The last of 2021: Malve Von Hassel “The Amber Crane” and Martin Amis “Time’s Arrow”, plus favourite reads of 2021

Time flies. We’re already in 2022. Happy New Year! May it be filled with great, stimulating or pleasant reads. I’m here to post updates for the final reads I did in 2021.

Malve Von Hassel “The Amber Crane”

  • Purchase link: http://mybook.to/TheAmberCrane
  • Genre: Historical fantasy, time travel
  • Print length: 264 pages
  • Age range: Suitable for adults and teenagers
  • Trigger warnings: No graphic violence but references to the Holocaust, fatal shootings of
  • prisoners during a death march, a reference to a rape, and suicide references


About The Amber Crane

Chafing at the rules of the amber guild, Peter, an apprentice during the waning years of the Thirty Years’ War, finds and keeps a forbidden piece of amber, despite the risk of severe penalties should his secret be discovered. Little does he know that this amber has hidden powers, transporting him into a future far beyond anything he could imagine. In dreamlike encounters, Peter witnesses the ravages of the final months of World War II in and around his home. He becomes embroiled in the troubles faced by Lioba, a girl he meets who seeks to escape from the oncoming Russian army. Peter struggles with the consequences of his actions, endangering his family, his amber master’s reputation, and his own future. How much is Peter prepared to sacrifice to right his wrongs?


REVIEW

“The Amber Crane” is an elegant, melancholy, thoughtful and reflective YA historical fiction that makes me think about how our actions and emotions echo through centuries and may impact those who come after us. When we leave behind a piece of kindness, that kindness may bring light in the dark. I love this message and I love how elegant the prose is, the author also chose a very interesting topic to focus on – amber work and her writing reflects the magic of the craft and of the amber figurines themselves.

Peter Glienke is a young amber craftsman living his life during the Thirty Years’ War. He works with amber, a rare and precious substance whose possession is banned unless you work for the guild. But he comes across two pieces with special properties and is transported to the final years of World War II, where he meets a young girl, Liboa, escaping from the Russian army. The story flips back and forth between the two time frames, as Peter fades in and out of existence in both through dreams.

Life in the 17th-century township is very vivid as Peter experiences first-hand how people, broken by the long war, may act with suspicion and hysteria. He witnesses how damaging rumours may be, how jealousy might drive people to lie about others. In his other life, he becomes committed to helping Liboa survive, witnessing the struggles, the tragedies, and the hopelessness but also the will to carry on and act with compassion. His decisions and actions affect the lives of those around him. Peter strives to do what is right and he is very likeable in his sense of honour and integrity.

The piece that connects both is amber, a timeless substance or a substance through time. I loved how the writer chose two war-ravaged eras to show universal struggles and echo and mirror human actions in both and showed that kindness can return, even reverberate through the ages and that honesty and integrity have a way of paving through difficult moments. And to give people beauty and hope is ultimately Peter’s decision, to do what only he can do.

Aside from historical details, there is rich and lovely lore. It’s enchanting, elegant and thoughtful.

I rushed a bit in order to finish this review so sadly, I feel I did not properly connect with everything this book has to offer but I could feel a warmth from it that I find very genuine.

YA is not really my genre but this one is really elegantly crafted with lovely prose, original idea and setting and lovely execution. Thank you for the opportunity. 


Martin Amis “Time’s Arrow”

I really liked the concept.

This book is based on a powerful concept, clever idea, an exploration of a souless man from his death to his beginning. I have not read Vonnegut so the technique of going backwards in time is only familiar to me from The curious case of Benjamin Button. Here, however, it is used to investigate the Nazi and the atrocities they carried out.

The story begins with the death of doctor Tod Friendly, then traces his life backwards through years under assumed names and the horrors of his service in the SS, down to his childhood in post World War I Germany. Everything happens in reverse, dialogues, life, eating so as a physician he admits healthy patients and sends them out with illnesses or injuries. And his work at Auschwitz, under his real name Odilo Unverdorben (“innocent”) involves bringing Jews to life.

It’s going from the topmost, superficial layers to the core, in a way, peeling them away one by one.

Tod is a souless man with a vocal conscience, a study of an act so heinous that cannot be buried under any layer of identity. And even with so mamy layers, his real voice speaks through about helplessness, about powerlessness, about death of the soul and empty life. It digs to the core of the soul and finds confusion, chaos, a constant need to hide and escape and engage in relationships without committing.

The book is a confusing medley of journeys, people, events Tod’s inner voice observes and comments, a split personality. Who is Tod Friendly? No one. Everyone. I really do love how we go backwards though, and have to piece together how things break apart, though,even if does to an extent get in the way of the actual study becoming a bit of form over content. Plus,I found it difficult to follow and get into the flow of the reverse mechanics as absolutely erything here is done in reverse.

The book is difficult to read, this is my first attempt at Amis and I find it dense and difficult. It will take more than one read to fully appreciate this, I feel. I don’t feel like I fully understood it on first read and certainly feel like I missed a lot of nuances but the idea and topic are big, and the conceit clever.

