Fair Play by Tove Jansson

902743Jonna and Mari are artists. They live together, sort of, and have for twenty or thirty years.  I say sort of because their apartments are at opposite ends of the top floor of an old building, connected by an empty attic space.  When they are working, they stay in their own homes.  When they aren’t working, they spend their time in Jonna’s apartment watching American movies (Fair Play is set in Finland) and avoiding the world or in a small cabin owned by Mari on a small island with no other inhabitants, still avoiding the world.  Sometimes, they travel, taking long trips to other countries.

Occasionally, they have visitors or meet new people who they seem to attach themselves to rather than become friends with.  Whilst excited by the new additions, each time it seems to upset the balance of their lives, the routine of their non-routine world.  There is Mari’s old boyfriend for example, who says he’s going to come camping on the island then doesn’t show up, and the young artist Jonna befriends and feeds food normally set aside for Mari until one day she doesn’t turn up anymore and Mari, who had felt like she no longer belonged, is welcome into the flat again.

Told in short chapters that are linear timewise but do not necessarily follow each other immediately, Fair Play gives snapshots into lives less ordinary than mine.  As an outsider, getting a glimpse of this world, I struggled to understand it and get a real sense of time and place.  The seeming lack of direction, the misunderstandings that were never discussed – I wondered whether I was missing something and kept going back on myself.  Then I read that Fair Play was based on Tove Jansson’s own long-term relationship and, knowing this, I started to feel like I was getting not so much a work of fiction but a glimpse of her real life and started enjoying it more as a result (though not sure why, perhaps I was no longer looking for a big idea?).

With this in mind, I found it interesting though not compelling and I did like the style of writing.  It was sparse and simple and seemed (at least to my untrained eye) well translated.  I think the problem was I wanted more, I’m just not sure more of what.  More of a story maybe and definitely more pages – this was billed as a novel but was only 84 pages long.  When it ended I felt disappointed and slightly cheated.  Which is a shame because I don’t think this was a bad book and I think other people would really like it.  It just wasn’t for me.

Emma

This Book Will Save Your Life by A. M. Homes

553476Richard is in pain. What type of pain, he isn’t sure and the doctors can find nothing wrong.  But still he hurts. Lying in the hospital bed, he realises that he doesn’t know who to call. His ex-wife, his estranged son, the brother he hasn’t seen in years, his parents who have decamped to Florida and who he doesn’t speak to either? He is, it turns out, a man very much alone and the pain isn’t so much to do with his heart but with his head.

A self-made man with a lot of money, Richard lives like a recluse.  His life is one of routine, exercise and health food. He has trainers, nutritionists and a cleaner he doesn’t speak to but no friends. He watches stocks and shares and makes money but doesn’t leave his house for months. Now, sitting in hospital, he realises he doesn’t want to go home and he doesn’t want to be alone.

Finally, after years of inertia, Richard starts to live. It’s a strange living, one that starts in a donut shop and where he meets and makes friends with misfits, movies stars and novelists.  His son comes to visit and they begin to rebuild their relationship.  Along the way, he rescues a horse, a dog, and a kidnapped woman. It’s all a bit surreal and very funny. By the end I was really rooting for Richard who hadn’t quite figured it all out but you get the feeling he is doing more than existing.

You might be able to tell – I enjoyed this book. I like A. M. Homes, the way she writes. Her novels make me laugh and I love her take on the world, which is slightly off centre. I came to her books late and am slowly working my way through them. So far, this is my favourite and I can’t wait to read more. 

Emma

Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway by Sara Gran

17847024When Claire DeWitt gets a call from the local police to tell her her old boyfriend, Paul, has been murdered she knows – whether anyone asks her or not – she needs to find out who killed him and why. How she goes about figuring it all out had me hooked from pretty much the first page and, along the way, I fell a little bit in love with Claire.

In a way, this book reminded me of James Sallis, who I’m also reading this week.  The crime is there to solve, along with others like The Case of the Missing Miniature Horses (yes, you read that right).  But this isn’t so much about the murder as it is about Claire, who is just a little dysfunctional (she has quite a liking for drink, drugs, random sex, with a bit of random theft thrown in for good measure).

Paul’s death sends her into a destructive spiral, bringing back memories of her best friend Tracy, who went missing as a teenager, how she became a detective and a million other things in her life that aren’t quite right.  All these present in a complex character, one who works on instinct rather than a systematic search for clues and has a slightly new-age philosophy.  Threaded throughout is a strange and wonderfully off-the-wall cast of characters – most of whom are also often high, drunk and tattooed.

This all gives the book a great pace and a lot of humour (albeit dark).  It is well written and very clever.  There was so much in it I haven’t read before, so many characters that stuck in my mind, especially Claire.  I can’t wait to read more.  Loved it (if you haven’t already guessed).

Emma

The Room by Jonas Karlsson

Title: The Room
Author: Jonas Karlsson
Genre: General Fiction
Source: Review Copy
Rating: Liked it a Lot(4 out of 5)

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When I first put this book on my to read list, I remember writing that I thought it would be one of those books that I either loved or hated. Just the description made me think there wouldn’t be a middle ground.

Bjorn is a compulsive, exacting bureaucrat who discovers a secret room at the government office where he works–a secret room that no one else in his office will acknowledge. When Bjorn is in his room, what his coworkers see is him standing by the wall and staring off into space looking dazed, relaxed, and decidedly creepy. Bjorn’s bizarre behavior eventually leads his coworkers to try to have him fired, but Bjorn will turn the tables on them with help from his secret room.

In the end, I didn’t love it but I wasn’t far off. This is a novella more than a novel, running only 137 pages, and a real page turner. It is, however, hard to describe because in a way, it’s about nothing but office politics and perception.

Bjorn is one of those people I think everyone has met or worked with at some point. Someone who isn’t on quite the same page as everyone else in the office, who struggles to join in with conversations and whose attempts at interaction often feel awkward and forced. Through descriptions of his colleagues behaviours you get to see that is how they see Bjorn. Different is a polite word for it, especially when he starts insisting that the wall he is staring at is a door to a room.

At the same time, because the story is told by Bjorn and about Bjorn you get a glimpse into what is going in his head. It is another world. And in his world he is smart, capable, all seeing and all knowing. Everyone around him is next to useless and he has not time for them or their water cooler chat. He can’t and won’t attempt to understand why his behaviour might make them uncomfortable.

In the end, the two worlds collide and can’t co-exist. It isn’t surprising but at the same time, right to the end, I had no idea which world would win. I couldn’t tell if Bjorn had uncovered something he shouldn’t have or if he really was going off the deep end. It was fun trying to figure it out though and the book was really funny at times. It was also sad and disturbing in places. Hard to fit in in 137 pages and really well done. Highly recommended.