Avenue of Mysteries – John Irving

Avenue of Mysteries

John Irving – Avenue of Mysteries
Published in 2015
Read from February 16th to March 11th

Sometimes, when reading a new book, you’re just hooked from the start and can’t put it down. That’s not the experience I had with Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving, but I still ended up absolutely loving it. It did take me quite a while to really get into the story and feel “comfortable” with the characters and and the writing style, but once I was there, in the zone so to speak, I was so engaged.

Avenue of Mysteries is set around Juan Diego, a “dump kid” from Mexico and the people around him. We follow him as a kid in Mexico, and as grown up and middle-aged, traveling to the Philippines. As a young boy we see him with his sister living as dump kids, with a range of interesting characters surrounding them, including their father-like figure; the dump boss, the loving and caring catholic priest who whips himself, the transvestite prostitute who becomes a dear friend, and even the Virgin Mary and the Virgin of Guadalupe play vital parts. The adult Juan Diego is a writer, visiting one of his former students, whom he both loves and hates spending time with, while also meeting two mysterious women on his travel.

The transitions between young and adult Juan Diego are very fluent and there is a lot of back-and-forth throughout the story, almost like a dream where you are never quite sure where you are. A very clever writing choice, as dreams play an important part in this novel. Juan Diego is often transferred back to his childhood in his dreams, but as a child there is also a lot of talk about the future. In a way, even when we are with him in his present moment there is always something dream-like about his surrounding. In Avenue of Mysteries there is a constant fluidity between realism and mysticism, which can make us doubt what is really happening, and how trustworthy is Juan Diego actually as a narrator?

One of Irving’s strongest qualities as a writer in my opinion has always been his characters. In this novel the most interesting character by far is Lupe, Juan Diego’s sister, who is in my opinion almost as much as a main character as he is, though not the narrator. She is the one sets the wheels in motion for pretty much everything that happens of importance, and shapes the characters around her. Being a mind-reader, yet only talking in a tongue Juan Diego can understand, she understandably makes people around her a bit uncomfortable, and perhaps the reader as well. Encountering Lupe’s straight out magical abilities in an other-wise realistic world sets the tone for what sort of story this is. Perhaps this is an example of why I personally needed some time to get into the story, my brain needed to adjust to what I was reading, as it doesn’t fit straight in with what most people would expect.

But back to Lupe: A young girl with mind-reading abilities and the gift of sensing future events, who speaks a completely nonsense language. She hates the Virgin Mary and what she represents, is very hot-heated and tends to go on babbling for ages about what upsets her, crying out completely inappropriate things for a little girl. What’s not to love? She is also a very sad character though, being so exposed all the time to everyone’s private thoughts in a very grown-up world, and being too young to fully understand them, she mostly interprets them perhaps worse than they really are, which of course has a big effect on her as a person.

As you understand, I truly loved Avenue of Mysteries, but that is not to say it is without flaws. The “danger” of having two main timelines in a story is that the reader usually will end up with a strong favourite, in my case the young Juan Diego’s story, so even though I enjoyed reading everything, I often found myself hoping we’d soon go back to my favourite storyline. The book is also just a tad too long in my opinion, some passages and chapters could have been shortened somewhere among the 460 pages. But all in all, a very good book that I recommend strongly.

January and February Recap

Books read, movies watched, songs listened to and cultural happenings attended in January and February 2016. Click on the links to see the respective blog posts about the experience.

