zondag 16 juli 2017

"A Burnt-Out Case" by Graham Greene

"Liking is a great deal safer than love. It doesn't demand victims."

Querry is a famous architect who is tired of life. He doesn’t feel anything anymore, no drive for his work, no love, no faith - he has nothing more to live for. He escapes the misery of his life by travelling anonymously to a leper colony in the Congo, where he just wants to be left alone. But his intentions are misunderstood - people start believing he's a hero for leaving a successful career behind and helping the lepers. Before to soon a journalist arrives who wants to tell Querry's story to the world. While Querry was gradually starting to heal, tragedy now looms.

It's interesting to see how Greene compares Querry to Deo Gratias, a native who has been diagnosed as a 'burnt-out case' - a leper who is pronounced cured, because he has lost everything that can be eaten away by the leprosy. Querry's mental state is similar to this.

There's very little story here, but the characters are absolutely marvelous. Lots of very philosophical dialogue, but I wasn't bored for a minute. It's a deep-felt novel about suffering and happiness, love and loathing, religion and faith ... This is another of Greene's absolutely brilliant novels. There's very little story here, but the characters are absolutely marvellous. As with some of his other novels, it's very dark and depressing, but there's so much humanity in these pages that it's irresistable. Greene has definitely become one of my very favourite authors.

Author: Graham Greene
Title: A Burnt-Out Case
Publisher: Vintage, London
Year: 2004 (orig. 1960)
Number of pages: 192 p.
ISBN: 9780099478430 

dinsdag 11 juli 2017

"The Blood Cell" (Doctor Who) by James Goss

"'Oh, shut up. I do have charm. This is me doing charming. It just gets mistaken for indigestion.  Normally by Clara.'"

The Governor is running a high-security prison on an asteroid in space. He's having quite a lot of difficulties with Prisoner 428, who just won't stay in his cell and seems to ignore just about every rule the prison has. And then there's this stubborn young woman, who keeps on trying to get in touch with 428, although she's been told time and time again that visitations are not allowed. But then people start getting killed and soon, the Governor is quite happy that Prisoner 428 -who calls himself the Doctor- is around.

I used to read a lot of fiction tie-ins to movies or television series (Star Trek, Doctor Who, Babylon 5 ...) but I've discovered that, while these books are a nice way of expanding the backgrounds of these series, most of the stories are actally pretty lame. "The Blood Cell" is one of the better examples of "Doctor Who" books. The characterisations of the Doctor and Clara are well done, which is a must in this kind of fiction. Doctor number twelve is his sarcastic self and Clara is very recognisabe too. The bickering between the two is really funny. The beginning of the novel is exciting and the mystery builds up nicely. The fact that we see the events devoloping through the eyes of the Governor, makes this a quite original read. About halfway through, the magic is gone, though, and it turns into a merely good, but unremarkable story. Still, it wouldn't be a bad choice for Doctor Who fans who want to fill the void before the twelfth Doctor's swan song on television at Christmas.

Author: James Goss
Title: The Blood Cell (Doctor Who)
Publisher: BBC Books
Year: 2014
Number of pages: 252 p.
ISBN: 9781849907743

"King of Ithaca" by Glyn Iliffe

"The great beast shifted across the stone floor not two strides away from them. Eperitus realised this was no mere snake but an animal of supernatural proportions. Fighting the urge to take out his sword, he dared to turn his head and behold the full horror of the monster."

"King of Ithaca" is the first in the six-book series "Adventures of Odysseus", which retells the story of mythical Greek hero Odysseus. In the small kingdom of Ithaca, the deceitful Eupeithes threatens to overthrow the aging king Laertes. The best way of protecting Laertes's dynasty seems to be to put his son Odysseus on the throne, but most agree that the young warrior should find a wife first. The titular hero travels to Sparta in a bid to win Helen's hand - the most beautiful woman in the world - and gain the support of Sparta. But there are a lot of other suitors.

These days, there's a tendency in fiction to de-mythologise - ancient tales are told as if they were history, taking all supernatural elements out of the story (Bernard Cornwell's "Warlord" trilogy or Colleen McCullough's "Song of Troy" come to mind). Not so with this story. There are encounters with gods, clashes with giant monsters, love potions, people raised from the dead ... The author uses the myths to great effect, but adds quite a lot to them. In fact, most if this first book stems from the author's imagination (what's a kraken doing in a book about Greek mythology?). So this is not a series you want to read if you want to learn about Greek mythology. Read it as an exciting adventure or fantasy story and you'll be fine.

Author: Glyn Iliffe
Title: King of Ithaca (Adventures of Odysseus)
Publisher: Pan, London
Year: 2009 (orig. 2008)
Number of pages: 384 p.
ISBN: 9780330452496

zaterdag 24 juni 2017

"Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro

"All children have to be deceived if they are to grow up without trauma."

It isn't easy to review this book without giving away spoilers, but I'm going to try anyway. Really, you have to discover what's going on yourself to really appreciate the book. Superficially, the beginning of the novel might make you think "Never Let Me Go" is a standard coming-of-age story, told by Kathy, a young woman who looks back on her childhood in a boarding school. She tells us about friendships, love and first sexual experiences - things that every youngster growing up finds important. But then there are signs that not everything is at it seems to be. From the beginning she tells us she's a 'carer' but she doesn't tell us exactly who or what she cares for. She also uses words like 'donors', 'possibilities' and 'deferrals' - but it takes a while before we fully understand what they mean. And then there's the enigmatic 'Madame' and her mysterious 'gallery'. Although the story takes place in the 1980s and 90s, it's clear that we're actually reading about an alternate Britain and of a society that is in some ways very different from ours. Or is it?

