Monthly Archives: June 2011

Paradise

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library.”
— Jorge Luis Borges






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Farundell – L.R. Fredericks (review & author interview)

There are times when all I need is a good cover. That sounds a bit ambiguous, doesn’t it, but when it comes to books I’ve never seen or heard of before, the visual encounter is the first step. I was drawn to this book by the image displayed on the cover – a girl at the edge of a pool, a reflection in the water, a gate and the forest behind. All the elements whispered of secrets and mystery and as I picked it up and read the first page, I knew I had found my next read.

The book tells the story of Paul Asher who is trying to put his life back together after the war. He is offered a job at Farundell, to help old Lord Percival Damory write his memoirs. What seems like an easy task turns out to be an extraordinary experience that will change him.

Farundell is a house with a history and so are the people who live there: Theo, with her love of gardening and intriguing conversations, inquisitive Alice who always wants to know the how and why of things, Lord Damory and his tales of travels into the Amazonian jungle (which is a wonderful story in itself), Daniel, whose secluded life is a result of his traumatic war experience, and the list goes on.

Paul is welcomed into this “extended family” and he settles into a pleasant routine until the arrival of beautiful Sylvie who turns everything upside down. From that point on things go down the path of obsession. Erotic passages mingle with dreams and reality becomes just a word. What is real and what is dream? Can we control both? The inhabitants of Farundell seem to be able to do that and it made me wonder if the place was not some sort of portal into the realm of the subconscious.

Although the story is somewhat intricate, with lots of references thrown in, from the quotes of Pymander (let’s not forget a passing nod to Dickens) which serve to enrich the reading experience with well-placed and apparently random phrases, to the Greek gods – Alice’s cat is named Artemis – I found they only enhance the dreamy quality of the whole novel. The language style ranges from beautiful and poetic to blunt and straightforward but this is what makes the whole book intriguing.

There are whole passages where language seems to transcend the words….this is one of my favorites:

He touched the papery hand of his cousin Millicent but the picture that arose was of a ten-year-old, holding his hand as he helped her into a boat on another summer day. Her dry old voice rustled among the memories of her laughter. ‘Millie,’ he said, ‘do you remember….’ and she did, and they sat together and remembered until it seemed to him that the child, moist as a green bud, would burst through his sere and ancient skin and he would run again, naked, light as a leaf, down to the water to swim and splash and play. Goodbye, Millie.

I confess being curious about the author so I did a little research. It turns out Farundell is only the first novel in a series called Time and Light. The second book, Fate, is due to be released next year.

On her site, http://www.lrfredericks.com/, the author offers visitors a glimpse into her creative world and the interview there helped me understand the novel better. I had, however, a few questions of my own which I wanted to ask and the author was very kind to answer them.

How did the idea of writing Farundell come to life and what’s behind the name?

I wanted to write the sort of book I like to read, one that goes beneath the surface of things, asks interesting questions, perhaps even expands consciousness! But also, a book that gives pleasure and that touches the heart.

Farundell is an old Anglo-Saxon field name meaning a “quarter part” – same root as fardle and farthing. I’d been searching for ages for the right name for the Damory’s house, and when I came upon Farundell in a book called Old English Place Names I knew at once that was IT. I’d originally titled the book Time and Light; my publishers thought that was too abstract and urged Farundell instead. They were totally right!

I will not ask what your favorite book is but can you name one that has made a lasting impression?

Little, Big by John Crowley.

On your site there’s a short video of Farundell. Have you also thought of painting a scene or a character from the book?

I have and I did. Various scenes and settings; also a portrait of Paul that friends tell me is very haunting. I don’t want to publish it because I really feel that readers need to visualise for themselves. A writer should give just enough of a description to suggest, never impose. Having said that, I’d love to know how different readers do picture him!

Will any other characters from Farundell, apart from Francis, be present in the second book of the series?

I’m not finished with it yet, so I can’t be sure. Alice may have a cameo appearance, perhaps also Theo. But a later book will pick up Paul and Alice ten years or so after Farundell.

