A mixed bag on the audios lately.
The Long, Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper
I’ll admit I was lured by the cover – a bright fifties kitchen with mint-green cabinets. It’s gorgeous. The story, a who-dunnit that uses all the classic tropes, is set in California in the summer of 1959. Joyce Haney, a seemingly happy housewife, vanishes from her home. Housemaid Ruby Wright, and detective Mick Blanke, unravel her disappearance.
The story explores themes of race in parallel with the early feminist movement, and although that was interesting, what I most enjoyed was Mick Blanke’s over-the-top police cliches. Remember that parody movie, The Naked Gun? It was exactly that (and Blanke’s Bronx-drawl on the audio added to the fun). Lines such as ‘…a breeze enters the room – shy like a prom girl and just as unobtrusive’ and Mick saying that he was ‘ready to make like a tree’ (and leave) were so cheesy, they had me laughing out loud. But I’m not quite sure if I was supposed to be laughing, because there’s a disappearance/ kidnapping/ murder at the centre of it all.
The plot took some crazy turns toward the end and there were perhaps a few too many characters, so I wasn’t engrossed. Note that the Ham test holds up (only click the link if you don’t mind all your future mystery reading to be spoiled).
The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld
The story focuses on the collective grief of a rural Dutch Reformer family, and is told from the perspective of daughter, Jas.
Although they said nice things about my brother, death still felt ugly.
As Jas comes to terms with the death of her brother, she observes the changes in those around her.
My brother is slowly fading out of various minds while he moves more and more into ours.
There are parts of this story that are deeply unsettling (trigger warning for sexual abuse and suicide) but Jas’s stream-of-consciousness is also realistic – children move from the dark, to the mundane, to the funny, in an instant. The story also captures the fact that if children don’t understand something, or don’t know the answer to a question, they will fill in the gaps themselves. And children have wonderful imaginations.
There are so many motifs in this story used to explore grief, death, and religious belief – Jas’s coat, Hitler and the Jews hiding in the cellar, her mother’s starvation – that it’s one of those books that deserves a second read. As dark as the subject matter is, this book is beautifully written.
…they don’t see that the fewer rules there are, the more we start inventing for ourselves.
Boy Parts by Eliza Clark
I went to high school with a bunch of kids who called themselves ‘alternatives’ (it was the eighties!). There were lots of alternatives. I once asked one of the crowd whether he thought that in being ‘alternative’ alongside so many others, was he less ‘alternative’? We had a lengthy debate and there was no conclusion.
I was reminded of that as I read Boy Parts – when the words ‘transgressive’ and ‘woke’ are used more than once in a novel, you start to wonder if it’s anything but those things. Was Clark going for shock value? Perhaps. It didn’t shock me, although the ‘shocking’ stuff (focused largely on fetish photography) did become a little boring. There are twists, which ultimately give context for the main character’s behaviour but, by the time I got there, I was tired of her angry and narcissistic attitude, which was all such an obvious front for a damaged and vulnerable person.