Kazuo Ishiguro is a British author of Japanese descent. He's probably best known for his novel "Remains of the Day", which was filmed with Sir Anthony Hopkins.  In "Never Let Me Go", Kathy tells her story in a very casual, conversational way. The information is fed to the reader piece by piece. Her na├»ve point of view is endearing, but once you realise what is actually happening, you really start feeling for her and her friends. The "Never Let Me Go" is a clever novel about hope, the destruction of hope and of resignation. This will stay with me for quite a while.

Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Title: Never Let Me Go
Publisher: Faber and Faber, London
Year: 2005
Number of pages: 263 p.
ISBN: 0571224121

zaterdag 17 juni 2017

"Vermoorde onschuld" van Jo Claes

"Met spijt trok hij zich terug. Afronden. Er een einde aan maken. Hij drukte haar gezicht in het kussen, sloeg zijn twee handen om haar keel en kneep. Ze rochelde. Hij kneep nog harder. Ze begon te stuiptrekken. Lang duurde het niet."

De Leuvense thrillerauteur Lukas Lebowski ontmoet in Siena een hevige fan. Het kost hem weinig moeite om de knappe jongedame mee te nemen naar een hotelkamer en haar daar te versieren. Niet lang nadat hij haar verlaten heeft, wordt de vrouw echter vermoord aangetroffen op de kamer. Lebowski kan een alibi voorleggen, dus wordt hij snel vrijgepleit. Maar niet lang daarna worden nog enkele vrouwen uit Lebowski's omgeving vermoord. De verdenking valt nu uiteraard wel op de auteur, zeker omdat de moorden op een vrijwel identieke manier worden gepleegd als hij in zijn nieuwste, nog ongepubliceerde, roman beschrijft. Hoofdinspecteur Thomas Berg wordt op de zaak gezet en die ontdekt al heel snel dat iemand alle moeite doet om de misdaden in Lebowski's schoenen te schuiven. Berg heeft met een wel heel gewiekste moordenaar te maken, en hij moet die bijzonder snel weten te vinden, want alles wijst erop dat er nog slachtoffers zullen vallen.

Het achtste boek alweer uit de reeks rond hoofdinspecteur Thomas Berg en auteur Jo Claes lijkt nog lang niet uitgezongen. Opnieuw schotelt hij de lezer een ingenieus plot voor. Hoewel ik het verhaal aanvankelijk een beetje te veel vond lijken op 'Getekend vonnis', een van de vorige delen, evolueert het uiteindelijk helemaal anders. Er zijn heel wat verrassende plotwendingen en de ontknoping is uiterst bevredigend. Zonder twijfel een van de sterkste delen uit de reeks.

Auteur: Jo Claes
Titel: Vermoorde onschuld
Uitgeverij: Houtekiet, Antwerpen/Utrecht
Jaar: 2015
Aantal bladzijden: 394 blz.
ISBN: 9789089243263

zondag 11 juni 2017

"The Fountains of Paradise" by Arthur C. Clarke

"Here, at the foot of the rock, he had conceived and created Paradise. It only remained, upon its summit, to build Heaven."

Most popular science fiction has interesting stories that are put into a futuristic setting. Many readers are put off by this, but if you take away that setting, the stories could easily be told in other settings and just be westerns, war stories or what have you. But lots of science fiction is actually about the science itself. The implications of the progress of science is the core of the story. Arthur C. Clarke was without any doubt one of the best authors of this so-called hard SF.

I'm not a science buff, and there are a lot of ideas in science fiction stories that I don't find particularly interesting. But Arthur C. Clarke could always tell his story with so much enthusiasm, that you can't help but get very much involved. This is also what happens in "The Fountains of Paradise". To be honest, the obsession of an engineer to build an elevator into space wasn't an idea that I thought sounded very exciting. But again he builds a solid story around it, with an interesting main character and more than enough intrigue and conflict to keep everyone happy.

"The Fountains of Paradise" won Clarke both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, and although I don't think it's his best novel, it's indespensible for anyone who likes this kind of old-fashioned science fiction storytelling.

Author: Arthur C. Clarke
Title: The Fountains of Paradise
Publisher: Gollancz, London
Year: 2004 (orig. 1980)
Number of pages: 258 p.
ISBN: 1857987217

zondag 4 juni 2017

"The Accident" by Linwood Barclay

"If I'd known this was our last morning, I'd have rolled over in bed and held her. But of course, if it had been possible to know something like that -if I could have somehow seen into the future- I wouldn't have let go."

Glen Garber's wife Sheila dies in a car crash, leaving Glen alone to take care of their eight-year old daughter Kelly. The loss becomes even more difficult to accept when he finds out that Sheila was heavily under the influence of alcohol and caused the accident. What prompted her do be so irresponsible? Glen just can't understand, because it was so unlike Sheila do to something like this. Things get even weirder when Sheila's friend Ann dies just a few weeks later, also in a accident. Glen goes looking for some answers and discovers both Sheila and Ann were involved in some shady business.

Linwood Barclay has a very clear and fluent writing style and this makes "The Accident" read like a train.  As a thriller, it's not particularly special or original, but it has good characters and enough mystery and surprises to keep you reading. This book reminded me of another author I've recently read, Harlan Coben. Good book.

Author: Linwood Barclay
Title: The Accident
Publisher: Orion, London
Year: 2012 (orig. 2011)
Number of pages: 472 p.
ISBN: 9780752883373