Although Farundell is a wonderful trip into the land of dreams and reality, some may find reading it a bit of a challenge. What sort of reader do you envision for your book?

An open minded one, who is willing to dip a toe into the unknown. A reader who doesn’t need or want to have every single little thing spelled out for them, who gets a thrill out of finding hidden meanings, discovering symbols, connecting the dots. A reader who loves a book that can be read more than once.

How do you unwind at the end of a hard day’s work?

Anything without words in it: I weed the garden, weather permitting. I listen to music, I go for long walks. I paint or play about with my synthesiser. I cook myself a nice dinner. I sleep.

 

*read in June 2011






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A Musical Anniversary

Exactly five years ago to the day, if not exactly to the hour, I was about to see one of my most cherished dreams come true. A silly dream some might call it, a teenager’s dream I call it, a dream that had been a fantasy for many years, so much so that I never actually thought it would come true. It was just a dream, never crossing that border into the land of possibility. That June evening it was about to become reality.

Two friends were with me that day and we chatted nervously, with that giggly happiness that is present in the hours of anticipation before a much expected and happy event. We had arrived quite early, about six hours before the appointed hour, and we had claimed a piece of concrete as our spot, not far from the stage, and we sat down, snacking on pretzels and wishing for the time to pass faster. What could be more exciting than being in the same place with about 40.000 other people who were waiting for the exact same thing?

People of all ages and sizes were gathering around us. Owners of pierced eyebrows and tattooed arms, middle aged men, teenagers, foreigners speaking both familiar and strange languages. It felt like Babylon. It also felt good.

How to describe that rush of energy that went through the crowd when they appeared on the stage, the chanting, the waving of arms? I had never seen them before and now, all of a sudden, they were there in the flesh. Not people I just saw in video clips on TV or in pictures in the magazines or on the posters in the room I shared with my sister a lifetime ago, not just sounds coming out of a tape or cd. This time it was real. The band members were on the stage and the crowd started chanting:  De-peche Mode, De-peche Mode, De-peche Mode.

Did I shout, did I laugh, did I cry? I did, all at the same time, and in between, when all of that seemed like not enough, I sang. Every word, every song, until I had no voice left. But that was ok.

“Let me take you on a trip, around the world and back….” They sang, and I with them, following from song to song, from Personal Jesus to my personal favorite, World In My Eyes, to Enjoy the Silence and In Your Room, to Precious. And when Never Let Me Down started the crowd went wild. A sea of hands rose in the air, moving in harmony, all eyes watching the stage, watching Dave move, dance, come closer, touching hands with the fans, smiling, pausing so we could sing instead, and we did, never faltering, never missing a beat. A huge white banner, black letters painted on a white sheet of fabric, went over our heads with a few words that summed it all up: “A lifetime waiting for this night”. I had waited for this night, never daring to hope that it would come true one day. But it did. One of the best experiences of my life. One of the days when I was completely, unimaginably, absolutely, HAPPY. Thank you, Depeche Mode.

P.S. The words on the left are from the t-shirt I had inscribed especially for that day. It is a faded dark blue by now but the words remain, just as clear as on the day I wore it for the first time, five years ago.






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Man and Wife – Tony Parsons

A couple of weeks ago I was out in the city at my favorite bookstore, playing my little book-game: find a book you haven’t seen before nor heard of either. Between the classics, the biographies, and thrillers of the moment, I felt the need for something different. Something more….contemporary. Man and Wife seemed like a good choice.

The story it presents is quite common but far from simple. Harry Silver is a man with a complicated life. It didn’t use to be that complicated: he had a beautiful wife, Gina and an amazing son, Pat, and to top it all, a good job in television. Then a mistake changed everything.

Fast forward a few years and here’s Harry again, married a second time to another beauty, Cyd, trying to make a new life together with her and her daughter, little Peg. Between visits to see his son, a strained relationship with his wife and a bitter one with his ex-wife, the death of his father and the challenge of dealing with his mother’s health issues, Harry feels a bit overwhelmed. To make things even more interesting, a new girl catches his eye and there he is, ready to fall into the same trap again.

