and smart Grangers and loyal Potters. I think more than anything, this script has shown that us fans aren’t tired of Potter just yet. And we are willing to give anything a shot if it means we get to revisit the good ol’ days of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

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Book Review – The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

Let’s start this review off with giving you my main impression of the book. Let’s go for: confusing. Not in the sense of the story line, but in the sense of whether I liked it or not. I kept switching between “ugh this is annoying” and “ha that’s actually quite smart”.

The book is written by Yann Martel, whom you may know from The Life of Pie. I haven’t read that book myself, but I’ve seen the movie and loved it. But of course we all know that isn’t a guarantee that you will love the book. And based on his writing style in The High Mountains of Portugal, I’m not sure if I would.

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First of all, I found the book too descriptive. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when a writer can create a beautiful and clear image with his words, but in this book the descriptions were actually quite repetitive and it really slowed down my reading.

Despite its ungraceful appearance, he has always lamented the fate of the animal that once roamed the rural corners of his country. Was the Iberian thinoceros’s last bastion not, in fact, the High Mountains of Portugal? Curious, the hold the animal has had on the Portuguese imagination. Human advancement spelled its end. It was, in a sense, run over by modernity. It was hunted and hounded to extinction and vanished, as ridiculous as an old idea – only to be mourned and missed the moment it was gone. Now it is fodder for fado, a stock character in that peculiar form of Portuguese melancholy, saudade. Indeed, thinking of the long-gone creature, Tomás is overcome with saudade. He is, as the expression goes, tão docemente triste quanto um rinoceronte, as sweetly sad as a rhinoceros.

See what I mean?

Also, by the time I finally got curious about what was to happen to the poor character next, a new story began. The book consists of three stories, all taking place in the High Mountains, and all somehow connected. Everything in the story was there for a reason. To give an example, the main character in the first story had a habit of walking backwards. In the last story, the main character of that story noticed how in this town he came to live in (the same town where the main character of the first story ended up in before the stories switched), some of the people had a habit of walking backwards.

That was the only thing that kept me reading. I wanted to know how the stories were all connected. And some of it was quite smart really. Some aspect of one of the stories that you’d forgotten all about, would come back in a totally different setting making you utter an amazed “aaah” or maybe a “now would you look at that”. When I reached the end of the book, I was left with a thousand and one questions, but then I think it was quite surely not the aim of the book to answer all these questions. It’s like it set up three very different stories, only connected through random events, and actually focussing on those random events. The main story of these people’s lives was not what this book wanted to tell its readers.

But then coming to the question if I liked the book or not, I don’t really know. It had some fun parts, it had some boring parts. It partly annoyed me and it partly amazed me. I’d say, if you can handle a good portion of descriptive language, give it a try. You never know you might just figure this book out!

 

 

Book Review – Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All, by Jonas Jonasson

Over Easter, me and the boyfriend went to visit his family and friends in England. Lovely little holiday that was. Lots of yummy food, wonderful company, a lot of playtime with the pets, and time to read my book! I started reading at the airport, and finished the book yesterday evening when we got home. It’s been a while since I’ve breezed through a book like that, and I loved it!

I’m a big Jonas Jonasson fan, I’ve read all his books so far. The first one was the international best-seller The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, which I stumbled upon in a camp site in Australia. I used to do a lot of bookswapping while backpacking, and I’ve read all sorts of stuff I usually wouldn’t look at in any bookshop or library, but when bookswapping, you can simply not be picky. And once in a while, you stumble upon a treasure, like the 100-year-old man. Hi-La-Ri-Ous. Absolutely the funniest book I’ve ever read. The main character goes on a journey of some sorts, meets new friends and enemies, and gets into a lot of trouble that he somehow manages to get out of every single time by some kind of deus ex machina.

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His other books, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, and the one about Hitman Anders that I’ve just finished, have a similar kind of story line without being a repetition of each other. Some of the characters have a fair bit of things in common, like the fact that most of them have not had the best childhood or ancestry. Or the thin line between right and wrong his characters generally are on the wrong side off, while at the same time still getting the reader’s sympathy, simply because they do not seem to know any better. Also, all his books have the same hilarious level of highly ironic and over the top. And still, Jonasson keeps coming up with inventive ways to make his characters go through some pretty crazy stuff!

