Literatuurlijst Engels, aanvulling 2019-2020
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Betekenis symbolen: het aantal boekjes (1, 2 of 3) duidt op de moeilijkheidsgraad van de boeken.
2017, 298 pages
Yejide and her husband Akin met and fell in love at university. After a few years of marriage, the couple have not yet been able to conceive the child they want so much. Although both of them are opposed to polygamy, Akin feels forced by the absence of a baby to consider another wife. And while Yejide decides to try everything in her power to get pregnant and not to lose her husband, the drastic risks she’s willing to take may prove too high a cost.
This heartbreaking story is Nigerian author Ayòbámi Adébáyò’s debut novel. Unravelling against the social and political turbulence of the 1980s, ‘Stay With Me’ is a story about the desperate measures we sometimes take to save ourselves and our relationships.
1986, 479 pages, Canada
"The red Birthmobile is parked in the driveway. Its back door is open and I clamber in. The carpet on the floor is red, red curtains are drawn over the windows." The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel about life in a controlled state, Gilead, where people wear uniforms and everything is checked and controlled. Women have just one purpose in life, giving birth. The narrative perspective is from one of the handmaids, Offred (Of Fred). Tales of Offred’s life in Gilead alternate with flashbacks of her previous life. This dystopian novel of Margaret Atwood originally written in 1986 has recently become of interest again, owing to political developments in certain countries. It has recently also been made into a television series. A dictatorial, religious state such as Gilead is a fear for everybody, now and in the future.
2018, 213 pages, UK
This is a novel about a complicated love story. It is narrated by Paul, who is looking back at his life. Paul was 19 when he first met Susan, a woman more than twice his age. They met at a tennis club and fell in love. The setting is in the London suburbs in the 1960s. The novel is divided into three parts, written in three different narrative voices: the first, second and third person. With each change, Paul moves on to a new phase in their affair, describing the demands that are placed on him by the lifelong consequences of his first love. Barnes explores - once again - what we forget and remember, the reliability of our memories. ‘The Only Story’ is a beautifully written, deeply moving novel.
2007, 121 pages, UK
The Uncommon Reader is a novella about the reading habits of Queen Elisabeth II of England. While walking her corgis, the Queen visits a travelling library parked in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace. It turns out that the mobile library comes to the courtyard every Wednesday. The librarian introduces the Queen to reading novels and this marks a change in her life. Having never had a ‘normal’ life, she now begins to live in books. Her advisors, however, are not so pleased with her new hobby. The Queen continues to read and to ask questions. She also begins to write, and her insights convey a sense of humour. She then starts discussing novels with other people, with several other books and writers being mentioned in this novella. The Queen becomes so enthusiastic about reading that her work suffers from it. The end of the story is surprising. The prose Bennett writes is light and satiric. This is a proof of the power of books and how reading can change a life. A very charming novella.
2018, 320 pages
Distracted by a fox, two pedestrians collide on Waterloo Bridge. These are the main characters in Forna’s latest novel: Attila, a Ghanaian psychiatrist specialising in trauma, and Jean, an American wildlife biologist studying the habits of urban foxes.
Attila is in London to deliver a keynote speech and to contact his immigrant niece, who has not called home for a while. Eventually it turns out that Tano, his niece’s young son, is missing. When Attila and Jean meet again by chance, she uses her network of volunteer fox spotters to help with the search. As the quest continues, an unusual friendship between Attila and Jean develops.
This book tells a story of migration, loneliness and connection between people and animals and depicts a wonderful portrait of London and its inhabitants. Forna’s novel is a slow-paced and satisfying novel, full of modern-day issues and observations.
2014, 296 pages, UK
In this novel Esther Freud paints a vivid portrait of a coastal village in Suffolk during the First World War, but also of an artist, the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The story, seen through the eyes of young Thomas Maggs, the son of the local tavern keeper, tells us about the unlikely friendship between Thomas and Mackintosh, or Mac, a stranger to the Suffolk region. Just as their friendship begins to blossom, war with Germany is declared. All the summer guests flee the village and are replaced by soldiers on their way to war. As the townspeople increasingly feel the brutality of war, they become more and more suspicious of Mac and his eccentric behaviour. This is a beautiful and touching tale of family and friendship. It is as much about life in a small village during war time, as it is about Mac, who was such a misunderstood genius.
