Friday, 30 April 2021

Book Beginnings on Fridays and The Page 56


This week's book I have not yet read. However, I have seen references here and there and I am really excited to start The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean. Here the summary.

"Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I, 53)? How did radium (Ra, 88) nearly ruin Marie Curie's reputation? And why is gallium (Ga, 31) the go-to element for laboratory pranksters?

The periodic table is a crowning scientific achievement, but it's also a treasure trove of passion, adventure, betrayal, and obsession. These fascinating tales follow all the elements on the table as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, conflict, the arts, medicine, and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.  The Disappearing Spoon masterfully fuses science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, discovery, and alchemy, from the Big Bang through the end of time."

Does it not sounds intriguing? Can hardly wait to start this book.  

Book Beginnings on Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader

"As a child in the early 1980s, I tended to talk with things in my mouth - food, dentist's tubes, balloons that would fly away, whatever - and if no one else was around, I'd talk anyway. This habit led to my fascination with the periodic table the first time I was left alone with a thermometer under my tongue."

The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice

"In the end, it's probably impossible to tease out whether the heads or tails of science, the theory or the experiment, has done more to push science ahead. "

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Earthly Possessions by Anne Tyler

Here another instalment in the Anne Tyler project (hosted by Liz Dexter at Adventures in reading, running and working from home). This month's first book is Earthly Possessions, and it might be my absolute favourite so far. 

"Charlotte Emory has always lived a quiet, conventional life in Clarion, Maryland. She lives as simply as possible, and one day decides to simplify everything and leave her husband. Her last trip to the bank throws Charlotte's life into an entirely different direction when a restless young man in a nylon jacket takes her hostage during the robbery--and soon the two are heading south into an unknown future, and a most unexpected fate...."

Maybe you can say that being taken hostage is typical of Charlotte. People seem to be drawn to her. It was of course coincidental that the nervous young man grabbed her, but still. Charlotte being Charlotte meant that she trotted along as the robber ran away with her from the scene. As we follow Charlotte on her trip with the robber, Jake Simms, we get glimpses of her past life. Jake is a somewhat lost, a young man and Charlotte is a woman of experience and turns out to be the stronger of the two. 

Long before this specific point Charlotte's life never did go according to plan. Her parents were not like other parents; her mother so obese she could hardly move and her father a recluse who spent most of his time in his photo studio. Her main aim as a young girl was to get away from the family and the town. She enrolled to study at university, but had not even started when her father died and she had to take care of her mother who became more or less bedridden. 

This is when she feels she has to clean up her life, that is, get rid of her earthly possessions. Somehow they represent the burden that is lingering over her life and traps her. One day the oldest son of the former neighbours is back and rents a room in her house. Charlotte always loved his family, so different from her own. They start to go out together and end up being married to Saul without Charlotte really figuring out how it all happened.  Saul is very religious and educates himself to become a priest. Another burden on Charlotte who does not  believe in God. 

"Which is not to say I didn't go to church. Oh, no, I showed up every Sunday morning, sitting between my mother and Julian, smiling my glazed wifely smile. I believe I almost enjoyed it; I took some pleasure in his distance, in my own dreamy docility and my private, untouchable deafness. His words slipped past me like the sound of a clock or an ocean. Meanwhile I watched his hands gripping the pulpit, I admired his chiseled lips. Plotted how to get him into bed with me. There was something magical about the pew that sent all my thoughts swooning toward bed. Contrariness, I suppose. He was against making love on a Sunday. I was in favour of it. Sometimes I won, sometimes he won. I wouldn't have missed Sunday for the world."

When Saul moves in it comes with furniture from his old house and all of a sudden her almost empty house is now full again. Not only of furniture, but of people. When Saul encounters needy people he puts out a helping hand. 

Charlotte reminds me of Elizabeth in The Clock Winder. Like Elizabeth she seems to draw people to her. Nothing is too complicated for her to take care of.

"I didn't understand you. Now I see everyone grabbing for the pieces of you, and still you're never diminished. Clutching on your skirts and they don't even slow you down. And you're the one who told her the truth; I heard you. Said the word out loud. Cancer. You sail through this house like a moon, you're strong enough for all of them."