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Let me quickly run you through the story of Hitman Anders, no spoilers. Jonasson’s newest book tells you the story of an unfortunate young man who happens to find himself stuck in life, being the receptionist in a shabby little hotel with guests like the rather dangerous sounding Hitman Anders. Life throws a lot of random things his way, and before you know it he is running a lucrative business with a former priest and the aforementioned hitman. Of course, it doesn’t take long before it all goes tits-up, as it is quite clear that not everyone is on their side. But nevertheless, the receptionist, priest, and hitman change plans as easily as their socks, and in such a way that you could never imagine how their story will end.

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For me, the best part about Jonasson’s novels, including this one, is the absolute randomness. Really anything could happen to anyone, and it does. Also, Jonasson has a really fun way to introduce new characters, no matter how vital or minor they are to the story. Every new character gets introduced with a short summary of their (generally quite awful) life before, and how this lead them to end up in the story.

Also wonderful is the language Jonasson uses. The complexity of his sentences stands in sheer contrast with the simplicity of his characters (who are never really smart, on either emotional or intellectual level, or even both), which adds a hilarious layer of irony to the story that works so well.

His books are an absolute joy to read, very entertaining. And even though he has a very clear style and ideas that return in all his novels, the stories still surprise and entertain you. And they are definitely a good laugh!

An Experiment: A Book Exchange With Strangers

I’m participating in some sort of book exchange! It’s like all those other exchanges you do on email or social media: you have to send out 1 thing and if all goes well, you will receive 30 instead. So this is what’s going to happen: a friend of mine gave me an address, I will send a book there, and then I have to find 6 people to participate. They will have each have to send a book to my friend, and find 6 people themselves. Those 6 people will then send me a book. Exciting!

To be honest, I’m not sure if it’ll work. I can imagine people might chicken out because of postal costs and stuff. But that might just be why it will work! Before, when emailing through recipes or poetry, I’ve never really done my end of the deal. But now, because it’s a lot less casual, it would be kinda mean not to do so!

So tonight, I’ll be doing some online book shopping (I know it says book ‘exchange’, but there is simply no book in my collection I can part ways with), I already know what I am going to send. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck. I know, it’s a tiny book, but I believe it’s one everyone should’ve read. Both the story and the writing style are really something special, and I can imagine for some people it might be out of there book-comfort-zone. Which is why the fact that it’s only a small book makes it even more perfect. Even when it’s not your kind of thing, this book has the ability to wow everyone!

So, here’s my weird and odd question: would you like to participate? I know it’s a bit of a stretch because I don’t know you, but I really like this idea of exchanging books with strangers! Let me know in the comments below if you’d be interested and I’ll get in touch with the details.

Happy Reading!

Book Review: Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts

(This review does NOT contain spoilers.)

For me, booktime is usually bed time. And with this book, I was looking forward to going to bed so much, there were nights I was in my jammies under the covers with a cuppa on my nightstand even before 9pm. It’s been a while since I had such a thrilling read.

Usually, I read quite thin books, and I read for no longer than 15 minutes an evening. I enjoy the writing style, the language used, the hidden motives, and how the story comes together, and I really invest a lot of effort and concentration in getting ev-er-y-thing out of the book. Shantaram was definitely not my usual book. First of all: it’s massive. I think it’s been since Harry Potter I’ve read such a big book. And it compares with Harry Potter on another level: it read like a train. (Or at least most parts of it, but I’ll come back to that later.) This book was very much a book I read for the story, and what a story it was. Although I have to admit, this man knows how to write too. The story is mostly set in Mumbai, a part of the world I have never even been close to. But he managed perfectly to create an image of the town, without having to fall back on tiringly long descriptions and bundles of adjectives that would slow down the read. No, before you even know it, he has taken you along on his crazy journey.

And this journey was very much his, since it is an autobiographically (inspired?) book. Another thing I usually don’t read, for two reasons: Usually, if I know what my favourite writers have been through in their lives, I don’t enjoy their books as much anymore, because I stop seeing it as a creative peace of art when I find things that they plucked out of their own lives. Also, this very much seemed to be a sensational autobiography, and I am not one for sensation as much as I am for a smart story. Which is why I chose to believe this book is very much autobiographically INSPIRED, because the story is smart for sure. Not only does one scary (aka sensational) thing happen after another, there are some twists in the book that would either turn this man into the unluckiest man alive, or they would change this book from merely a sensational story, to a very good book. I follow option B.