2017, 275 pages, US
Linda, fourteen, lives in a small Minnesotan town with her parents, hippies who stayed behind after their commune fell apart. Called "freak" at school by the other children, she feels an outsider and often wanders around the woods on her own. This changes when Patra and Leo move in across the lake from where Linda lives. Patra’s husband is a scientist and is often away for long periods of time doing research. To help her out, Linda becomes a babysitter to their four-year old son Paul. Paul seems a little different from other children. Without realising it, Linda becomes involved in something that will have a tremendous impact on the rest of her life. Showing everything through Linda’s eyes, Emily Fridlund is able to make the reader understand how difficult it is to decide whether and when to take action in a situation that doesn’t feel right.
2006, 289 pages, UK
Sir Edward Feathers, also called Old Filth (FILTH is an acronym for "Failed in London, Try Hong Kong) finds himself bereft of his beloved Betty in a beautiful house in Dorset at the age of 82. His next door neighbour is a widower as well and a former colleague. There was no love lost between them. But compelled by need they get in touch again and this seems the beginning of an ‘opening of shutters on the past that he (Edward) had kept clamped down.’ He was a Raj orphan brought up by foster parents in Wales. This period in particular left scars on his soul and had a huge impact on the rest of his life. In what way is for the reader to find out. Old Filth is the first of a trilogy and can be read independently. But the following two books might reveal the answers to some unresolved questions.
2018, 277 pages
In part one of this debut novel, junior editor Alice has an affair with Ezra Blazer, a famous, much older author. Their romance takes place in New York in the early years of the Iraq War.
Part two abruptly switches setting and moves to the Immigration Office at Heathrow on the last day of 2008. Doctorate student Amar, an Iraqi-American, is detained on his way to see his brother in Kurdistan. He tells about growing up in the US in an immigrant family and wrestles with questions of memory and identity.
The third part of the novel contains the transcript of a short radio interview with Ezra Blazer talking about his musical preferences. Although the three parts seem at first sight to be unconnected, they are tied together in a very subtle way.
‘Asymmetry’ is an ambitious and beautifully written book that can seduce the reader to reflect on themes like race, nationality and power. Highly recommended.
2017, 240 pages
This is a novel about refugees and migration. The protagonists of the book, Nadia and Saeed, become lovers. They are living in a besieged, unnamed city in the East. The horrors of the civil war are described vividly. As the situation deteriorates and becomes unbearable, they are forced to flee through 'magical doors', which transport individuals from one country to another. First they reach a refugee camp on the island of Mykonos. Then they move to London in an upscale mansion that has been taken over by other refugees. Finally they live in a shanty town in Marin, California. They are migrants among many other migrants, all trying to build a new life in those different places. This is a fascinating book about what's happening in the world right now, with migration, refugee crises and globalisation.
2017, 327 pages, UK-Scotland
Eleanor Oliphant’s life is built around routine and she does not live up to social expectations. She works as a finance clerk and keeps mostly to herself. When she coincidentally gets involved with Raymond, an IT guy at the office, she gradually discovers friendship and compassion. The book is divided into three parts: Good Days, Bad Days and Better Days. The first part depicts Eleanor’s weekly routine, providing an overview of who she is. Later on, it is revealed how things from the past have shaped her. Honeyman was discovered through a writing competition. Her debut novel is a very intriguing and heart-warming read. Although the book is at times hilarious, there is a darker undertone that makes the character of Eleanor feel very real.
2006, 276 pages, UK
Never Let Me Go is the story of Kathy and Tommy and Ruth, and of the love-triangle they begin at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham School. Ruth is the controlling one, Tommy is the one who used to find it hard to keep his temper, and Kathy is a carer by nature as well as profession. They have heard that love - or art, or both - will get you a deferral. Kathy, now 31, is the narrator of the story, in which she tries to come to terms with her childhood, and with the fate that has always awaited her and her closest friends. A story of love, friendship and memory,’Never Let Me Go’ is charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of life. Ishiguro, winner of the Nobel prize in literature 2017, was praised by the Swedish Academy for novels which were driven by ‘great emotional force’.