Recap

Books read:
John Steinbeck – Grapes of Wrath
James Joyce – Dubliners
Fyodor Dostoyevsky – The Double
Mary Shelley – Frankenstein

Films watched at the movies:
The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino
The Revenant – Alejandro González Iñárritu
Room – Lenny Abrahamson

Plays attended:
Tenk om (If/Then)

Most listened to songs:
Blackstar – David Bowie
Lazarus – David Bowie

On the literary front, the first two months of the year turned out to be all about the classics. It wasn’t planned at all, but quite fun to see that the authors read turned out to be Steinbeck, Joyce, Dostoyevsky and Shelley. After Shelley’s Frankenstein I started reading John Irving’s Avenue of Mysteries and the popular science book Galileo’s Finger by Peter Atkins, which are both quite big, and the latter very complicated (for me at least), so they are sure to take a while. I’m also following a book challenge on Instagram for March; #tuvalusbookchallenge so if you’re looking for some Instagram inspiration I recommend that you check out the tag 🙂

I’ve watched A LOT of films these two months to prepare for the Oscars, and of course keeping up with my general “film education”. I managed to see all the Best Picture nominees, and almost all the other big categories except for Joy and Creed. There were quite a lot of strong nominees in all categories this year, and I’m really happy with most of the awards. Spotlight for best picture was well deserved, and I’m of course very glad for Leonardo DiCaprio. One of the best surprises was Ex Machina winning for visual effects and Mark Rylance for Supporting Actor. A brilliant film and a brilliant actor! It’s no secret that I quite disliked The Big Short, and would have liked to see another film take home Best Adapted Screenplay, like for instance Carol. But all in all, happy with the ceremony!

New favourites:
Frankenstein (book)
Grapes of Wrath (book)
The Revenant (film)
Spotlight (film)
Blackstar (album)

Here’s to another two good months with many good things to explore!

Preparing for the Oscars: Brooklyn, The Big Short and The Martian

I’ve finally watched all the nominees for Best Picture in this year’s Oscar Awards, with Brooklyn and The Big Short being my two latest watches. I thought I’d write some short opinions on those two and The Martian. For my thoughts on the rest of the nominees, I made one blog post about The Revenant and one where I discuss Bridge of Spies, Mad Max, Room and Spotlight over here.

Brooklyn – Watched February 22nd
The Big Short – Watched February 23rd
The Martian – Watched November 6th 2015

Click on the title of the film to read more about them on IMDB, as I will not go into much detail about the premises or plot of the films!

BrooklynBrooklyn – John Crowley
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson

I found Brooklyn to be a really beautiful and quite understated, in a good way. Saoirse Ronan does a great job, and the film definitively made me tear up a few times. You get to care about the characters, and even though it’s not a very fast-moving drama-filled picture, it’s not in any ways boring either. I also have to commend Julie Walters in her role, I hardly recognized her at first! Domhnall Gleeson makes yet another appearance in one of 2016’s nominated films, and though his role here isn’t the biggest, he is surely one of the actors you should keep an eye on in the year to come!

My only issue with Brooklyn is that it just wasn’t memorable enough. It has so many strong points, especially when it comes to the acting and the visuals, but even though the story is touching it didn’t really stick with me, and it’s only been two days since I saw it. For it to be a contender for Best Picture it would have needed some more originality, to make it stand out more. But it’s a recommended watch all the same!

The Big ShortThe Big Short – Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling

Right. I’ll straight out say it, I didn’t care much for The Big Short. Reading on IMDB it seems like most people loved it, so I’m obviously not speaking for the majority here. The issue for me that it tackles such complicated topics, and it’s constantly doing quirky things to try to explain them, which just made my head spin. There’s a lot of breaking the forth wall in this film, cutting to scenes where models and celebrities explain advanced economics, combined with some meta moments where actors break character to tell you that “this didn’t really happen” or “this was a tad different in reality”. The concept of that is quite exciting, and The Big Short is in no way lacking originality, but for me it just didn’t work. The cuts and editing were too irregular, and while they were going for the very “cool” style and also poking some fun, it just felt too silly at times.

Christian Bale is nominated for his role, and though I wasn’t a fan of the film I think he did a fine job. One of the big surprises for me was also Steve Carell, I think his portrayal was absolutely fantastic, and equal with Bale’s. One of many this year that could have been nominated, but wasnt.

The MartianThe Martian – Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig

Ah, The Martian. It’s been a while since I saw this, but it’s still quite strong in my mind. Let me start of by saying: I really enjoyed The Martian, I thought it was a really good film, it was exciting, funny and emotional at times. I left the movie theatre with my expectations met.