Is the grass really greener on the other side? Harry seems to think so, as he envisions a new life in a new place, a new wife, a new start. But is that really how things work?

Parsons talks about what a marriage really is. Not in a moralistic way, but more like from the point of view of the man who’s been there and done that. The mistakes, the jealousy, the feeling of insecurity, the sweet siren song of temptation, it’s all there, and the protagonist has to deal with it. Sometimes it’s tough and sometimes it may seem like a futile task, but Harry is given a second chance. Will he prove that he’s learned something from his mistakes or is he doomed to repeat them all over again? Is the search for that everlasting love – the kind his parents once shared until death separated them – bound to go on and on, or does he really have a chance of finding it for himself with his wife?

The book provides some answers and there is something to be learned from it. It’s written in an entertaining and easy to read style where humor mingles with heartbreak and things change when you least expect it. An entertaining read.

*read in June 2011






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A trip to China Town

Ever since I read Letters from Thailand, I’ve wanted to go on a photo expedition to China Town. Last weekend I got my wish. I have been there before, many years ago but I don’t remember much.

Bangkok is a crowded city but China Town is absolutely packed. Old buildings stick together like pieces of a Rubick’s cube, the peeling paint of crowded shops, and everywhere you look, the ever present red and gold which is a favored combination among the Chinese people.

The air was heavy and sometimes I found it hard to breathe – a mixture of car exhaust, spices and burning incense sticks. A temple crammed between other buildings, a bright spot of color among the dull grey. Cats, walking, playing or sleeping under food carts. I chased them around with my camera but few of them did me the honor of posing. A Chinese woman smiled and called to me, pointing at something inside her shop. I went closer to have a look and found a mommy cat with her kittens, fragile little creatures that were just then having a milk lunch. The mother cat gave me a warning look so I stayed away, quickly snapping a few pictures before making my way out. I thanked the woman and she smiled at me.

Space is an issue in China Town and I found that especially when taking pictures there was not much room to turn around. The closely built houses had left narrow strips of pedestrian road, and I had to keep my elbows close and my camera closer, especially when passing by the food stalls with their uncovered pots. The suicide chickens (I know it sounds rather macabre but that’s the first thought that crossed my mind when I saw the cluster of hanging birds) are present everywhere and even though I was rather hungry I just couldn’t imagine eating that. I’m rather picky when it comes to food.

There are plenty of old buildings, most of them with shops on the ground floor selling a variety of merchandise, from traditional Chinese sweets, to pots, watches, small Buddha images, cooked food and pungent spices. I passed by a shop with people bent over small quantities of dried plants and something that looked like small twigs, sorting them in little groups, and I wondered if that was the local pharmacy.

Street vendors were out selling durian, the very smelly fruit (durian chips are much tastier in my opinion) and various snacks I’ve seen before but don’t know the names of.

It was rather claustrophobic, even though the weather was bearably hot, but the closeness of it all made me think on a giant ants’ nest and I had moments when I asked myself where all those people fit – there didn’t seem to be a lot of space and yet they were present everywhere and the partially-opened doors of the old buildings allowed for a quick look in the lives of their inhabitants. I felt like a voyeur, always looking, ready for a photo, trying to see in order to better understand the people. Here a tiny grandmother sitting on a chair inside the ground floor room, over there a row of wooden stairs, a glimpse of a Buddha image with the smoke of incense drifting out in the street, a pair of beautifully carved wooden chairs, people carrying boxes in and out of shops. Cats, gliding past, never in a hurry, and a panicked white rat trying to scuttle away from my approaching feet. He made my heart jump – rats and cockroaches have that effect on me.

I found my way out of the great maze and was assaulted by the hum of the traffic: tuk-tuks, motorcycles, buses, cars, a mixture of sounds, colors and smells, and in my mind I conjured the image of the mango tree and the red chair on the balcony and of space and quiet. Of home.