The main character, our writer, has escaped from prison in his homecountry Australia and fled to Mumbai. And that is where our story starts. It is not about how he got into prison, or how he got out (although as the story evolves, the writer does let you in on some of these ‘secrets’), but about how he makes a life for himself as a fugitive, how old habits die hard, and how all he cares about really is to find himself a new family to replace the one he screwed up with in the past, the family he will never see again. From living amongst tourists, he goes to living in the slums, on the countryside, he even spends some time in Afghanistan. He meets wonderful people, and really awful people, and has a thousand and one unthinkable things happen to him.

There is definitely a lot of action going on, but once in a while this is broken up by some more philosophical passages, conversations with friends and mentors about the deeper issues of life. About the aim of life, about religion, about happiness and love. To be honest, for me, as beautifully written as these passages were and as much as they made you think, it was a bit too much. When you’ve been flipping through the pages because something so scary was happening you just had to read your way to the end of it extra fast, it is hard to slow down again and get the brain juices flowing. These passages were often so deep and intelligent, I felt like I would have to read them a few times more to fully grasp their meaning. But this isn’t that kind of book. Those kind of books should be short and evenly paced, because they will take a lot of your energy so that when you flip the final page, you can feel properly wowed and challenged. I think these passages would have had more effect and would’ve broken up the book less if they were more concise. And I have to admit, I sometimes did some diagonal reading just to get to the next exciting bit. But now I’m nitpicking. Slower passages or not, I wanted nothing more than to read more and more and more!

So to summarise, should you read this book? Yes you should! Why? Because it is an exciting read about the Mumbai underworld that is more than just a story.

 

Me and My Books

As you all know, I don’t really stick to one theme in this blog. Little bit of complaining about work here, little bit of talking about food (both eating and cooking), a fair bit of travel stories, etc.

Today, I will talk about books.

I’m not sure if I have mentioned this before, but I’m actually a big bibliophile. Nevertheless, I don’t read very often. See, for me, reading a book isn’t necessarily about relaxing and disappearing into another world. It’s just as much or sometimes even more about the appreciating the art of writing. How the writer creates a story and supports that story with language play, motives, themes, and something to make you think. As much as good ol’ Harry Potter will entertain me and drag me into the wonderful world of wizardry, most of the times I prefer a snobbish piece of “literature”.

(Snobbish because I do call it “literature” which sets it apart from “non-literary books”. And to keep this blog on topic, I won’t even explain in detail what I consider to be the difference (which is to do with the combination of story and style as mentioned above and exemplified below). Snob me, over and out. Simple book loving me, please do continue: )

If I want to relax and disappear, I’ll watch some trash television (that is, the crapy teenage series I like watching because they have a thousand and one plot changes in every episode, and my mind doesn’t have the chance to wander off to work and all that laundry waiting to be done, while at the same time, my mind has to do no work at all. Reading, that’s hard work. In a good way. When I read, I want to get everything out of the book. I want to disappear, but I want to be amazed. I love finishing a book being in awe, thinking, let me reread that last page.

What kind of books do I usually read? I love Post-Colonial Literature. That is, books written by former inhabitants of former colonies. Since I read in Dutch and English, that is former colonies of England, Belgium and the Netherlands. Definitely plenty there. What’s so good about it? Well, while reading I also love to learn about a little corner of the world that was unfamiliar to me before that. Not just about the history or the landscape or the way people wear their hair, but about what goes on in people’s minds and what drives them to lead lives so different from ours. And that’s what these writers capture beautifully, by combining story telling elements from their own (usually former) culture and traditions, and the so different Western World we love and hate. Like Khaled Hosseini speaking about his former home country Afghanistan, writing up beautiful but heart breaking stories in an English so uncomplicated that its straightforwardness stands in stark contrast with the depth of the story, which intensifies the mixed feelings the book brings up in you while reading it. Or one of my all-time favourites: Het Huis Van De Moskee by Kader Abdolah (translated as The House of the Mosque).

