IVANA'S HOLIDAY READING RECOMMENDATIONS

 Hello dear readers and fellow bloggers. I hope you have had a lovely Christmas celebration (if you celebrated it yesterday that is). If you plan to spend this weekend with a book and aren't sure what book to pick, you have come to the right place for I prepared some holiday reading recommendations for you. Today I'm back with a holiday rereading list that features seven novels and one play. I tried to include something for everyone, there are classics on this list but also thrillers, SF and crime novels. If you don't have the time to read my book reviews, you can just check the titles or come back to this post when you are ready. Scroll down to see more.

THE FORGER, A NOVEL BY EDGAR WALLACE 3/5 

 PUBLISHED IN 1927

The Forger hasn't aged well in some ways, but it is still an entertaining book to read. In terms of the writing style, The Forger is a classical murder/crime mystery. Not much attention is given to the characters themselves, there is little if any character development so that might be disappointing to a demanding or ambitious modern reader. On the other hand, someone might actually enjoy that as it makes for an easier read and you don't have to think too much about the characters, you can just focus on the story. The characters still do appear alive because the writing itself is pretty good. While there is no in-depth psychological analysis of characters, but there are some clever dialogues that give life to some of the characters, so they are not completely flat. The story starts as a mystery. Someone is forging money and many suspect Peter, a handsome, silent and rich man who has recently married beautiful Jane. Now, Jane finds Peter handsome but knows nothing of him- he didn't make much of an effort in courting her apart from giving her father a rather large sum of money. So, it seems Jane married him out of loyalty to her father. Jane's feelings are somewhat complicated, despite being bored by Peter she also finds him attractive. However, soon Jane realizes that her husband might be a criminal- but somehow she starts to love him more and more. Jane's falling in love with Pater seems to happen with no effort on his part. The sudden love does not make much sense nor is it elaborated on in the course of the story. Maybe it does make some sense on second thought. Jane feels a sense of duty to Peter and this progresses to love. It is certainly not unheard of. Peter is in love with Jane, even if he doesn't know how to show it. However, the love aspect of the story is still a bit weak and I imagine that many a modern reader will find it unconvincing.

Even though some aspects of this book were not very engaging, I have to say that  on the overall I enjoyed this novel quite a bit. In particular, I  liked the honestly of the writing and its brutal view on mankind as being primarily driven by money. It was refreshing to see such honestly in writing. Moreover, I liked the subtle irony and sarcasm of this novel - at times so subtle that it might go unnoticed. Furthermore, the superintended Bourke of Scotland Yard is a brilliant character and it would be great if we got to learn more about him. I enjoyed Bourke's description of detective work (to be a good detective apparently it is important to believe in the rottenness of mankind). Moreover, Bourke's growing friendship with Jane was interesting and made her actions more credible. Even if her 'sudden' love for her husband didn't seem credible, it was still moving and I enjoyed the fact that the wife was so proactive- not at all your typical damsel in distress. At start of the novel, Jane seems passive but soon she transforms into an active heroine. You could say that Jane and detective Bourke are the ones running the show. Poor Peter seems to be the damsel in distress at times and lovely Jane his knight in a shining armour. In that sense, this novel was perhaps a bit ahead of its time. It's a shame that the characters weren't more developed and that the story was a bit predictable in some ways. Still, The Forger was a fun read. I do recommend it.


HERCULE POIROT'S CHRISTMAS, A NOVEL BY AGATHA CHRISTIE 4/5

PUBLISHED IN 1938/1939 

Agatha Christie delivers a grim but convincing Christmas tale in this murder mystery. Some might say that is a bit dark for Christmas, but I rather enjoyed it. I mean it is a crime novel, how light can it be? Anyhow, the plot is very interesting and the beginning of the story very engaging. Simon Lee, a tyrannical but interesting patriarch is the villain of the novel. I would call Simon interesting because despite of all his flows, this character seems very lively and is at any rate a well portrayed character- a kind of an endearing sinner. Simon Lee invites his estranged family members to join him for Christmas. They include mostly his estranged sons (and their wives) but there is a single granddaughter Pilar as well, a daughter of his recently deceased daughter.  The unknown granddaughter is the only child of his only daughter. This young pretty face is Simon's only granddaughter as his sons were not able to have children and not surprisingly the old man takes an instant liking to her. A son of his family friend also finds his way into the house (possibly attracted by the pretty Pilar he met on his way) and thus they all await for Christmas together. Brothers who hate one another and those who are merely estranged will have to spend Christmas under the same roof. To add insult to injury, it seems that the old men (that is Stephen Lee) didn't invite them all from his kindness of his heart but rather to set them onto one another and cause mischief. Simon isn't the kindest of fathers to put it mildly. Not surprisingly, their Christmas turns pretty bloody, pretty soon.