I don’t however, think it deserves a nomination for Best Picture OR for Best Actor in a Leading Role. It’s just not that much of an achievement, even though I enjoyed it. The thing is, and it’s gonna sound harsh: I felt most of the work that was done in this film, both with the production and acting could have been done by most capable actors, directors, producers et cetera. I didn’t leave the movie thinking “Wow, how did Matt Damon pull that off” or “Boy, only Ridley Scott could have made something like that”. It wasn’t outstanding in any way, even though it’s a good film. Would I rather watch this again than The Big Short? Yes. But I still think it shouldn’t have gotten as many nominations as it has. Sadly.

But if you haven’t seen it, go ahead! I do recommend it 🙂

Having now watched all of the nominees my favourites are still The Revenant and Spotlight! There are still some films missing from the other big categories, but as of now I’ve seen most of the actors and actresses nominated for both lead and supporting, especially after I see The Danish Girl this Saturday.

If you have any thoughts on the Best Picture category for this years Academy Awards, please leave a comment below 🙂

If/Then – the Norwegian Adaptation

Music: Tom Kitt
Original book and lyrics: Brian Yorkey
Norwegian lyrics: Ola E. Bø and Erlend Loe
Director: Marit Moum Aune

The poster for "Tenk om"I remember hearing a lot of buzz about the musical If/Then by Kitt and Yorkey when it opened on Broadway in spring 2014, and although it received mixed reviews I was quite intrigued. The story is one of chance and how these chances can lead your life in a number of different ways. If/Then’s official site offers the following synopsis:

“Elizabeth, a woman rebuilding her life in New York City, discovers a world of infinite possibilities.  In one moment, Elizabeth will lead parallel lives.
If/Then is the story of both.”

Norway is the first European country to stage the musical, and it is Det Norske Teateret (The Norwegian Theatre) who’s had the honour of putting up the show. The theatre is known for putting up Norwegian-speaking plays only, so clearly this version is a translated one, and it’s also been adapted for the Norwegian audience, in terms of names, references and setting. The original play is very New York-centered, and I’ve read some discussions on American forums that people have even been concerned about its touring potential outside New York City, will it have the same appeal outside the Big Apple?

I have to admit I’m always a bit skeptical about seeing translated versions of musicals, and in Norway it’s always a bit 50/50 if something will be translated or not. With The Norwegian Theatre I know everything is in good hands though. I’ve seen Sweeney Todd there previously, which was fantastic although translated and changed up quite a bit from the English-speaking versions I know of. It’s a fantastic theatre with some amazing people working there, cast and creatives. I therefore had quite high hopes today as a friend and I headed down to see it for the first time.

In If/Then’s case, or Tenk om in Norwegian, the changes are quite big from the original New York-version, but I found that it really works. Admittedly, I haven’t seen the Broadway version, but I’ve listened to the soundtrack and know the story, so I do feel I have some ground for comparison. In the Norwegian version of the show we find ourselves in the city of Oslo, Norway’s capital, and we follow Marianne, whose life could have gone two different ways depending on a small choice one ordinary day. In the two different paths Marianne is now “Mari” or “Anne”.

Picture of Heidi Gjerdmundsen Broch as the lead character.

Heidi Gjermundsen Broch is incredible as the lead character Mari/Anne.

The Oslo-setting feels very natural, and as an Oslo-citizen myself I found myself really appreciating all the references and love for the city, and never once was I thinking “you can tell this was actually made for New York”. The translators and director have done a great job making everything work for a different kind of audience than the original show was intended for, something which is a hard task indeed. What is really similar both in the original and adaptation is the thoroughly urban feel, and the freshness of a truly modern musical. Here you have modern everyday problems, diverse characters you can relate to and feel for and everything feels very real. And all this is especially brought out with the excellent performance of the lead characters and ensemble.