I think the last sentence above is a key to the whole novel. As before, Anne Tyler gives us a strong female character who, in the end, seems to be above everything else. The sun that shines in the lives of the people surrounding her, just like Elizabeth does. Reading all of Tyler's novels like we are doing now, clearly highlights her family stories. Strong female characters, seemingly dependent on someone; mother, father, brother or husband, but in the end, going through life with a perspective and drive to achieve something. Apparently having a plan. Reaching a point where they make a decision how to live their lives. It can be staying put and be happy with how things are, or choose another way.   

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Through Belgian Eyes by Helen MacEwan

Helen MacEwan is one of the initial founders of The Brussels Brontë Group. The Group is dedicated to research the years that Charlotte and Emily spent in Brussels. Helen has written another three books connected to the Brontës in Brussels; Down the Belliard Steps (about the founding of the Group), The Brontës in Brussels (a 'guided' tour of places and history connected to the Brontës), Winifred Ghérin, Biographer of the Brontës. Through Belgian Eyes, with the under title Charlotte Brontë's Troubled Brussels Legacy takes a look at how the Belgians handle/d Charlotte Brontë's attitude to Brussels and the Belgians. Mainly through her two books set in Brussels, The Professor and Villette. And, why it took so long for the Belgians to acknowledge her greatness. 

"Charlotte Brontë's years in Belgium (1842-43) had a huge influence both on her life and her work. It was in Brussels that she not only honed her writing skills but fell in love and lived through the experiences that inspired two of her four novels: her first, The Professor, and her last and in many ways most interesting, Villette. Her feelings about Belgium are known - her love for her tutor Heger, her uncomplimentary remarks about Belgians, the powerful effect on her imagination of living abroad. But what about Belgian views of Charlotte Brontë? How have Belgian commentators responded to her portrayal of their capital city and their society? Through Belgian Eyes explores a wide range of responses from across the Channel.

In the process, it examines what The Professor and Villette tell Belgian readers about their capital in the 1840s and provides the Brussels background to the novels. Brussels has inspired few outstanding works of literature, and that makes Villette, considered by many to be Charlotte Brontë's masterpiece, of particular interest as a portrait of the Belgian capital a decade after the country gained independence in 1830, and just before the city was transformed out of all recognition from the 'villette' (small town) that Charlotte knew. Her view of Brussels is contrasted with those of other foreign visitors and of the Belgians themselves."

Charlotte has been accused of being condescending and rude when it comes to the Belgians and Brussels. It took a long time for the Belgians to take her writing to their heart. Her infatuation with Monsieur Heger had a big impact on his family. It is now well established that the stay in Brussels had a huge impact on Charlotte's writing, if not on Emily's.  

A lot of research has gone into this book. It is quite impressing how Helen has gathered information from so many different sources, Belgian and foreign. There are references to articles and letters, archive documents as well as private ones. The book does not only deal with Charlotte and her relationship to Brussels and the Belgians, but it is also a history about the city and the country. Helen gives us a glimpse of life in those days, political as well as on private levels. What did Brussels look like in those day? How has it changed since Charlotte and Emily walked its streets? Is there anything left from that time? How did other exiled authors and well-known political persons look at Brussels? Helen has caught the spirit and atmosphere of that time.

Villette, Charlotte's masterpiece is the story about her Brussels, and based on the time she spent there. It is an interesting, but complicated book, and considered very personal as she had some difficult times there as well. However that is, Brussels somehow stayed with her for the rest of her life, and, in one way or the other, made it into her novels. Through Villette Helen shows us where Charlotte found inspiration for her writing. A little bit of detective work is coming into her account as she tries to locate paintings and venues which Charlotte wrote about. We meet Leopold I, we get an inside view on nineteenth-century boarding schools, her approach to Catholicism and much more. Even an anecdotal chapter on 'Charlotte in the Congo' (the Belgian colony at the time). 

If you are a fan of the Brontës you will find this book interesting (even without the Brontë connection it is an interesting account of Brussels in the first half of the 19th century), and it covers so much of Charlotte's stay and the time she spent there. There are still a few places left where Charlotte and Emily visited. They are included in The Brussels Brontë Group's guided tours that take place several times a year. If you are visiting Brussels have a look at the Group's web-site. 