As it turns out, Christmas is not a happy time for everyone. When a murder occurs, Poirot is not caught off guard. The intelligent investigator (this time acting the part of an assistant to the main investigator) says: : ..." And families now, families who have been separated throughout the year, assemble once more together. Now under these conditions, my friend, you must admit that there will occur a great amount of strain. People who do not feel amiable are putting great pressure on themselves to appear amiable! There is at Christmas time a great deal of hypocrisy, honourable hypocrisy, hypocrisy undertaken pour le bon motif, c'est entendu, but nevertheless hypocrisy!” That Poirot would not be taken by the sentimental view of Christmas seems only logical. Indeed, Poirot points out to the dark side of Christmas:
“I am pointing to you that under these conditions--mental strain, physical malaise--it is highly probable that dislikes that were before merely mild and disagreements that were trivial might suddenly assume a more serious note. The result of pretending to be a more amiable, a more forgiving, a more high-minded person than one really is, has sooner or later the effect of causing one to behave as a more disagreeable, a more ruthless and an altogether more unpleasant person than is actually the case!
If you dam the stream of natural behavior, mon ami, sooner or later the dam bursts and cataclysm occurs.”

I quite enjoyed this novel. I don't remember have I read it before or not. I did read a lot of Agatha Christie when I was a child, for some reason Agatha was very popular with primary and middle school children of my generation. This book has a lot of fun puzzle to wrap one's mind around-a man in a locked room found murdered and a house full of suspects- as he was not the most likeable of men. There were many twists and turns in this one but the ending was hard to decipher. To be fair, the author didn't really give the reader a chance so it is not so much mastery of the genre as it is pragmatic writing. Agatha Christie left very little clues about who the murderer might be. I could foresee quite a few of the plot developments ahead but not the most important thing- who did it. I suppose that is only right in the murder mystery, but as I said- it is not as it was in the plain sight so I was perhaps a wee disappointed. Mostly because I think the motif wasn't as strong as I expect it to be, really. I suppose wanted to know about more about the person who did it and was left wanting in that sense. Still, this was a great murder mystery in the sense that it was well written on overall. I particularly enjoyed the psychological portrayal of some of the characters. Indeed, Hercule Poirot's Christmas contains a nicely portraited set of characters. It is a rather realistic book in its grim portrait of Christmas and showing of the dark side of the holidays. Things do improve as the novel ends, but still this tale feels quite realistic. I suppose that is what I really like about it- it feels like a sincere (if dark) view on Christmas- it is not a magical time when problems go away. In fact, for many it is a painful and troubled time. As Tolstoy said: Happy families are rare....I would definitely recommend this book to fans of Christie, just don't expect it to convey any 'merry feelings and vibes'. 

 SWIFT AS DESIRE, A NOVEL BY LAURA ESQUIVEL 5/5

PUBLISHED IN 2001

You have probably all heard about Laura Esquivel, sometimes considered the queen of magical realism. As a lover of Latin American literature and its take on magical realism, I'm naturally familiar with this author. However, this time I was a bit surprised.  Swift as Desire was not the novel I expected it to be, but it was a novel that touched me deeply. It is different from other Esquivel's writing in the sense that it's more auto-biographical and personal. Swift as Desire is devoted to Esquivel's father- the telegraphist. Indeed, much of this novel describes a strong bond and love between a father and a daughter that seems to resist even death itself. The mixing of magical realism with the deeply personal narrative didn't always work well stylistically, though. Often I felt like I was reading two separate novels. This review will contain spoilers for 'both' of them, so make sure to stop reading if you want to avoid them.

Swift as Desire starts as a novel about Júbilo, a man with an extraordinary gift of understanding people, born from a mixed marriage of an ingenious man and a Spanish woman. There is talk about his cosmic connection to the Universe, the Mayan and Aztec culture and so on. Naturally, you as a reader expect to read about his life and adventures in the fascinating multicultural Mexico. However, that is not what this novel ultimately is about. It is more about one daughter dealing with the imminent death of her father and trying to make sense of the estrangement of her parents (both of whom she loves dearly, but is closer with the father at that point in the novel).

The novel keeps making you think it is going to venture deeper into magic realism, but instead it focuses mainly on deeply personal examination of Júbilo's marriage to Lucha made by their daughter who is taking care of him while he is dying. Her trying to make sense of things is what this novel is really about and much of it seems to be autobiographical writing. A daughter grieving for her father who is dying and in some ways also for her mother who became estranged from her husband. A daughter grieving for the loss of love between her parents, somehow instinctively understanding how strong their bond was and wondering what could have possibly driven them apart. In other words, this novel is more family realism than magic realism, as it draws towards its end you'll see there are no adventures besides the great mystery of love and married life.
“Love is a verb. One demonstrates one's love through one's actions. And a person can only feel loved when someone else shows their love with kisses, hugs, caresses, and gifts. A lover will always promote the physical and emotional well-being of the person he loves.”
― Laura Esquivel, Swift as Desire