China Town






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Books

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”

(Marcus Tullius Cicero)






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There’s a fire starting in my heart

Every once in a while it happens that a song takes up residence in my head and it would play over and over again until….well, until another song takes over. Some might call that an obsession and that’s fine. Being obsessed with music is not a bad thing in my book. So after Idan Raichel’s song which has been rolling around in my head since Saturday night, a new one has come close to replacing it.

I was cutting up a pineapple in the kitchen this evening, when I heard it on the radio. Now pineapple cutting is a slippery business and while trying to keep my fingers at a safe distance from the knife, my head was nodding, keeping rhythm with the music when I realized I’d heard the song before. As I’d totally forgotten who the singer was, I abandoned the pineapple for a bit and rushed to scribble down a few words from the song that got stuck in my head: “There’s a fire starting in my heart…”

This song is best enjoyed LOUD!






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From the depths I called you…

I heard this song for the first time at a friend’s birthday party last night. I fell in love with the beautiful soothing melody even though I had no idea of what he was saying. But that’s what You Tube is for. 🙂 The second version has an English translation.

Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0PWukxRV8U&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AlKUti_fgbI&feature=related






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The Restaurant at the End of the Universe – Douglas Adams

Good evening, madam, sir, welcome to our fine establishment. We have prepared a special table for you as this is the first time you do us the honor of trying our delicious cuisine. Would you like some drinks first?

Wine, why, no sir, only the purest of drinks are allowed, and you must keep your senses sharp and your mind clear for the feast that will begin shortly. Believe me, madam, it will be worth your while. Tea will do.

What would you like for starters? Ah, I’ve seen that look before, sir, our menu is such a delight, not only to the tongue but to the eye as well. May I recommend we start with a little adventure?

A few interesting characters will be here shortly for your entertainment: Arthur Dent and his friend Ford Prefect, Trillian (former Tricia McMillan) and Zaphod Beeblebrox, not to mention Marvin, who is such a delight, but he’s rather suited for dessert as we prefer to serve him covered in chocolate. You see, it brings out the bitter taste in him.

Ah, who are these fine people you say? Arthur and Trillian may look familiar but Zaphod is a sight to behold and Marvin, oh he’s a sweetheart. They travel together looking for the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. Actually it’s the Ultimate Question and the Ultimate Answer of Life, the Universe and Everything that they are looking to find.

Do not be fooled by these rather strange pictures on the menu. Our regular photographer was on holiday so we had to make do with whatever was available at the moment. It seems the new guy was rather fond of stellar explosions, intergalactic chases and rather absurd visuals in general.

Are you ready for the first course? Here it comes, don’t be alarmed, you see, our fine restaurant provides the unique opportunity of interacting with your dinner before you eat it. Yes, of course, you can ask for opinions on the choicest parts and about the kind of food your future meal has consumed in order to offer you the best possible meat…errr…I mean meal. And if that option doesn’t satisfy your requirements, you can always try number 42. Oh, you don’t know what number 42 is? Neither do we, but it sounds good and everybody seems to like it.

Bon Appétit!

***

I just couldn’t resist starting with a bit of silliness. I’m afraid you’ll have to read the book to make sense of this review’s first part.

The chances of me picking up this book on my own would have been next to nothing. As it happens, I met a few book enthusiastic people who put together some interesting novels and this one caught my eye because Anna recommended it and I was intrigued by her comments. Now I have to admit the book surpassed my expectations and I’m glad it did.

Having watched The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and not enjoying it very much with the exception of a few scenes (I remember Marvin perfectly and he was so cute that I wanted to take him home :)) I must say this book made more sense than if I hadn’t watched the aforementioned movie. I may have to watch it again, just to see if my reaction is any different now.

To put it plainly, the book is absurdly funny in a twisted-unexpected-delightful way. I haven’t read anything as funny since Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, and that was a few years ago.

The fantastical adventures, the wacky situations, the entertaining dialogue, nothing makes sense and yet, if you look just below the surface you may find some answers. Maybe not to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything, but to everything else. And maybe you will laugh out loud, too. I know I did. A lot.

*read in June 2011






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Friends and Chocolate

“There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with (some dark) chocolate.”

The little insertion is mine, the rest belongs to Mr. Charles Dickens. 🙂






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