Or South American Magical Realism. No, not even close to fantasy, if the name would take you there. My favourite writer (and I guess everyone’s) when it comes to Magical Realism, is definitely Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He writes up genius stories, and there’s always this or that that just doesn’t really add up. For example, A Hundred Years of Solitude follows a family where the matriarch must have turned at least 150 years old before she died. Or Of Love and Other Demons has a main character with copper hair that keeps on growing long after she dies. And all of that is considered perfectly normal. It’s not like the writers create a new world like in fantasy or science-fiction, it’s more like they have a very different way of seeing our world.

But when I was road tripping around Australia, I had to lower my book standards. There’s only so many standards you can keep when book swapping. But to be honest, a new world opened up for me. Once in a while, I now like to read a book more for just the story. Sometimes they’re really bad, sometimes I find a hidden gem. My favourite hidden gem in the land of book swapping: Jonas Jonasson’s The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. Hi-la-ri-ous. And also, very well written! (Or well translated.) The writing style is often as funny as the story itself, crazy adventures accompanied by an overly pompous and rich style: it takes off the irony of a situation that could be considered as very ironic by the characters, but is instead just another deus ex machina, no biggie at all.

Thanks to this book swapping, a whole new world of books waiting to be read opened up for me. Of course I do still love my Post-Colonial stuff and the Magical Realism, but I’m now also looking for new discoveries. What’s your favourite book of all time? Anything you can recommend me?

Brainfood: A Night Between Books

Yesterday I felt like it was time for some brain food. In one of my previous posts, I have told you about my favourite coffee place in Leuven which is no more. It was a book cafe: a cafe that happens to have a book shop, De Dry Coppen. It has been replaced by a book shop that happens to have a cafe: BarBoek. Sligthly different atmosphere, but still a wonderful place to relax. Books everywhere, a few corners with big and small couches, and the same delicious coffee as in the last place.

Yesterday night, they had their opening event. They invited a writer to come talk about her new book: Isabelle Rosaert’s Dat is wat ik bemin. So as you do, I invited my mom for a date to the new book cafe.

The night had a high level of living room feeling to it. A very crowded living room, but still. The writer had invited a lot of her family and friends to support her, and so did the Barboek team. So everyone sort of knew someone, and everyone had a very positive and open mindset. The set-up was totally living room as well. A homely feeling of different couches, and a single lamp on the ceiling that everyone kept running into. And a nice cuppa.

The event was well thought out. The journalist interviewing the author was also a friend of the author, which made it a very easy going and personal interview. In between the questions, someone read some excerpts from the book, accompanied by some live music. I have to be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of the live music. I’ll call it “Experimental Double Bass”. The girl was holding the double bass in such an awkward way, it was hard to take her seriously. She had an amplifier and some pedals, so she could record her own playing to play it back to us. That way, she was her own musical accompaniment. I was quite impressed at first, taking an either jazz or classical instrument to a digital level, but I didn’t like what she did with it. She clearly wanted to create a different sound, contemporary stuff, alternative. But the things she did to her double bass simply did not go well on the ear. Or at least not on my ear. It is such a beautiful instrument, with its deep warm tones. The way she played it, it eeped and it creeped. At first I thought she wasn’t very good. Then it started dawning on me it was simply her style. As for the excerpts, they were a bit on the long side. Although I must admit, they suited the interview very well. Afterwards, we were served some wine and sandwiches to accompany the interesting discussion that started brewing right after the interview had finished.

In any case, the night definitely sold the book to me. Usually I am not a big fan of contemporary Dutch literature. Often, there is this idea behind it, “I have to shock my reader”. The stories and language use are vulgar and very much out there, the topics taboo. I can’t say it’s not good writing. It’s just not my thing. What is my thing? Post-colonial literature, like Khaled Hosseini, Salman Rushdie, or for Dutch Kader Abdollah. Or magical realism, like Isabel Allende or the king of magical realism, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Now, guess which writer has had a massive influence on Rossaert?! Gabriel Garcia Marquez! She even experimented a little bit with the magical realism herself! So to say the least, I am intrigued! I might just actually read this book. Another thing for on the christmas wish list I say!