Swift as Desire is very focused on the life of one family, the other characters and their faiths seem like only an after-thought. There seems to be a lot of repetition in it as well, as if the author herself is trying to remind herself of certain things. In some sense, this novel feels unfinished. I can even understand why some readers didn't like this novel or felt disappointed with it. The narrative frustrated me a little, I have to admit. Despite the non-linear and chaotic story-telling, it wasn't difficult to follow Júbilo's life story especially since there were so many spoilers and hints in the story itself, the only thing is- was that really necessary? There were no other story lines that needed to be merged together, it was a story about one family and while some digressions made sense, there seemed to be too many of them and they took away from the personal aspect of the book.

Was there really a need for so many digressions and narrative time shifts? The basic plot seemed pretty obvious, driven by one cartoonish antagonist and there was perhaps no need to keep building all that suspense with spoilers within the narrative itself, all that foreshadowing and repeating about how the antagonist will get his revenge. It doesn't seem to make sense, not when the ending will be a deeply personal story of loss and tragic death of a sibling you never knew about. It felt out of place. The story could have been told in a more linear way and still be emotional and powerful. All those time shifts almost made me disconnected from everything that was going on. What was really interesting about this novel was the excellent examination of what it means to love, the psychological analysis of married life and its challenges as well as parenting. What was really touching was the autobiographical description of dealing with the death of your parent. This 'personal' aspect of the novel was brilliant, but the general plot and narrative- it left a lot to be desired.

This novel is not a stylistic success. I felt it didn't manage to walk the fine line between magic realism and autobiographic writing, one took over the other and at times I felt felt like I'm reading a sketch of a novel but at the same time it managed to touch me deeply. It is a novel one can learn much from, a novel filled with love. Indeed, Swift as Desire is incredibly touching in its examination of grief and wonderfully philosophical in its study of marriage. It is a novel that made me tear up, so it definitely deserves five starts from me. I'm happy I bought and read this novel yesterday, now I have a pretty copy of it (with the original illustration) that I'll be sure to pass on to someone. Isn't the illustration on the cover absolutely gorgeous?

THE WHITE PLAGUE, A NOVEL BY FRANK HERBERT 4.6/ 5

PUBLISHED IN 1982

It has recently occurred to me how relevant for our times The White Plague has become with the pandemic and everything. It is indeed a burning topic for our time as we are so vulnerable to biological attacks on a global level. The White Plague is a work of fiction, but it feels so real. I picked up and read this book back in 2011, mostly because it was written by Frank Herbert and I really am a die hard fan of the Dune Universe, so that was enough of a recommendation for me. I ended up really enjoying the novel despite it being quite dark and raising many red flags regarding our times and politics in my head- at the time. How do I feel about it today, though? Revising The White Plague in my head today, it seems even more sinister and pessimistic. Honestly, I'm starting to realize that I have never gotten this book out of my head completely, it always stayed with me. It feels I read it yesterday, not nine years ago. So, when I stumbled onto an old review for this book, I decided to post a part of it here.

The plot in a nutshell- A brilliant American  scientist (of Irish descent) is driven mad when his  beloved wife dies as a result of IRA bomb attack. The grief turns him mad. So, he creates a virus targeting women and sets in loose in Ireland. Not surprisingly, the virus spreads outside Ireland and suddenly the very survival of humanity is at stake.

There are a lot of fascinating themes in this novel and it functions great as a thriller as well. The way that the history of the Irish is presented is pretty interesting. It is not a stereotypical view of the Irish. Frank Herbert really goes into the depth, exploring frustrations that are born in a nation that has been tortured and colonized and that has known treason from its own royals and church. Not an excuse for the colonizers and their crimes, but the fact remains that many nations that have had problems with achieving and maintaining independence are no strangers to treason from its own men, unity being a very important factor in preserving a nation and all that. Herbert definitely doesn't present a black and white view on the Irish history, but blames at least some of its misfortunes on the Irish themselves. Anyway, violence has a way of feeding on violence and I think that Herbert really captured this in this novel. It is a very dark and tragic book, so tapping into a darker side of Irish history makes sense. I'm not sure how would an Irish person feel about it, but I thought that additional perspective was interesting and gave additional depth to the novel.

The way the author makes bio terrorism look plausible is extremely upsetting. Especially as I think it is true- I mean it is entirely possible for one man to develop a virus that could end mankind. It doesn't even have to be politically motivated, a deadly virus could be developed by one single man, taken that he is knowledgeable and mad enough to do it. There are a lot of men who have the scientific knowledge to create a deadly virus. It isn't that hard when you think of it and as humans we have a history of using biological weapons. The characterization of the man that does it in The White Plague is great, his descend into madness being so well described that his desperate actions make sense. It is scary though, the fact that it is possible to create a virus that could be potentially devastating to human race. Nature creates such viruses but mankind learned to take it up a notch- will it be our doom?