Through Belgian Eyes includes many illustrations. Personally, I find the illustrations from old Brussels very interesting. Even if you know your way around Brussels, it can sometimes be difficult to get your bearings. So much has changed in these quarters. Helen guides you around the streets, squares and happenings with her engaging and well written account of a lost Brussels. I enjoyed it tremendously.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

The Habsburgs by Andrew Wheatcroft


A book about the Habsburgs is certainly going to be a thick one. A family with a long history and part of the European history for over 1000 years. In spite of this, Wheatcroft has been able to give an account of the family in just under 300 pages (not including footnotes and timelines). Considering the number of Habsburgs that have passed by during this time span, it is a thorough historical account of their lives and deeds. Some gets a little bit more space and some less, and rightly so. It starts with the first Dukes of Austria, originating from, what is today, south of Switzerland, in 1020 and continues to the last emperor, Karl I who was dethroned in 1919.  

I will not even try to make a summary of this interesting family and its input on the history of Europe. As with most ruling dynasties, it is a matter of wars, conquering of land, survival through intrigues, influence as well as personal lives through marriage, children and the fight for survival of the dynasty. As regards the latter part there were both good and bad sides of the motto of Austria: Felix Austria Nube.

"The impact of this Spanish fixation with blood and race on the Habsburgs remains conjectural. But their marriage patterns in the century and a half of the 'Madrid-Vienna axis' are unique in the history of Western Europe. 'Happy Austria marries': and it is a matter of record that the Habsburgs had gained their patchwork of lands by marriage alliances underestimates the intense military activity undertaken, especially in Italy to sustain and consolidate their holdings. It also, wrongly, suggests that other families did not use marriage in the same way to cement of consolidate political alliances. But what distinguished the Habsburgs' marriage strategy especially after the death of Charles V, was its inventiveness and capacity to adapt to new circumstances. No other royal house had developed so coherent a notion of 'the power of the blood'."

Royal marriages have always been a political game, and did most of the time, but not always, lead to unhappy marriages. However, many of the Habsburgs seemed to have loved their spouse and their children, in a way which was not common at the time. 

"Many Habsburg marriages seemed despite their political origins to have turned into genuine love-matches, and the anguish that Habsburg parents felt at the death of their children, even as tine infants, also seems unfeigned, even if expressed in terms of a dutiful resignation to the divine will."

One of the most famous of the emperors, and the man who consolidated and extended the then rather small empire of the Habsburgs, Maximilian I, was very much in love with his first wife, He married Mary of Burgundy, a request by his father, Frederick III. The union turned out to be a union of love from both sides. They were married in 1477 and Maximilian was devastated when she died in a riding accident in 1482. Fate does not always turn out that good. In 1493 he married Bianca Maria Sforza who brought a rich dowry and rights as imperial overlord of Milan. It was an unhappy marriage and they had no children. It generated a huge number of bastards though, and he seemed to have been very fond of them and provided for them. 

Maximilian died on 12 January, 1519, and is buried under the altar steps of the church of St George at Wiener Neustadt. "Where he was buried, he said, he would feel the priest stand on his chest when he raised the host during the mass. But his chest was an empty cavity, for his last command had been that his heart be embalmed, carried to Bruges, and reunited with the body of his first wife, Mary of Burgundy." I find this terribly romantic, and not typical for the time. 

The other face, and not such a nice one, of the Habsburg's marriage policy was the inbreeding. 

"Ferdinand III dutifully produced a total of eleven children, but only two sons who survived infancy. The death of his elder son, Ferdinand, from the universal scourge of smallpox in 1654 brought the younger brother Leopold to the fore, as the senior surviving male in the Austrian branch of the house of Habsburg. After 1665, he was the only surviving male member of his immediate lineage. Thus despite all this prodigious begetting, the twin Habsburg thrones (in the male line) depended on two sickly cousins, Leopold and Carlos. Although much has been made of the dire genetic effects of inbreeding, much more dangerous for the Habsburgs was the devastating rate of infant mortality, and the prevalence of epidemic disease in the close confines of the courts, in Madrid and in Vienna, Graz and Innsbruck. Numerically, the Habsburgs seemed to produce a great many more daughters than sons, and these daughters tended to survive longer than their seemingly more vulnerable brothers. Of course, the life expectancy of Habsburg women was drastically reduced by early marriage, repeated pregnancies, and death in childbirth or from puerperal fevers."

