Sunday, February 20, 2011

Swallow me Whole by Nate Powell

Swallow me Whole is scary. But in a completely different manner from Coraline (see below). And it deals with a whole other set of problems than gothic Coraline does. Swallow me Whole has characters, Ruth and Perrym who are some years older than Coraline. They are in highschool and they are stepsiblings.

And something is wrong with both of them. They are sick. Perhaps suffering from schizophrenia. One of the key words for this novel is actually "Schizophrenia", but this is never mentioned in the story itself. Actually, a lot of things is left unmentioned, even though we are also dealing with parents who are ordinary and doesn't seem at all to be having hidden agendas or strange behaviour. Another key word is "Family Drama", and since the parents seem fine and not prone to any form of drama, this key word must relate to the terrible drama of having two kids who are both very, very sick.

As parents you may not think much about it at first, but my gosh, Ruth and Perry are weird. Ruth collects insects and Perry has a pencil which can transform itself into a magician. Now, I know there is nothing especially weird by collecting stuff - I collect books, and I am not schitzophrene. And the reader doesn't REALLY know how much of this goes on inside the heads of Ruth and Perry and how much is actually true. Of course the pencil-magician must be inside Perry's head, but about the insects...I don't know. Maybe most of the jars in which Ruth keeps those insects are mostly in her head? One thing is for certain though: the stepsiblings talk to each other about the insects and the magician (long time since I met such a nasty character as this magician), and they never doubt each other's stories.

As time goes by, psychiatrists and medication come into the kid's lives, and the reader tries and tries to get into this strange, horrible and sick life those young people live. The parents worry. But maybe not enough?

Almost everything that can go wrong, goes wrong for Ruth and Perry, and this is a scary, scary story in all it's simple style. It is not funny or comic in any way. The drawings are strong in their black and while smudgy style. Sometimes the text is so small that it is alsmost impossible to read. This is not a mistake, but surely made like this on purpose from the writer's side. The ending is not left open, although it does leave room for a bit of guessing. It is not a happy ending no matter what. This was tough reading.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman (graphic novel)

Do you still remember the land between being a child and a young adult? The year or so just before puberty? Yes, this one is for kids, Neil Gaiman's Coraline. And yes, you all read it, I know. But darn this was a scary read for this adult reader, and I felt like I was back in that land again, mentioned above. Originally this is a novel, I am aware of that, but I read the graphic edition of it, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russel. Oh was scary! I have to say that again.

Coraline and her slightly distanced mom and dad have just moved into an old house, which they share with other tenants. Coraline is bored, and her parents doesn't really help, only by suggesting boring things to do. They are not unloving, her parents, but seem more occupied with their own stuff. Just like I myself felt at that age (and maybe did at least until a year ago where my father died).  So when Coraline discovers a door leading nowhere, her curiosity is immediately on high alert. Finally something is happening.

Even though she is told not to bother with the door, she still goes on and opens it one evening. And she is suprised. Behind the door is a parallel apartment just like her own. With a set of parallel parents. Even the other people living in her "real" house are there in their parallel "edition". At first it seems like a more ideal place to be. But only at first. Because something is off in a very bad way, and Coraline is quick to discover that when her first surprise has settled.

This graphic novel was full of gothic mysticism, and even though I was not breathless over the drawings, I was chilled, literally chilled, reading this story. So in one way or the other the drawing did have an effect on me. Those drawings - and the magnificent story of course - must have an even greater effect on a kid. Or maybe not...?
Perhaps Coraline's story is way more chilling for adults than for children? I don't know. I haven't read the "real" book, so I have no idea how close the graphic novel is to the original, but is you like a gothic story as much as the next person, I definitely recommend this one.

What is the most pathetic...? And a review of The Clearing by Tim Gautreaux

Did you miss me? Probably not. Did I miss you? Yeah, a little bit. I did, it is true. But I really did not miss blogging and I couldn't seem to get anything read.

I don't know what is the most pathetic: a blog slowly dying with no new posts at all, a lot of unfinished challenges and an empty feeling to it all OR a reader not able to read at all. I have felt somewhat pathetic concerning my blogging and reading the past months - when I have had the time to think about it, that is. Because the reason I haven't really been around has nothing to do with juicy personal problems or just boring personal problems. On the contrary. I have simply just been utterly and completely mega-swamped at work.

Add to that my almost non-existant reading, and I could find no reason to blog at all, but I wish I had had the time to keep myself updated on what has been going on around the book blogger world. Have to make up for that now.

All that said, I also have managed to read some books. So let me begin 2011 (although we are almost 2 months into this new year) with a short review of one of the last reads of last year, The Clearing by Tim Gautreaux. I remeber this book as a fine read, but not so fine that I am going to rush out finding the other books this author has written.

The Clearing takes place in the years after World War I in a small sawmill town in the middle of nowhere deep in the swamps of Louisiana.
Byron, returning from Europe and the war as a broken man, is heir to a sawmill-empire, but decides to become a policeman in this small sawmill town instead of manager. Gambling, violence, drinking and genreal apathy is daily business out here in the swamps, and Byron has his plate full. He is far away from his younger brother and his father and their expectations, but trying to deal with rough sawmill workers and the Sicilian mafia (controlling bars, gambling and prostitutes) is also taking it's toll. But he does his job and he tries to forget what he did and what he saw in Europe during the war.

Hisu younger brother Randolp finds him, and he arrives to the sawmill town himself, setting up office as sawmill manager. Now begins a journey where the two brothers must begin to get to know each other again, not without certain trouble and hurting. It is especially the raw violence which Randolph sees unfolding weekend after weekend in the bar is a source of worry and fighting, because the brothers does not see eye to eye in how to handle it. Meanwhile the Sicilian mafia is getting closer, and the brothers are forced to make decisions which has dire consequences.

This might sound like The Clearing is a romantic tale about two brothers finding each other after hard times, but if you think that, then it is my fault for not being able to describe this book good enough. It is a deeply serious novel, and there is nothing romantic about it at all (not that there is anything wrong with romantic novels). It is beautifully and tightly written in a brilliant language, the tone is serious all the way through and there is not really anything to laugh about. This is about how life unfolded itself in it's most raw way about 100 years ago.

Thus I can easily recommend this book, but it was too serious and too "deep" for me at the time I read it. This is of course not the book's fault, especially since I often enjoy books with heavier themes. But it didn't really work out for me at the time I read it.

PS. I got an iPad for Christmas, and have downloaded several readers to it. I have also tried my first e-book and it worked like a charm. It was a Danish crime novel, so I will not be reviewing it here, but just wanted to say that I am now officially on the e-book band wagon ;o)