On another note, novel presents an interesting questions in terms of what would the reduction of female population mean to mankind. It seems to me that some SF writers entertain this idea that fewer women would mean that women would be better treated. Heinlein and his novel Luna is a Harsh Mistress come to my mind as an example of this philosophy. I'm not sure it would really play out that way. Would women achieve more power if there were few and far between? I'm not sure they will. I mean it could play out that way, but if you look at only countries where man outnumber women, you’ll see that those are the countries where women have no access to medical care and where basically women have no rights. In fact, in these countries women are considered to be the property of the man to the point that it is hard to even get a remote picture about their position. Since it is a biological law that women should outnumber man, when they do not, you know there is something seriously wrong. On the other hand, when I think of countries where men outnumber women due to other facts (such as war and the increase of male pregnancies) as opposed to those countries where the reason is oppressive religion that means the lack of healthcare for the female population- well, then this philosophy makes sense.

In this novel, this question about the relationship between female population and their position in society is not really answered though I have a feeling that the author thinks it could improve the power of women. In this case, I think that perhaps Herbert attributes his own personal feelings and attitudes about women to entire mankind- and that’s not a very good way to make prognosis. Seriously, if all man would be so eager to protect women, we’d live in a different world. It could even be said, if all women would be so eager to protect other women, we’d live in a different world, but that's a whole another subject. Never assume others share your virtues.

All in all, this is a great thriller that really made me think. The action and the plot does not stop the writer from searching human soul and identity. The novel is quite long yet (for me personally) it never got boring or tiring. Honestly, I loved The White Plague just as much as other Frank Herbert's books I have read so far. I would definitely recommend this one as well!



MISS JULIE, A PLAY BY AUGUST STRINDBERG 5/5

WRITTEN IN  1888, FIRST PREMIERED IN 1889

One night in December, I stumbled upon a film adaptation (from 2014 ) of Miss Julie. As soon as I finished watching the film, I knew that I just had to read the play. I found the movie very moving albeit frustrating and I was left wanting more. So, I looked for the book online (it's actually public domain, being published such a long time ago, so I didn't even have to buy it). I must have read this play in half an hour the day after I saw the film. I devoured it, you might say. What a play it is! Full of verbal and physical violence, opposing passion, incredible cruelty, neurotic behaviour and full blown hysteria. I can understand why many should find this play a rather difficult read. I definitely wouldn't call it an enjoyable or an easy read. It's rather sickening at times and distinctly unpleasant all the way. However, this play definitely made me think and the ending broke my heart a little, so I'm going to score it highly.

I realized just now that I have been familiar with this play for a long time, having learned about it in high school, but today was the first time that I actually read it cover to cover. As a high school student, the brutality and the violence of the plot rather shocked me. Strange how I forgot all about it until yesterday. Anyhow, Miss Julie is a brief play and can be performed on stage in a few hours I believe. A lot happens in a short period of time, but only three characters appear directly in this play (we might call the count Julie's father the fourth character, even if his voice is suggested and not heard). Miss Julie can be described as a naturalistic play with a district Darwin influence. It is mightily depressive in its atmosphere and brutally pessimistic in its view on mankind. Stripped bare, it can be seen as an evolutionary battle for the survival of the fittest. The author itself hints at it in his Preface to this play. Nevertheless, this play can be read in a number of ways and that is what I find so fascinating about it. Miss Julie can mean different things to different people and while one can argue that is the case with all good literature, there is a certain strength in this book that cannot be disputed.

My opinion is that Miss Julie is one of the best, if not the best, naturalistic play that I have read. It is beautifully complex and open to different readings and interpretations. A lot of things in this play are suggested, rather than showed. The film version wasn't bad, it was beautifully shot and the acting wasn't bad either. The Northern Ireland also seemed a good location for the movie version because its complex history gives new depth to the gap between Miss Juliet and Jean. Still, it is not hard to imagine a similar gap in the Swedish setting. After all, all European nations had and still have many divisions between classes. I haven't seen all the film versions, but I definitely recommend you to read the book first.

I did like the play more than the film version. There might be a few spoilers as I comment on the differences of the two. Jean of the book is more of a social climber, it seems obvious that he is suggesting suicide to save his neck. Jean of the movie is a bit more complex because the movie invented a story about him waking up next to his brother who died of hunger- imagine what kind of hate would that install in a person, having a sibling of yours die from hunger while you live next to a Baron estate. So, that part was cleaver on the part of the film maker. Jean of the book shows signs of humanity, but not enough to make the reader feel for him (at least it was hard for me to understand him). On the other hand, the miss Julie in the film version is less likeable than one in the play itself, despite the fact that she also seems more neurotic and vulnerable. The written version gives us more insight into Julie's past and her relationship both with her mother and father. Moreover, the film version shows suicide rather than suggest it. Does Julie kill herself? The play leaves the answer to us, the 2014 movie version doesn't.

