What I really liked about this book was that each chapter is from the perspective of a different character (the main ones returning later), and they are linked one to the other, in sometimes mysterious ways that you don't realise until later what the connection is. I thought that was very nicely done. Not only does the different perspectives give more insight into the story itself, but it works very well in making the characters much more rounded. A.J. is not just a racist bully, but has his own troubles and issues, for example.
As always with Richard Osman's books, a joy to read and a disappointment to reach the end. The plot is fun and has some nice twists (some more unexpected than others) but the real fun is the characters. You feel you are getting to know some really nice people. Reminiscent of Alexander McCall Smith's Number One Ladies Detective Agency.
An interesting book and easy to read with a historical overview of the different characteristics of several districts of Brussels. Put like that, it sounds boring, but actually it has enough anecdotes and stories to make it a good read. I read it during a business trip to Brussels and it certainly made it more interesting.
The interest in this short book is mainly that it was written about 100 years ago, and it shows how much (and how little) views about literature have changed. The basic building blocks are the same, which characters and plots and so on. But the values are clearly different. He is mostly rather negative about Dickens, calling his characters two-dimensional and downright scathing about James Joyce, and George Eliot has apparently 'no nicety of style'. However, he devotes long passages to authors which I've never heard of - and I don't think that is entirely due to my ignorance, they have just not stood the test of time. This book is historically interesting, but doesn't give many insights into literature that apply 100 years later.
Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated
This is a long book and at a given moment it transitions from being an epic into just going on too long. A severe edit would have improved it no end. It was written back in 1992, and that is obvious in a number of ways. Firstly, we now know a lot more about Mars. Not a lot of water for a start. Secondly, it is bizarrely still in a sort of cold war situation, with Russia and America dominant and China nowhere to be seen. The technology is also oddly quaint with instruments printing out onto graph paper and even a fax machine at one point. On the other hand, Crispr-cas was predicted, which was impressive.
I see why this is regarded as a classic, but I just wish that it had been a bit shorter.
I had been wanting to read this book for a while, so was happy when it came up in VPRO'S Club Lees. However, I have the feeling that the translation didn't live up to the original. There was one strange thing. Cow Parsley was described as poisonous. But it isn't. Its close relatives are. I wonder if this was a mistake by the translator or the author?
I read this book with great pleasure. For a start, it used such beautiful imagery. The person was " As round and satisfied as a broad bean popped from a pod". "The silver barrage balloons float in the night air like giant tethered fish". The sort of imaginative phrases where you instantly get an strong image of exactly what is meant. Another plus point was the strand of feminism running through it, "Why are all the best characters men?" the girl says, and in the rest of the book Joanna Quinn goes on to show how it doesn't have to be that way. The book switches between the past and present tense, which on the whole works quite well and also to all sorts of different formats, like letters and newspaper cuttings. There is even an art exhibition catalogue. That works very well, giving interesting different perspectives. There are essentially two stories. In the first, children are growing up rather wildly and build the whalebone theatre. In the second, the children are young adults, undercover agents in France in the second world war. The connection is not in terms of the narrative, as it really jumps from one to the other, but in that it is the same characters, albeit transformed by their experience. You would think that two such disparate stories wouldn't work, but actually it does precisely because it is the same characters, who the reader has come to care so much about. There are also some rather less positive aspects. The book is mostly quite uncritical of the immense privilege of the aristocracy in the first part, loveless neglect of the children is presented over positively and post-war society is presented as if all class distinctions had melted away. Apparently this was Joanna Quinn's debut. Amazing. I hope she also has a second book in her.
I was glad to get to the end of this book, it was a struggle. For a start, it is riddled with factual inaccuracies. Two within the first 20 pages (the EU doesn't spend 1% of its budget on culture, the Netherlands is by no means the only country that updates old children's books to modern language), then he thinks that the 19th century political party, the Whigs, was something to do with wigs (it means cattle drovers), Erasmus Darwin was not the first person by any means to describe photosynthesis - and so on throughout the book. Parts of it are quite pretentiously written ("het wezen dat ik met 'ik aanduid" (the being that I refer to as "I"). I am not sure if those passages are meant to be ironic, but it is irritating. Worse, than that parts are quite offensive. He uses the term 'Paki', which is deeply offensive, equivalent to 'the N word' and he is quite consistently misogynistic throughout. He has ultraconservative attitudes on a whole range of matters. Perhaps he is exaggerating for comic effect, but it just irritated me. I read this book because the friend who leant it to me thought I would like it, seeing Barnard is rather an Anglophile. It turns out he only likes the sort of England to be seen from a cosy Bed and Breakfast. He is unbelievably condescending and insulting about the English working class ("the sort of single mother that would be better off not reproducing") and dismisses the Scots as being incomprehensible (particularly odd for a Dutchman living in Flanders). In the beginning, I thought I might read his book about England, but after having read this, I don't think I'll bother.
This book was recommended to me by a friend after I enthused about Demon Copperhead, and they were right, it is a great book, especially for me. There is a lot about the joys of fieldwork, of cobbling solutions together out of household equipment whilst you're out in the middle of nowhere and the slightly bizarre dedication that scientists have to their work. "Dellarobia tried to imagine loving to do something so much, she would get that miserable doing it". The book was also really thought-provoking about communication and preconceptions between different groups of people, like well-educated scientists, and subsistence farmers. Barbara Kingsolver's unique perspective on this (due to her belong to both communities) was really good. The book was written back in 2012, and that also gave an interesting perspective. Smartphones were a luxury, not a necessity of life, and climate change denial was still a widely heard belief. The polarisation that came into society after that period had not yet taken place - it is hard to imagine that meeting of minds between the different groups taking place today. The one weak point of the book is that it is a little over didactic in places. The long lectures about the biology and ecology of the monarch butterflies are interesting, but perhaps just a little too much of a good thing. Nevertheless, a great book, I really enjoyed it!
This is one of the most evocative descriptions of how it feels for a couple to be in love that I have ever read. I was instantly transported back 30 years to walking around Chicago with the person who is now my wife (also because of the American setting). We travelled between continents to make it happen, so it is possible! I enjoyed the way that the author switched between the perspective of the two main characters, and even to that of the supporting cast from time to time. The sort-of double ending was effective. The racism of the family and some bystanders was also portrayed by nuance and understanding, and the experience of both being a migrant and first generation immigrant was effectively portrayed. Unfortunately, I read this is translation, but it was a good one. I read this book in the VPRO Club Lees app.