Lindsey Lee Johnson
2017, 268 pages, US
In The Most Dangerous Place on Earth we get to know a group of high school students in Mill Valley, California. Their rich parents are so wrapped up in their own lives that they haven’t got a clue what their children are up to. Abigail has an affair with one of her teachers. Dave knows his parents want him to go to Berkeley, but also realises he won’t be able to achieve the necessary SAT score on his own. Nick is good at making money, whether he is selling lunches, papers on the internet or pills. Although everyone admires the beautiful Elisabeth, she doesn’t have any real friends. And then there’s Molly Nicoll, who recently graduated and has become their new English teacher, and really wants to connect with her students. This novel makes gripping reading and shows us the enormous influence that social media have on the lives of adolescents.
2018, 338 pages
The Mars Room is the strip club where Romy Hall used to work as a lap dancer. She is now in Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility in California, serving two consecutive life sentences plus six years. Her seven-year-old son Jackson is staying with her mother. The events leading up to her incarceration are described in a series of flashbacks.
Through Romy’s eyes the reader learns about the rules of life inside and gets to know a wide range of characters: Conan, a woman who looks and behaves like a man; Betty LaFrance, who is on death row; Button Sanchez, who gives birth in prison; Doc, a dirty cop, and Gordon Hauser, who is hired to teach the prisoners literature.
The novel gives an interesting insight into the American prison system and although the main character has many shortcomings, the author has succeeded in making her quite appealing nonetheless.
1987, 208 pages
Claudia Hampton, historian and author, lies in a hospital bed, recalling a life full of adventure and relationships, while making a last attempt at writing a world history as seen through her eyes and connected to events that have happened in her life. Focusing especially on the Second World War, when she was stationed in Egypt as a newspaper correspondent, she tells the story of the tragic romance that has influenced her life ever since.
‘Moon Tiger’, a classic haunting story of loss and desire, won the Man Booker Prize in 1987. In 2018, it was decided to mark the prize’s 50th anniversary by awarding the Golden Man Booker Prize. Although ‘The English Patient’ by Michael Ondaatje won this prize, Moon Tiger was chosen by Guardian readers as their all-time favourite winner.
2017, 243 pages, Northern Ireland
Gerry and Stella, a retired Irish couple in their late sixties, set out for a holiday weekend in Amsterdam. They have an adult son living in Canada and one grandchild. The Troubles in Ireland were the reason they moved to Glasgow. Gerry used to be an architect and Stella was a school teacher. Initially we meet a couple whose relationship seems safe, easy and familiar. Soon though the reader learns about their secret thoughts and behaviour; about their traumatic experience of a bomb attack in Belfast and the impact it has had on their lives up to the present day. Gerry makes fun of her being a devout catholic. Stella knows that he drinks too much whisky. The couple are experts in avoiding talking about subjects that really bother them until it is bound to explode. MacLaverty describes the lives of ordinary people and succeeds in captivating the reader’s interest.
2017, 338 pages
Shaker Heights is a model town with beautiful houses, wide lawns shorn to perfection and inhabited by perfect families. The perfect family featuring the story are the Richardsons, father and mother with successful careers and 4 teenage children getting fantastic grades in High School. Only Izzy, the youngest, is rather out of tune with the rest of the family.
The appearance on this idyllic scene of a shabby looking family means quite a change in the orderly lives of the Richardsons. Mia is an artist/photographer. She has decided it is time for her and her 15-year old daughter Pearl to settle somewhere after their hitherto itinerant lives and hopes to achieve this by renting a cheap “half a house” from Mrs Richardson. Lots of unexpected developments occur. In the end we find the Richardsons on their now not so perfect lawn, watching the fire brigade trying to extinguish the last flames of their burnt down house.
A gripping story about identity, attempts at being a good parent, surrogate motherhood and adoption
2018, 304 pages
In 1945, fourteen-year-old Nathaniel and his older sister Rachel are unexpectedly abandoned by their parents, who are moving from London to Singapore for a year. Nathaniel and Rachel are left in the care of two strangers, an enigmatic figure called the Moth, and Pimlico Darter, a former boxer and dog-racing fixer. Shortly after their parents leave, the children find out that their mother has left her trunk of clothes in the basement. So something mysterious must have happened.