What I found most fascinating about the book was the character of Julie's mother, a radical feminist of some kind. When play takes place, Julie's mother is long dead but continues to haunt the home. Apparently, Julie's mother was a feminist who taught Julie to be like a man, forcing her to dress and act like a boy at times and installing hatred towards all man in her. At their estate, Julie's mother forced men to do women's work and vice versa, causing financial ruin to her estate and mocking of everyone around. It seems like a rather cruel thing to do. Julie's mother displayed signs of mental illness, but she was also calculated as when she burned the estate a day after insurance expired and forced her husband the Baron to borrow money from her lover. Julie's father the Baron seems to have been the victim of his wife's tyranny and cruelty. It is clear how such a traumatic childhood has left traces on Julie as she feels guilty for siding with her mother while she was still a child and didn't understand what was going on. Baron taught Julie to hate women and her mother taught her to hate both women and men. At the end of the play, Julie concludes that she has only her mother's and her father's thoughts in her. No wonder Julie feels so out of place, so lonely and sad! She's as much a victim of her mother and she is of her father. Both the film and the book made me cry, such a sad story this is!



SCALE DI FOUCO, LADDERS TO FIRE, ANANIS NIN (CITIES OF INTERIOR #1) 3.4/5
PUBLISHED IN 1946

This was my first novel by Anais Nin, but I don't think it will be the last.  I read it in an Italian edition because that is what I found in my local library. This book was different than I expected it to be, more intellectual than erotic writing. Nin was somewhat of a controversial figure in her time. She is often cited simply as a writer of erotica, something I'm not sure I agree with. Reducing her to an erotica writer seems like oversimplifying her artistic career. For instance, this particular novel isn't very graphic at all. This book focuses more on the emotional states and inner life of its unorthodox and free minded protagonists then on any graphic descriptions of their intimate adventures (as is often the case with Henry Miller). This isn't erotica at all, even if the intimate life of its characters is examined psychologically, it is never described in detail. This book is under the influence of Freudian writing and studies, it talks a great deal about the effects childhood experiences have on the adult, it examines gender roles and identities, intimate life of its characters and so on.

I loved the psychoanalysis of the characters in this novel. It was quite convincing and logical. Nevertheless, the characters were more analyzed then developed through the course of the story. Their emotional and mental state of characters is examined, but many of them still don't seem completely real. At times you feel they are more character studies or patient studies then characters in a novel. By that I mean, the characters didn't seem to develop with their actions, relationships and the story. Rather they were examined, we got to see glimpses of their life- but I didn't have the feeling we saw them as whole. They seem more types and sketches, then well rounded individuals. However, the portrayal of women in this novel was still quite impressive. It was certainly interesting to read about them. I loved how the author examines and studies the emotional and psychological states of her female characters. The plot is a bit all over the place. It moved quite slowly in the beginning and then once Jay is introduced, it seemed to move too fast for my liking. Many questions were left hanging in the air. At times the novel feels more like a collection of philosophical short stories featuring the same protagonist then as a novel.
“She was now afraid to yield to passion, and because she could not yield to the larger impulses it became essential also to not yield to the small ones, even if her adversary were in the right. She was living on a plane of war. The bigger resistance to the flow of life became one with the smaller resistance to the will of others, and the smallest issue became equal to the ultimate one. The pleasure of yielding on a level of passion being unknown to her, the pleasure of yielding on other levels became equally impossible. She denied herself all the sources of feminine pleasure: of being invaded, of being conquered. In war, conquest was imperative. No approach from the enemy could be interpreted as anything but a threat. She could not see that the real issue of the war was a defense of her being against the invasion of passion. Her enemy was the lover who might possess her. All her intensity was poured into the small battles; to win in the choice of a restaurant, of a movie, of visitors, in opinions, in analysis of people, to win in all the small rivalries through an evening.” 

It is no secret that there are many autobiographical references in this novel. The female protagonist Lilian is based on Anais Nin and her lover Jay on Henry Miller. Other female characters are based on women Nin came in contact with and known. I have to say that Nin seems to be a much better writer than Henry Miller. Her writing is beautiful, soft and philosophical. Perhaps the plot lacks something, perhaps this book seems unfinished but it is miles above some of the Miller's writing- at least from what I've read of him so far. Nin's writing is more intellectual and interesting than Miller's. The only thing they have in common seems to be the same kind of nervous energy, but right now Nin seems like a more promising author to explore. I really want to read more of her!