I’d read it when you can commit to a difficult topic executed in a difficult, but interesting, way. One to reread and study more carefully.


We have always lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson

I love several things:
👍how narrative seeps things through between the lines: the story of the family and the incident
👍 use of first person narration
👍 use of house space , with every corner meaningful.

A story about two sisters who live in an elegant manor, shut in and isolated after a tragedy struck. Their world is limited to that of the manor Constance is agoraphobic and clearly still in shock, she mostly listens to Merricat who travels between the house and the village for supplies. Until one day a Change comes.

What I love about this book is the combination of horror and first-person narrative that seeps bits of the truth about the family and what happened between the lines. And the primitive and naive childishness that, among others, prevents Constance from growing up. It’s like a subversion of a fairy tale and it’s very compelling. The characters are grotesque, weird. I really liked Julian. I love the use of the house theme in this story. There were also darkly humorous parts written so well that even I couldn’t prevent a chuckle despite the subject matter.

Merrikat is a memorable character and narrative voice, not meant to be likeable by any stretch. With every page I read, I was horrified by her more and more, as the full extent of what happened was revealed.

She only seemingly does what she’s told. She’s the one in control. She’s like a troll or a mean pixie, even her shortened names kinda sound like that of a pixie. She’s an enchantress who keeps Constance as if under her spell. She is also a naive, possessive and wild young woman who resorts to primitive witchcraft to keep the world as she wants it, the way she knows it but it’s claustrophobic and hate-filled confinement that she believes to be a protective cocoon for herself and Constance… I wanted to smack her nearly all the time. I feel most sorry for Constance, she’s the most sympathetic character, dominated by the younger sister, living the life of a dead. Constance depends on the younger Merrikat and lives in some sort of a cheerful dreamlike state that masks the trauma she’s been through. Both escape reality that additionally throws vicious neighbours their way. I’m not surprised they grow defensive but still, I couldn’t accept Merrikat. Constance retreats into a shell of superficial cheerfulness, ignoring or accepting Merricat’s antics.

The change that comes is the selfish, greedy cousin Charles that, I guess, proves again that the world only consists of evil people who’ll do them harm and convinces Merrikat to devise weird strategies to get rid of him. It culminates in an event that sends Constance further into herself (when she was already succeeding in coming out) and sort of trumps up Merrikat as the protector.

I liked the moments when Constance was coming closer to getting a grip on reality, even if the source of that influence, Charles, was a good for nothing money-grabbing bastard. I wished Constance would knock some sense into Merrikat but instead, Merrikat pulled Constance away to a fantasy deemed their “safe” space as their living quarters further compressed to one or two rooms, culminating in a rather chilling “happy” end.

Witchcraft may be the last resort for the powerless seeking a sense of safety and protection from what they can’t change or fight against but escaping is never good. I am reminded of Lord Jim, funnily enough, and the way he too escaped into fiction, even making fiction a reality. Here too, a dreamed up fairy tale becomes a chilling reality.

For me, Merrijat, while a sharp observer, is a defeated, weak person, perhaps because her the family is full of appearances, at least what we gleam of it thanks to Julian’s comments. He may be the most unreliable voice most of the time but he has flashes of stability and insight, like his confrontations with Charles. And what he says in places makes me feel reluctant towards Merrikat even more, because he shows the full extent of her actual plan. Routine may be safe, being only with one person and one you can dominate too but not like this, not when it’s filled with so much hate. I did side with Merrikat when cousin Charles came – you have to have instincts to protect yourself too. Against hypocrisy or shallow, false intentions… And she was more accepting of Stella. But hate is never a good way into anything.

The story is about life entombed in many different ways

Villagers are judgmental and the world of the book is populated by mean, provocative characters inclined towards acting violent towards what they envy or don’t understand but I never cared for them one bit. People always talk. They go to extremes when faced with what they fear or what they don’t know. They get violent. They become a mob, ready to lynch you they are also envious of others. But that doesn’t mean we have to answer the same way or with curses or that no one deserves a chance and the only way of dealing with it is putting everyone into one bag and wishing or bringing death to them. The mob does take it too far when they use another tragedy to mock and abuse. Jackson wrote it basing on the antisemitism and anti-intellectualism that her husband experienced.

Merrikat’s *i want them all dead” was still a lot more chilling to me.

I love how gripping the story is when all that happens is daily life in the house, where every corner and item is meaningful. Masterfully written, chilling and stark, with a lot of content to think about. The “happy” ending in this book is chilling because it emphasizes the contrast between bucolic childhood, a fairy tale ending and the reality of the book.


In 2021, I read 32/52 books. My favourites were:

Don Quixote
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
We have Always Lived in the Castle
Blindness – Jose Saramago
A man called Ove
House of Leaves – Mark Z Danielewski

Found Jon Richter – The Warden a page-turner with good ideas and was chilled by the use of the first-person narrator in David Diop’s “At Night all blood is black”

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