Heidi Gjermundsen Broch plays the lead character, the role that was originated by Idina Menzel on Broadway. Big shoes to follow many would say, but I’m actually going to go as far and say that I prefer what I saw and heard of Heidi live, than how Menzel is on the soundtrack and clips I’ve seen. Of course, Idina is AMAZING, and it’s an unfair comparison seeing as I haven’t seen her live, but Heidi has such an amazing voice, stage presence and charisma, that is quite simply one of the best I’ve witnessed. The leading role of this show is a big challenge, as you’re practically in every scene, playing two different versions of the same character, and you have some big numbers to belt out. Broch did this and more, and at the same time truly excelled in the more intimate, emotional scenes as well, and at times left me teary-eyed.

I really did enjoy the musical score throughout the show, but it’s not exactly that type of musical which has tunes you immediately catch on to, and start humming to the minute you leave the theatre. There are some wonderful duets, big emotional ballads, impressive ensemble numbers and more, but I have to admit most of them are not something I’d listen to a lot just to enjoy the music, they work more as a part of the show, and not so much on their own. This is of course a very subjective opinion, as I know a lot of people love the soundtrack and listen to it frequently.

All in all, I liked the show a lot. The amazing performances and the freshness of the modern setting are the true highlights, and a musical that’s been criticized for being “too New York” to succeed anywhere else has surely proven its adaptability by getting great reviews from the Norwegian press. The Norwegian writers have truly done a great job handling the story and presenting it in a slightly different way, which will hopefully be an inspiration to other theatres throughout the world to do the same.

 

Hamlet at the Barbican – in Oslo!

Hamlet
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Lindsey Turner
Produced by Sonia Friedman Productions

Picture of Benedict Cumberbatch as HamletYesterday (Thursday October 15th) I had the great fortune of seeing Hamlet on the Barbican in London, from Oslo! The play with Benedict Cumberbatch was being broadcast live to hundreds of cinemas all over the world, and I was lucky enough to be seated in one of them. Watching from the atmospheric and old Gimle Cinema you almost felt like you were actually sitting in a theatre. Almost.

I love the idea of live theatre being broadcast world-wide and thus gaining a wider audience. Cinema can never fully capture the magical feel of theatre, but some plays certainly look good on the big screen, and Turner’s Hamlet is absolutely one of them. The staging almost makes you think it was designed to be filmed from the start. There are some absolutely beautiful scenes using different lightning techniques, slow motion and special effects. Since you’re watching the play through a camera lens you get a lot of close-ups of the action and the actors, which works well in this piece. At the same time it’s a shame that you don’t get to take in the whole stage when you want to, or decide what part you want to focus on.Anyway, that’s just nitpicking, and does of course not ruin the experience.

Benedict Cumberbatch does a great job portraying Hamlet, he is incredibly intense, vulnerable, funny and most of all real. He delivers some incredibly touching moments, I had to admit I shed a tear during both “To be, or not to be” and “What a piece of work is man“. The entire cast does an incredible job of course, but besides Cumberbatch I especially enjoyed Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as Laertes and and Karl Johnson as the Ghost of Hamlet’s father. When taking in a play, and especially something like Shakespeare with its beautiful language, the actor’s voice, rhytmn and intonation are so important to me, to make me connect with their character, and these three in particular especially delivered on that part.

If you have the opportunity to watch one of the reruns that are being sent many places worldwide, I highly recommend it. To find out where you can still watch the production that was filmed October 15th, click here to find a list of cinemas and dates.

Belated August and September Reads

At the end of each month, I’m planning to post a list and a short review of each book I’ve read the last few weeks. As I’m starting this in mid-October I’d thought I’d start off with a belated “monthly reads post” for August and September, combining the two. There are a lot of books left out as a lot of my time was spent reading Norwegian children’s books (for school) or other Norwegian books that haven’t been translated to English yet. Some of these children’s books are however quite interesting for adults as well, so I’d actually like to dedicate a whole individual blog post to the reading of children’s literature.

So, lets go ahead and look at the rather short list of my August and September reads!