 A NIGHT IN LONESOME OCTOBER, A NOVEL BY ROGER ZELAZNY, 5/5
PUBLISHED IN 1993

Such a brilliant and unique book! The writing is simple but at the same time poetical. Narrated by a watchdog Sniff whose owner is Jack (the Ripper), the story is extremely engaging. Snuff makes for a fantastic protagonist of the novel. Right from the start, we learn that Snuff was something else prior to being 'summoned' by Jack to perform the duty of a watchdog- exactly what Snuff was is somewhat of a mystery. A demon or a mythological creature of some kind? I think this little detail Zelazny throws in right at the start makes all the difference. Snuff is very believable as a dog and it is great to follow the story from his perspective, but then when Snuff gets all poetical that makes sense too, because he is MORE than a dog. Excellent narrative choices on part of the writer there! Supposedly he was inspired by a Virginia Woolf's book written from a dog's perspective. Speaking of which, I recommend this article for more insight into 'literary references' to be found it this book:
https://lovecraftzine.com/magazine/is...

The simple but poetic narrative flows effortlessly and seeing things from a perspective of a dog makes perfect sense since all the characters in this book have animal helpers. I forgot to wrote, there are quite a few players in this novel and they are all playing a supernatural game that takes place in October and involves a magical portal of some kind. Jack is actually a good guy in this book, a guardian trying to stop the old gods returning to Earth. The humour in this novel is wonderful. I can very well imagine Zelazny chuckling while he wrote it. I can definitely see why this novel was one of his five personal favourites. If you want to read what the others are here is a link to an interview (that I recommend reading IT anyway because it's really interesting and provides a great insight into the writing process of this great writer): https://web.archive.org/web/200802160...

A Night in the Lonesome October is so filled with  literary references that I had to do some research and read a few articles to figure most of them out. Some of them were obvious to me (for example the character of Count being count Dracula or Jack being Jack the Ripper) but I need help to figure out others (such as the good doctor being doctor Frankenstein). I was so amused by the literary references and the humour of this book that it came almost a surprise to me that there was a plot- and a good one as well. Towards the end, things get more sinister (and interesting). Oh, I absolutely loved it all: the plot, the characters and the writing. A Night in the Lonesome October reminded me why I'm such a fan of Roger Zelazny's writing. I'm so happy I picked it up. 

THE UGLY SWANS, A NOVEL BY ARKADY & BORIS STRUGATSKY 5/5
PUBLISHED IN 1968

I picked up this novel some time ago and couldn't put it down until I read it cover to cover. I finished this atmospheric literary SF novel in a few hours and while the ending didn't reveal much, I immensely enjoyed reading The Ugly Swans. There is so much to learn from this novel. Indeed, The Ugly Swans is one of those novels that speaks about the complexity of not only the human soul, but about the way our souls interact. The writing at times feels hallucinatory and it can be hard to follow, but on overall I found the story quite touching and moving. I'm not sure I completely understood The Ugly Swans, but I loved reading it.

What it is about? About the everlasting conflict between the past, the present and the future, about human society, parenting and revolutions. On the surface it is a story about an alcoholic writer Victor Banev, a citizen from a totalitarian state ruled by the all powerful Mr. President. Victor Banev returns to his hometown (a depressive and claustrophobic place where it has been raining non stop for a couple of years) on a plea of his ex-wife who wants him to help her with their daughter Irma who has become difficult. After a brief conversation with Irma, Victor sees what the problem is. Irma is an intelligent and brilliant teen, but she acts strangely, not appropriate for her years. Irma thinks logically and without emotion. There is something disturbing about Irma's calmness and Victor will soon find out that all teenagers and kids in town are like that- they enjoy reading and are very smart, but they show no emotion towards their parents. Her mother is confused, Victor agrees to help and plans to write letters to get Irma admitted to a boarding school but he needs to think first. There is a lot going on in Banev's head, revealed in inner monologues and less often- in dialogues with people he somewhat trusts. When dialogues do happen, they seem to flow naturally.

Victor tries to make sense of things but his thoughts are interrupted by a constant flow of events and mysteries, not to mention his own rather extreme drinking habits. There is a leper colony in the town. Very early in the novel, Banev tries to save one of those leper people from an attack of some sort, but he is knocked unconscious in the process and the leper man is kidnapped. He himself seems to be have contradictory feelings towards the leper people (also known as slimies and four eyes because they have yellow circles around their eyes). After this incident, a young boy helps him get up, he turns out to be a friend of his daughter Irma and is also rather symptomatic towards the lepers. He contradicts Victor when he calls them sick, claiming they are more healthy than them. This young boy named Bol-Kunats, Irma's friend, follows Victor home, argues with the doorman who happens to be his father, uses Victor's telephone and then invites the writer to a meeting with the town school's students. This meeting is the best part of the novel for me, but I won't get into it to avoid spoilers. All I'm going to say is that it really made me think- about education, about youth, revolutions eating their children and so on.