The inbreeding (in the Spanish line) came to and end with Charles II of Spain. He suffered from ill health all his life, but did survive until the age of 39. His disabilities were more physical with the famous Habsburg jaw, where the lower jaw outgrows the upper one. The English ambassador, Stanhope, reported in 1697:

"His constitution is so very weak and broken much beyond his age that it is generally feared what may be the success of such another attack. They cut his hair off in his sickness, which the decay of nature had almost done before, all his crown being bald. He has a ravenous stomach, and swallow all he eats whole, for his nether jaw stands so much out, that his two rows of teeth cannot meet; to compensate which, he has a prodigious wide throat, so that a gizzard or liver of a hen passes down whole, and his weak stomach not being able to digest it, he voids in the same manner."

The last in the Spanish line of the Habsburgs, he died in 1700 without an heir, and chose Louis XIV's grandson Philip of Anjou as successor. France was no friend of the Habsburgs, during most of their history, and it did not go down well in Vienna. It led to the War of the Spanish Succession.  

I have chosen to mention a few notes dealing with the more personal side of the Habsburgs. The Habsburgs is so much more. It is a well researched and easy accessible biography over a family that fought for political control of their dominions for more or less a thousand years. Through the book we get to know the great and not so great achievements, their struggle for power and glory, for family and legacies. It is a tour through European history. Andrew Wheatcroft writes with knowledge and compassion and presents a fascinating story of a family's rise and decline.

Monday, 19 April 2021

Classic Club Spin #26

The Classic Club Spin #26 took place yesterday and gave us # 11. For me, that number is Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. Since I do not have that book with me where I am now, I will take the next book on the list, which is The Wings of the Dove by Henry James. A favourite author and a book I wanted to read for some time, so please with that.

I hope you all got an interesting book as your number 11. Enjoy!

Friday, 16 April 2021

Book beginnings on Fridays and The Friday 56

The Content Reader

It is some time since I posted here on two of my favourite memes or challenges, but now it is time. I recently read W. Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence which I found wonderful. These memes are hosted by Rose City Reader and Freda's Voice.

Book Beginnings on Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader

I confess that when First I made acquaintance with Charles Strickland I never for a moment discerned that there was in him anything out of the ordinary.

The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice

I had said all I had to say on the subject that had brought me to Paris, and though I felt it din a manner treacherous to Mrs. Strickland not to pursue it, I could not struggle against his indifference. It requires the feminine temperament to repeat the same thing three times with unabated zest. 

Do we discern a little bit of sexism in the last sentence?

A wonderful book, my review under link above. 

Thursday, 15 April 2021

Eleanor Marx by Rachel Holmes


I finally got to reading this book, thanks to the challenge The Unread Shelf hosted by Whitney Conard. An excellent challenge how to lower your TBRs and how to sort out what to read. One of the ways to read from your shelves is to take a book according to the monthly theme. The theme for March was - 'A book you bought on a trip'. I bought this book on a trip to London some years ago. I then visited the beautiful Highgate Cemetery where, among others, Karl Marx is buried. I found the book in the little shop at the entrance.

I did not know anything about Eleanor Marx, or much about the Marx family. Marx's ideas I think most are familiar with, even if they have been somewhat distorted through the years. Eleanor was the favourite daughter of Marx and she started helping him with research early on. She only had basic schooling, so she turned into a autodidactic. Highly intelligent she had a interest, not only in politics, but also in literature (she worked also as a translator), culture, theatre, acting and much more.

She had an energy that few could beat. Working hard all her life, and continuing and developing her father's and Jung's ideas about capitalism and society. Helping workers organising unions and being part of the international workers efforts for better working conditions. At one point she wanted to become an actor, and did actually perform on the stage, as well as setting up plays. She translated Madame Bovary into English and was working for introducing Ibsen, a favourite author, in Britain.

She was a modern woman and adapted herself the new ideas about women's right and a lot of her work dealt with "the women question". She lived and worked with, what seems to have been, the love of her life, Edward Aveling without being married. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a womaniser, half crook and cheated on her in many different ways. Warned by friends about his character, Eleanor choose not to listen. In a way it seems typical that an independent and intelligent woman like Eleanor Marx, would go down the same road as many other women have done; to fall in love with the wrong man, and because of this love sacrifice other things. 