The Murders in the Rue Morgue – Edgar Allan Poe

Picture of the cover of It’s not hard to grasp why this is considered the first “modern detective novel”, it’s quite obvious how this story has inspired a whole bunch of later releases in the genre, especially a certain Conan Doyle. A tribute to the science of deduction and rational thinking, it’s quite interesting, but unfortunately it felt a bit too dated for me to thoroughly enjoy it. The characters are a bit too flat, the plot and solution a little bit too ridiculous, but it’s fun to see where it all began.

The Tell-Tale Heart – Edgar Allan Poe

Picture of the cover of The Tell-Tale HeartEdgar Allan Poe at his best, a much more intense and gripping tale. I’ve read the story before (and I guess most people have heard the tale at some point in their life), but it was truly a welcome reread. The Tell-Tale Heart is a must-read for everyone, even if you have already been introduced to it by another medium such as one of the many animations or cartoons. The intensity and poetry of the language is absolutely beautiful, and creates an interesting contrast to the morbidity of the story itself. It’s only a couple of minutes long read as well, so no excuses for not picking it up 😉

A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson

Cover of A Short History Of Nearly EverythingI received this as a birthday gift from my boyfriend, and it instantly became one of my favourite books of all time! The book is pretty much exactly what the title describes, teaching the reader about the history of science, starting from the very beginning of the universe. Each chapter is dedicated to a different aspect of science, for example geology, chemistry and so on. It is no dull science book whatsoever though, Bryson is extremely witty in his writing style and sprinkles lots of interesting and often hilarious trivia throughout, there are evidently a lot of absurd situations in the competitive field of science. At the same time you don’t feel that the subjects are too dumbed-down, Bryson perfectly explains a lot of “unexplainable” things, often using quite creative metaphors, and when you’ve finished reading you’ll have learnt quite a lot about, well, everything!

The Apology of Socrates – Plato

ApologySuch an interesting little read. Apology was something I snatched up quite without thinking about it at a book sale, mostly because it was small, cheap and I like Ancient Greece. I sat down and read through it the same day, and was pleasantly surprised by how non-dated it felt reading through it. Of course, the translation I was reading was, I’m guessing, quite different than ancient Greek, but even if the language had been entirely different, the subject that was actually talked about felt like reading something from a modern day trial. A recommended read for anyone interested in history, democracy, the old philosophers or who just want to try something a little different.

After You – Jojo Moyes

Cover of After YouOne of the most anticipated books of 2015 for many, myself included. I don’t often find myself reading a lot of what is often called “chick-lit”, it’s just usually not my preferred genre. However, Jojo Moyes is truly an exception to this, I really liked Me Before You and I LOVED The One Plus One. Naturally, After You had a lot to live up to, sequels to such a beloved book are always hard. Luckily, I think Moyes found the perfect way to continue the story of Lou Clark in a way that feels natural, and I ended up adoring After You as well. It’s not AS intensely stirring as Me Before You, but it contains the same beautiful and complex characterisation, Moyes is very good at making everyone in her stories feel very real and human. After You will probably make you laugh and cry, and I particularly liked how the ending was resolved, without spoiling anything it makes the story stand out a bit more than others in the same genre.

Heddy’s Library

Hello! And welcome to Heddy’s Library, a freshly made blog, created to give me a platform to share my love for literature, but also other addictions such as films, TV-shows and whatever cultural findings I should stumble upon.

I intend to use this blog as a place to write about what books (or other things) I am currently enjoying, reviews, lists, tips, and I’d also like to incorporate some of the literary theories from my studies, as some of it can be really fascinating. I am currently in my second year of Library- and Information Science, so I’m lucky enough to study something that encourages us to always read besides our curriculum, which makes me a tiny bit less guilty about the amount of non-school related stuff I’m always reading, when I should be preparing for my exams instead. Just a tiny bit.

I also hope that blogging about my reading experiences will help me expand my literary horizon, by “forcing” me to read more different genres and types of literature, as to not always write about the same sort of books over and over in an endless loop. Here’s to hoping!