Friday, 31 March 2017

Paras mahdollinen maailma - Riikka Pulkkinen

'Elämästä paljon suurempi osa kuin uskallamme itsellemme myöntää on unta.'

'A much bigger part of life than we dare admit to ourself is a dream.'

Hello again!

This is the other book my mum bought me for Christmas - maybe it's because the main character's father has a stroke or maybe because the book is quite heavily about the Berlin Wall. Maybe it's because she's read books by Riikka Pulkkinen before and I haven't yet. Anyway!

Aurelia was born on the day the Wall fell. Her father is dying in a hospital and she's not answering the calls from her mother. She's an actress and she has just landed a main role in a huge production about the Wall. Her father wanted to say something, before, and now it's too late. Her mother is trying to tell her, but maybe that's too late as well. There's also friends and sex and musings about being and overlapping stories of Berlin and pain and loss and love. In that order. Most of the story is told through Aurelia's eyes, some is through her mom's messages to her, and some is from the past of the director of the play.

The writing is very prose-like, maybe even overly poetic. It goes on and on and on and twists and turns and it's really quite interesting but at the same time you're secretly hoping that maybe just maybe it could stop sometime soon.

The weather has been lovely so most of this
was read outside! (Bought a raspberry
chocolate muffin from Starbucks even
though I shouldn't have because that's
what spring is for!)
A lot of the characters were very well established, which is one of the biggest compliments I can bestow upon this. I liked Aurelia, even though sometimes she got annoying. Sometimes she supposedly could read other people's thoughts and every time she did, they were supposedly thinking of how amazing she herself was. Kind of like seeing a really hot guy and believing that their current thought is that you are a goddess; self-centered and not even realistic. Her friends were nice even though they weren't that prominent, but whatever she had once had with her ex-boyfriend Niklas didn't end up feeling like anything to me. The eccentric director was very interesting, and I think his story ended up being the one that was the most captivating to me. Seija was also incredibly cool, see the following:

'Jos Seijasta on jotain sanottava, hänestä voi sanoa tämän: hän on ihminen joka kantaa käsilaukussaan voiveistä. Koskaan ei tiedä milloin mieli alkaa tehdä juustoa tai kokonaista kakkua, josta leikata palasia.'

'If one had to say something about Seija, it could be this: she is a person who carries a butter knife in her purse. You never know when you start to crave cheese or a whole cake, out of which to cut pieces.' 

Role model, definitely.

On the other hand, I didn't like Aurelia's (dying) father at all, because in the flashbacks from her mum's point of view, he didn't come across all that nice. And this was through the eyes of the woman who loved him. Weird.

This is where I finished the book!
The plot, while captivating at first, kind of fell flat when I learned that there's really nothing more, and the last hundred pages (almost a third of the book) didn't really introduce anything new. Even the twists felt like I already knew, and maybe I did. It was cool to see and hear about what it's (presumably) like to be an actress in a theatre production and I could have definitely read more of that too. Additionally, while all the Berlin imagery and theme was really cool in a way, it was also way too convenient to feel any kind of realistic. In a more light-hearted book I'd definitely let that slide but when a book wants to be taken this seriously, it feels a bit off.

Overall a solid 3.5 though I'll have to round down to a three, since it's not quite a four for me. Will read her other works and hopefully I'll like the plots better then. From what I understand, a lot of people liked those better than this, so that's good to know.

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 45: A book about a Finnish woman! Kinda self-explanatory, I suppose.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Shadowmagic - John Lenahan

"Fergal and I looked at each other like naughty schoolboys. When she was out of earshot, we both let out a very quiet yeehaa in defiance."

Shadowmagic was apparently a big part of J's childhood so he wanted me to read it for The Bookclub. And while I loathe to admit he ever does something right, it was a very good read (and very underrated, since if you search for it, Google comes back with "Did you mean shadow magic?"). It's available as a free audiobook read by the author, who's very, very excited about what he does and does it extremely well. There's also Kindle and paperback version so there's literally no reason you shouldn't read it (unless you really hate fantasy or teenagers or both for some reason).

Conor is an 18-year old living with his father and doing whatever teenagers do until he gets pulled into a magical land of Tir na Nog, where he's a prince and everyone wants to kill him because of an old prophecy. The book is heavily laden with Irish mythology, which was very refreshing and interesting to read about. Conor is also a very point of view -character for the reader, taking all of the magical things as a curiosity and cracking jokes about them every chance he gets. The description isn't very heavy since Conor seems a bit harebrained and doesn't really care about the finer details, which I suppose is fair enough.

There's some things I didn't really like all that much, one of them being the lack of female characters. There's literally only Conor's love interest, his mum (you don't want to know the first thing Conor says about his mum, trust me) and aunt, and I don't think that's near enough. Also, sometimes Conor is too immature to be likeable, too defiant to be relatable. While I understand his purpose as a POV character, I feel like sometimes it would have been better if he could just once do whatever he's told without questioning everything. Quite a few of the plot twists also come across as expected (as an audiobook, there's a cliffhanger at the end of each 15-ish minute long chapter), but the ones I didn't expect really kinda managed to blow me away. Conor didn't spend near enough time in The Real World for us to establish his life or personality there, but that might have been an "imagine your life here" type of gimmick. Still, I'm hoping the next two books will open that up for me a bit more.