"Eleanor was a confirmed atheist and freethinker. If only she'd noticed that unconditional love and the faith it requires are too much like the requirements for believing in an unverifiable god. GBS (George Bernhard Shaw, my comment) saw this clearly and directly in relation to the dynamic between Eleanor and Edward. In 1906 Saw wrote The Doctor's Dilemma, a play exploring the problem of criminal genius and featuring the figure of an unscrupulous artist-philosopher. He used Aveling as one of the models for Louis Dubedat, a gifted moral degenerate loved by a loyal wife (so she believes), Jennifer, based on Tussy." (Eleanor was called Tussy by family and friends. my comment).

Rachel Holmes has written a marvellous biography. I think everything about Eleanor's life and deeds are there. It is thoroughly researched, lots of quotes from letters and papers, to help us form a picture of this incredible lady. There is the background of her father and family, the relationship with Jung, her personal relationships and the influence she had on other people which reached all over Europe, her unbelievable achievements when it comes to the socialist movement and its policies and outcome, her personal interests in literature, translating, theatre just shows what an amazing person she was and so versatile. While reading one cannot help but admire her life's achievements.

"Eleanor assisted Thorne in composing and drafting the rules and constitution of the union. She helped him do the accounts and write the half-year report from March to September 1889, circulated to 30,000 members around the country. In 1939, at the age of eighty, in an interview in the House of Commons, Thorne described Elanor as the most intelligent woman he had ever known, who had an immeasurable influence on his life."

Her life ends in a more somber tone. I will not reveal it her, for those who want to read about her, but there are family secrets coming out in the open, and then there is her death and the aftermaths. 

This biography also gives us a good picture of Europe at the time. It was a time with a lot of developments in many areas of society. Revolutionaries, class difference coming out in the open and a change in society on all levels. Eleanor died in 1898 and just a few years in the future the ongoing changes in Europe, during her time, turned into World War I. 

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Classic Club Spin #26


The time has come for another Classic Club Spin, #26. To join, prepare your list of 20 books before Sunday 18 April, 2021. The book with the number from the spin should be read by 31 May, 2021.

I am still on my first 50 classic book list, but the non-read books do not cover the 20 list, so I am happy to have started on my second list; 51-100, although the list is still not filled with 50 books. I let myself be inspired by your choices and add books as I find them interesting. 

Here is my updated list for the spin.

1. The Master and Margarita by Michail Bulgakov

2. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Carter

3. Daisy Miller by Henry James

4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

5. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoj 

6. Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence

7. Child Harold by Lord Byron

8. House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

9. The Red and the Black by Stendhal

10. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

11. Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

12. The Wings of the Dove by Henry James

13. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence

14. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

15. Moments of being by Virginia Woolf

16. Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

17. The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham

18. The Brothers Karamazov by Fjodor Dostoevsky

19. The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier

20. A Writer's Notebook by Somerset Maugham

Some of the books I don't have with me here in Austria. I will not be back in Sweden and my book shelves until preliminary end of May. If one of the books I don't have with me comes up, I will choose the next available book on the list. After all, the main purpose is to read all the books on the list. 

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham


I found this book on a flee market or second hand shop. I always wanted to read something by Maugham and I had heard a lot of good things about this one. 

Based on the life of Paul Gauguin, The Moon and Sixpence is W. Somerset Maugham's ode to the powerful forces behind creative genius. Charles Strickland is a staid banker, a man of wealth and privilege. He is also a man possessed of an unquenchable desire to create art. As Strickland pursues his artistic vision, he leaves London for Paris and Tahiti, and in his quest makes sacrifices that leave the lives of those closest to him in tatters. Through Maugham's sympathetic eye, Strickland's tortured and cruel soul becomes a symbol of the blessing and the curse of transcendent artistic genius, and the cost in humans' lives it sometimes demands.

This novel caught me from page one. Maybe it is the times in which it is written, or just the wonderful writing of Maugham. I have another book by him,  A Writer's Notebook which I started many years ago, but have not managed to go through. After having read The Moon... I think it is time to start from the beginning with the notebook.