Lot of people advise Banev to leave the town, but something makes him stay. He tries to makes sense of things, as a series of strange events linked to slimies unfold. Banev himself remembers the four-eyes people from his youth and childhood, but senses that things are somehow different now. Back then Banev disliked them like most, but still it is obvious he didn't hate them and he doesn't hate them now, neither he approve of them being mistreated. The slimies live in a former leper colony, nobody is allowed in but slimies can go out. It is clear that something doesn't make sense there. What are slimies up to? What are town people up to?

Golum, the head of hospital for slimies, says their disease is genetic and not contagious. Golum clearly likes Victor, but he doesn't tell him much, not at the beginning of the novel at least. The town's adult population is terrified by slimies, considering them to be the cause of all the bad but the kids and teenagers seem to like them. Why? Nobody knows, least of all Victor. Nevertheless, the town's teen
agers simply adore slimies, that including Banev's daughter Irma.

Nothing is black and white in this one. A man can be a drunkard but still be a good person. Children may be cruel but still lead us into a better world. Or can they? I feel like this novel raises more answers than it answers, but I loved it. What did I just read about? What did it all mean? Is it a dystopian novel as such or is a metaphor? What did the authors want to say with this one? Was it a social commentary? Was it a philosophical novel? Was it about something more specific? Was it about life in the Soviet times or was it a warning for future time?

Personally, I would have preferred the novel to end where it was originally supposed to end, with the beautiful duckling line but I suppose that the changed ending also makes some kind of sense. I'm not sure how I feel about the ending, but I do know that the novel was a terrific read.

CHRISTMAS DAY UPDATE & SAYING GOODBYE TO MY 'BOATS IN THE NIGHT' PAINTING

Just like for the most of you, for me Christmas this year was different. More phone calls, less meet ups. Instead of meeting with the whole family, we just congratulated Christmas in person to my brother- in- law and his wife. They live in a house next to us and they stopped by for breakfast and to light a candle. We had lunch by ourselves and later we went to their home for dinner. Usually, my husband's entire family gets together but this year the celebration was different and everyone kept to themselves and agreed not to meet. I imagine most of you did the same, especially where there are legal restrictions (no judgement if you didn't, though). My husband and I don't do material gifts for Christmas so there were no presents exchanged. I haven't received a single material present, but I have received the present that is most important- the present of love and time. I feel like our time is really the best gift we can give. This year I didn't do material presents. I did gift one of my paintings to my brother-in-law. Nobody is more deserving of such a gift.  I'm happy that my painting has a new home and owners, but I was also a bit sad to part with it. This is my first 'night' painting actually. I have painted sunsets and sunrises, but never a night scenery so this one was special in many ways. All in all, my Christmas Eve and Christmas day was pretty calm, I did Christmas cooking and baking together with my husband. We decorated the same old faux Christmas tree as always, the only difference is that this year I also made some zero waste Christmas ornaments and we put some lights on the balcony. It has been raining for a few days and it's rather dark outside so I didn't take much photographs.  I twisted my ankle but fortunately it got better sooner than expected and I can already walk without much pain. I plan to take it easy today as well and give my ankle a change to heal properly. That's all for today. Have a nice day!

Comments

  1. It was lovely to read through, darling 🎄 💝

    I follow you, would you like to become blogger friends, and follow me back so we can support each other? 👯‍♀‍✨

    Merry Christmas 🎄 💝

    Shades of Silvie

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh so interesting reading recommendations darling
    xx

    ReplyDelete
  3. Really interesting recommendations and a very entertaining reading too, so fab post!
    Hope you're enjoying some lovely time!
    besos

    ReplyDelete
  4. The tree is gorgeous, so beautifully decorated.
    I haven't read this book, but I love the adaptation of Poirot with David Suchet.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hope you and your husband have a great Christmas Ivana :-D

    We did, just the 3 of us and my cats <3

    ReplyDelete
  6. Beautiful christmas three! Merry Christmas!:)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Amazing Photos As Always - Way Cool - That Painting Is Just Lovely - Baking With The Hubby, Thats Christmas Cheer For Sure - Well Done

    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  8. Awesome recommendation! I don't know when the last play I read, but I must admit I enjoy many of them more than novels. Looks like a lovely Christmas for you! Happy Holidays!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I love your reading recommendations - I have read Zelazny, Agatha Christie, and Herbert (only Dune, though), and I want to find Laura Esquival, who I've never heard of.

    I enjoyed seeing your tree and decorations, and I'm glad you and your husband had a peaceful, quiet day. Goodbye, painting!

    Ivana, it's been a pleasure getting to know you better this year. A big virtual hug to you, my dear friend.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Sheila. It's been a pleasure getting to know you better too.