Also, most of the characters didn't really get much of a personality. While Conor got some well-needed character growth during the book, both of his parents remained very distant. The love interest Esa (note: Conor also has a real-world girlfriend he doesn't seem to care much for) was mostly just a sort of badass love interest who didn't do much but be around so Conor could pine over her. There were a couple of others I already forgot. Fergal however, whom Conor befriends quite near the beginning, was amazing. That's all I'll say on this.  

All in all though, Shadowmagic was a really fun read. Lighthearted and warm and the kind of book that will take you on a grand adventure with the characters. I'm perfectly willing to overlook my less glaring complaints (although please give me female characters) and give it a solid 4/5.

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 11: a Book by an acknowledged professional! This because John Lenahan is famous as an illusionist and (wikipedia tells me) was the first person in 85 years to be expelled from The Magic Circle (which I didn't even know existed). The more you know!

Friday, 17 March 2017

Band of Brothers on Steroids - Unknown Soldiers

(This is a guest entry of sorts written by Daniel since I feel like as a Finnish classics, his thoughts on this one may be more intriguing than mine :) )

The inaugural premise of this book leaves a curious impression on the reader, it is introduced in a way which paves the emotional wave awaiting the reader; this is followed by brutal, desperate situations that you share with the soldiers whom you have come to know and love.

After reading this moderately long book, I have a sense of loss; one of the most memorable aspects of this novel is the connection that you gain with the characters. One can confidently compare this connection to the relationships seen between the soldiers in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. This connection does not necessarily stem from the bonding between each character but rather from the delicate descriptions and intricate stories belonging to each of the characters. Some characters I abhorred and some I highly enjoyed; but whether I hated or loved I still cared for them. I will purposefully avoid any information relating to spoilers but it was quite an exciting/traumatising ordeal following each character; that is all I will say on this.

Unknown Soldiers was translated from Finnish to English by Liesl Yamaguchi. I therefore cannot give a judgement of the novel through how the author intended it to be but for what I read I gained a sense of pride, courage and how brutal war can be. It is all too common these days for war to be glamorised in Hollywood by a single soldier, cemented in mud, blood and usually an American flag as he simultaneously eradicates numerous people with a single bullet. The beauty of Unknown Soldiers is its raw, in-depth, realistic cruelty and violence. Nothing is glamourized and it feels like the most realistic account of war I have read; this expresses the quality of the book as, it is fictional.  I have never read or watched anything similar to this, it was frightening to imagine and is definitely the closest I wish to be to a war zone.

I am a very lucky individual to have Finnish girlfriend, due to this my knowledge of Finnish history is much greater than the average non-Finnish person. This novel appropriately articulates a sense of pride and understanding from a Finnish perspective. It discusses the topic of war from a point of view that doesn’t necessarily fall under the term ‘slander’ but rather understanding. I believe my former, non-Finnish experienced self would sympathise with the characters and opinions of the book. It is not a lecture about the diplomatic decisions circulating around the ethics of war, but it highlights upon the peoples war and why ‘dancing with the devil’ might be the way to go.

On the most part, the translation was very good but sometimes the sentences did not flow as well as they could, they all made sense but seemed to stem from a verbally spoken point of view, rather from a written piece of literature.

The plot of this novel was very simple. I am very glad it is not complex and full of crazy side plots that are so very common these days. It shadows a battalion of soldiers from the completion of their training until the end of a four year long war (1941 – 1945). This is based upon the continuation war of Finland; I would recommend you read upon this war, as from an Englishman’s point of view I found this rather interesting. The simplicity and elegance of the plot did not drag, even when the book lead us through the standard lives of soldiers on the front line. There is an eloquent assortment of surprise and normality, which gives a steady and exciting pace of the novel.

An interesting point is that this book is based upon a war, yet it is entirely fictional. Some of the characters are vaguely based upon real life individuals but none of the battles actually took place. The author participated in the war and started writing the first half while at war. For myself, part of the enchantment of this book is its ability to describe and articulate situations that could be real. Instead of replicating something real, it produces a passage of text purely from abstracted imagination of events, in essence this book is more detailed than a text that stems from a real battle as little details are not missed.

The characters in this book exceeded in captivating my interest, as their development was profound. Similar to real life you get individuals who stagnate in a pitiful array of arrogance, some who have always been what they are or what they want to be and those who desire is to excel in every way manageable. The range of characters I this book satisfy these characteristics in the best way possible as you can see and feel how the war wears them down and turns them into someone new.

Unknown Soldiers was given to me as a present; gifted as a prized collective of Finnish literature and read simultaneously across four countries with my beloved girlfriend. I was pleasantly surprised with its direct, ruthless expression of war and the progression of how men can develop into inhumane machines but still hold humanity to their heart. It takes you through a relinquished journey, from childish wishes, adult impersonations to absolute abandonment; this is truly a novel that should be seated upon the greats of war related books.

PS. I love the cover.