The story is loosely based on the life of painter Paul Gaugin. Maugham has created a very dynamic and stubborn character in Charles Strickland, and on top of it, most of the time, not a very nice person.

The narrator, a hopeful writer to be, first meets Strickland at Mrs. Strickland's literary saloon in London. It is said Strickland never attends these sessions, have no interest in culture and is a big bore. Not long afterwards, we hear that he has left his wife and children and moved to Paris. Mrs. Strickland asks the narrator to go to Paris and pursued him to come back. It is rumoured that he left with a mistress. 

The narrator do find him and meets up with him. Strickland is more than willing, in his often course manners, to inform everyone that he has not left with a woman, he is living alone and will become an artist, a painter. He is not going back to his old life.

"I glanced at him with surprise. His cordial agreement with all I said cut the ground from under my feet. It made my position complicated, not to say ludicrous. I was prepared to be persuasive, touching, and hortatory, admonitory and expostulating, if need be vituperative even, indignant and sarcastic; but what the devil does a mentor do when the sinner makes no bones about confessing his sin? I had no experience, since my own practice has always been to deny everything."

We follow Strickland for a time in Paris. He is always a recluse but Dirk Stroeve, a Dutch painter manages to keep in contact with him. He thinks Strickland has genius when nobody else believes he can even paint. When Strickland gets very sick, Stroeve and his wife helps him back to life, which leads to disastrous consequences. 

" "You gave up a comfortable home and a life as happy as the average. You were fairly prosperous. You seem to have had a rotten time in Paris. If you had your time over again would you do what you did?" 


"Do you know that you haven't asked anything about your wife and children? Do you never think of them?


"I wish you weren't so damned monosyllabic. Have you never had a moment's regret for all the unhappiness you caused them?"

His lips broke into a smile, and he shook his head.

"I should have thought sometimes you couldn't help thinking of the past. I don't mean the past of seven or eight years ago, but further back still, when you first met your wife, and loved her, and married her. Don't you remember the joy with which you first took her in your arms?"

"I don't think of the past. The only thing that matters is the everlasting present." "

Some years later, Strickland is headed for Tahiti where he spends the rest of his life. For the first time in his life he feels integrated in the society and with the people around him. He nevertheless, lives as a recluse far out in the wilderness and continues painting.

The story of Gaugin is a fascinating story in itself. I think that Maugham has brought part of Gaugin's life into the character of Strickland and added other parts. Although you don't have any warmer feelings for Strickland through the book, they tend to melt somewhat as we near the end of his life. It is an interesting portrait of a genius. Geniuses tend to live their lives according to their own ideas. Being somewhat above the rest of us. They also tend to have skills that many of us lacks. 

I loved this book. I loved the writings of Maugham and am eager to read more by him. Furthermore, this is a wonderful edition from 1925, with thick pages. Just wonderful to touch and turn the pages. 

Have you read anything by him that you can recommend?  

Friday, 9 April 2021

Searching for Caleb by Anne Tyler

I am a little bit late with this March read for the Anne Tyler project (hosted by Liz Dexter at Adventures in reading, running and working from home), which I finished just the other day. 

Family can be a trying thing, and that is what some of the members of the Peck family feels. They solve the problem by going away. If the other members are lucky, they will know where they are going, if not, like with Caleb, he disappears without a trace. 

"Duncan Peck has a fascination for randomness and is always taking his family on the move. His wife, Justine, is a fortune teller who can't remember the past. Her grandfather, Daniel, longs to find the brother who walked out of his life in 1912, with nothing more than a fiddle in his hand. All three are taking journeys that lead back to the family's deepest a place where rebellion and acceptance have the haunting power to merge into one..."

Anne Tyler is, once again, looking into the webs of family life. We meet the Peck family who is as close as anyone can be. Almost claustrophobically close. It is fine for most of the family members, which covers four generations. The first Peck (in the 19th century) bought a piece of land, or more like a park, in Baltimore, and built houses for all the family members. As they married and had children, the family increased, but they still managed to fit into the Peck family residences and the unspoken rule on how to behave towards each other and outsiders. Except a few persons who did not like the proximity of the family living.