      Delete
  10. He leído dos de los libros que recomendaste el de Christie y el Berbert. Son muy buenos. Esperó que hayas tenido una linda navidad y adore tu pintura. Te mando un beso

    ReplyDelete
  11. That painting is a lovely gift! You should do more night paintings. We had a quiet Christmas too, it was different but humbling!

    Corinne x
    www.skinnedcartree.com

    ReplyDelete
  12. I am so interested in The White Plague, and I would love to read Dune, too!!
    Your reviews always motivate me to read book.
    You are so beautiful, and I love your Christmas decoration and "Boats In The Night Painting"

    akiko
    www.akikohiramatsu.com

    ReplyDelete
  13. Your reading recommendations sound interesting and intriguing. Tour Christmas celebrations sound lovely, in spite of them being a bit different this year. We were only allowed one visitor inside our house, so no get-together with Jos's grown up children and their families. We can always do this another time, once the pandemic has eased. We're not big on Christmas anyway, so that it doesn't really bother us. We relished the quiet time we had together and managed to go for a walk both on Christmas day and Boxing day. I'm glad to hear your "boats in the night" painting has gone to a good home. XXX

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is a shame you were no able to get together with Jos' kids but we must be cautious in these times.

      Delete
  14. Aww, what lovely list of books to read. I am very curious of the Hercule Poirot's Christmas. I would have borrowed it from the library, if they have a copy. I read a book by Agatha Christie and I was surprised how modern it felt, despite being written almost a century ago.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I always learn so much about different books from you Ivana. You are incredible in the amount you read!! And such variety which is why you have so much wisdom.
    XOXO
    Jodie
    www.jtouchofstyle.com

    ReplyDelete
  16. Ma pensa che non ho mai letto nessuno di questi libri, accidenti mi sento un po' ignorante!
    Buon anno cara Ivana e che bello il dipinto notturno!
    Don't Call Me Fashion Blogger
    Facebook
    Bloglovin'

    ReplyDelete
  17. Very great and interesting post..
    advance wish you a happy new year

    ReplyDelete
  18. It's great idea for presents :) Happy New Year! All the best for you :)

    ReplyDelete
  19. This Christmas was definitely different but I think everyone just had to make the best of it. It's good that you were able to visit with your brother in law and his wife. My husband and I don't do material gifts for Christmas either since we give each other gifts throughout the year. Instead of giving gifts to friends and family, we made charitable donations in their names this year. Take care of your ankle. Wishing you a much better and healthier 2021!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Rowena. Charitable donations are a great idea.

      Delete
  20. Great recommendations! The painting is beautiful and your tree looks wonderful! I hope you feel better with your heel.
    xoxo
    Lovely
    www.mynameislovely.com

    ReplyDelete
  21. Really interesting books, thanks for sharing!
    I hope you had wonderful Christmas time.

    ReplyDelete
  22. They sound like interesting books although I tend to stay away from anything violent or with death while reading - I read just before bed so prefer lighter reads :) Your painting looks like a wonderful gift, how thoughtful! It's good you could spend time with some family too. With no travel restrictions in Queensland and being able to have up to 100 guests in a house our Christmas was as normal as possible which was lovely! :)

    Hope that you are having a nice week and you continue to heal up!

    Away From The Blue

    ReplyDelete
  23. Thank you very much for the time, insight and energy that you poured into this detailed post. It was a wonderfully enjoyable entry and way to add some new titles to my ever-larger reading list.

    Happiest holiday wishes & many heartfelt thanks for your meaningful support of my blog in 2020.

    Autumn Zenith 🧡 Witchcrafted Life

    ReplyDelete
  24. Non conoscevo nessuno di questi libri, oggi mi hai dato un sacco di spinti interssanti per le prossime letture!
    Mi interessa soprattutto quello di Agatha Christie, autrice di cui sono una grande estimatrice!
    Ti auguro di passare delle splendide feste, Ivana!
    Baci!
    S
    https://s-fashion-avenue.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  25. Nice list. I'm currently reading Dan Brown's Inferno.
    Maybe you have time to read my new blog post 11 Things to do for a Dream Wedding Under Budget  
    Let me know your thoughts

    Love 
    Akanksha

    ReplyDelete
  26. Your Xmas sounded lovely, small, relaxed and happy. How wonderful that you gave your lovely painting to your brother-in-law and his wife, I bet they were thrilled. xxx
    PS I hope your ankle heals very quickly.

    ReplyDelete

Post a comment

All your comments mean a lot to me, even the criticism. Naravno da mi puno znači što ste uzeli vrijeme da nešto napišete, pa makar to bila i kritika. Per me le vostre parole sono sempre preziose anche quando si tratta di critiche.

Popular posts from this blog

RETURN FROM THE STARS, A NOVEL BY STANISLAW LEM

Darkness and Light / Tama i svijetlo

TRAVEL WITH MY ART #10: HVAR TOWN (CROATIA)