The grand old man is Daniel, is in his 90s when the novel starts. His brother Caleb disappeared one day in his 20s and was never heard of again. Daniel has tried through the years to find his brother, but without success. 

His grandson Duncan is a restless soul and also leaves the family circle. Although he informs the family, and at the same time marries his cousin Justine (who becomes a fortune teller) and takes her all over the country. After a while in one place, Duncan gets the bug and has to leave for other pastures. Justine, the more social of the two, sighs, but go along. They have a daughter, Meg. The bohemian life of her parents does not find approval with Meg, and she keeps her private space tidy and neat, in contrast to the total chaos in the rest of the house and their lives. 

Duncan's thoughts about his urge to always uproot Justine and Meg.

"Yet it seemed he suffered from some sort of chronic dissatisfaction which came and went like malaria, and the only way to hold it back was to learn more and more new facts, as if continually surprising his mind."

Daniel finds a kindred spirit in Justine and she helps him to go looking for any trace he thinks he has found. Time is running out, and finally Daniel gets a helping hand from his family. As a birthday present they have hired a private detective to help him find his brother. 

It is interesting how Tyler examines the interactions of family life. Characters, as usual, well drawn and either makes you love them or not. The contrast between the family members who are 'stuck' in their old ways, or just adapt to the family views, and the few others who opposes and leave. If you cannot follow the rhythm of the family, it seems there is no other way than to leave the circle. 

I did love this novel by Tyler. Although, I don't agree with hardly any of the characters, it is interesting to stand outside, looking in. The search for Caleb creates a little bit of mystery, and we wonder if Daniel will ever find him. 

SPOILER WARNING:  If you want to read this book, you should stop here. When Caleb finally is found, and we get to see how he has lived his life, we realise that he just is so different from his family. However, some things you have learned early in life do not leave you easily. Caleb is found and disappears again. A short time afterwards Justine and Duncan receives a thank you note from his short stay with them. When you have read the book, you know that every family member has been taught to be polite and send a thank you note after each visit they do, family or no family. This twist of fate, which Tyler seems to enjoy in the end of her novels, is spot on. Maybe she wants to say that you cannot get away from your family ties, however hard you try. 

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Förförelsen (Glahn) by Knut Faldbakken


I bought this in a second hand shop, and had never heard about the author. The text on the back cover caught my attention and for that I am happy. This is a gem of a novel. It is the love story between a teenage girl and a mature man. My first thoughts went to Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, but it is a totally different book. The story turns out to be a re-writing of the novel Pan by Knut Hamsun

Thomas Glahn is a man seemingly roaming around without a goal. He meets and old friend, Mack, and his teenage daughter Edvarda. He is totally smitten by her from the first sight. Glahn is drawn into Mack's family life, with its mysterious relationships. Glahn has difficulties interpreting the relationship between Mack and his wife Eva. Although Glahn realises it is best to stay away from the family, it is like a magnet is drawing him in. 

Glahn and Edvarda start a relationship which is not consummated until much later. Both are afraid to commit, and when they do, their commitments come at different times. Jealousy is a constant undercurrent. Although Glahn, at a first glance, seems to be a man rather sure of himself, he is lost in his feelings for Edvarda, and his own sexuality. Always looking for love, without really finding it.

Simultaneously, we understand that Glahn is in therapy. His psychiatrist encourages him to write down his thoughts and actions, and these talks interlopes with the ongoing story. It is only when we reach the end that we realise that things are not what they seem to be.

 I learned, after reading the book, that Knut Faldbakken studied psychology at Oslo University. That is well visible in the construction of the novel, where he goes into the psyche of his characters, primarily Glahn and Mack. The ending, which came as a total surprise to me, gives another dimension to the love story and the actions of the main characters. 

It is a novel to enjoy, partly due to the psychological delusions. However, you don't really realise the scope of the story until you have finished reading. It is not a difficult read, on the contrary. Although given the emotional depths with which it deals, it is a comparably easy read. 

Checking out the connection between Pan and Glahn I found an article by Stefanie von Schnurbein which sounds interesting if you want to venture further into the stories: Failed Seductions: Crises of Masculinity in Knut Hamsun's "Pan" and Knut Faldbakken's "Glahn".  This is where I am heading now.