The novel, set in post-Second World War London, is Nathaniel’s reconstruction of what happened in the past and also a quest to find his parents. It contains a number of layers, including Nathaniel’s coming of age and the work of the secret services after the end of the war.
Michael Ondaatje is a Canadian writer, well known for his novel ‘The English Patient’. The same subtle, dream-like style of writing is also found in ‘Warlight’. It is great literature and a beautifully written spy thriller.
2018, 416 pages
A historical crime novel set in 19th-century Victorian Edinburgh. The protagonist, Will Raven, is a medical student and an apprentice to the brilliant and renowned gynaecologist Dr Simpson. After several young women are found dead in the Old Town, all having suffered gruesome deaths, Will and Sara, a clever young housemaid he meets in Dr Simpson’s house, try to solve the murders.
The story also focuses on medical history and evolution in this pre-caesarean period, especially the newly discovered science of anaesthetics.
‘The Way of All Flesh’ is an interesting novel of historical fiction and both entertains and informs. The writing is very readable, and you will find yourself being drawn into the story on the first few pages.
2016, 418 pages, UK
Against the background of an ever growing interest in scientific approach to discoveries, which lead people to gradually understand what happened to the planet during all the eras preceding ours, 19th century England still harbours rural communities in which superstitious beliefs in ghosts, ogres and monsters remain close to the surface. This is the world in which newly widowed Cora Seagrave and devout reverend William Ransome find themselves to be contestants about the persistent tale of a monster lurking in the Blackwater estuary of Essex. She wants to find the truth. He wants to protect his parishioners from pagan rites. Perry weaves a delightful hint of the "Gothic" through this tale of a Victorian but undaunted lady, who appears to have a soft spot for the village rector.
2018, 266 pages
This novel follows the lives of Marianne and Connell, who grow up in a small town in Ireland. Marianne lives with her mother and brother in a large mansion, where Connell’s single mother works as a cleaner. Marianne is a social outcast, while Connell is popular at school. They begin a secret relationship that stops during their final year at high school when Connell treats her badly.
A year later, they are both studying at Trinity College in Dublin and now it is the other way around: Marianne feels comfortable at university, and Connell doesn’t seem to fit in. Over the following years, they repeatedly find themselves drawn to each other, on and off.
This is a book about a fragile love affair, written in a witty and warm way. It is one of those rare books you can’t put down because the characters are so endearing.
2017, 260 pages, British Pakistani
The story is told by the five main characters, all of whom are from a British-Pakistani Muslim background. Isma who, after the death of their mother, took care of her younger twin siblings and is now finally able to pursue an academic career in Massachusetts; Aneeka, the beautiful younger sister, who stays behind in London; Parvaiz, Aneeka’s twin brother, whose decision to follow in the footsteps of a father he has never known and join the Caliphate turns all their lives upside down; Eamonn, the son of the Home Secretary, who becomes involved with Aneeka, and Karamat Lone, Eamonn’s father, who has a point to prove. What makes ‘Home Fire’ particularly interesting is the way these five points of view provide the reader with a good insight into the different kinds of loyalty that play such an important part in the story, including being loyal to yourself, your family and your background.
2007, 161 pages
This novella tells the story of two sisters, Anthea and Imogen, living in Inverness. Anthea dislikes her job at a local PR firm. Imogen (‘Midge’) is pursuing her ambitions at the same firm, which is trying to market bottled water. The story kicks off when a protester, known by the alias ‘Iphis07’, vandalises the firm’s property. Anthea falls in love with the boyish girl Robin (the protester) and has to figure out what she wants from life. Imogen, on the other hand, learns about the dark side of global business. In this way, both sisters have to cope with big changes in their lives.
‘Girl Meets Boy’ is a retelling of Ovid's story of Iphis and Ianthe, which deals with the idea of gender fluidity. Ali Smith manages to weave the ancient myth through with modern Scottish stories and current political issues. Her writing is gentle, poetic and humorous. A very special read!
2016, 256 pages, UK
This book tells the story of Gustav and Anton. Gustav grows up in the small village of Matzlingen in Switzerland during the Second World War. Gustav’s father died while his son was still very young. Anton meanwhile is from a wealthy Jewish family. Gustav and Anton become friends at kindergarten. Gustav protects Anton and is invited by the family to join them on trips. The boys differ in many ways. Although Anton is pushed by his mother to play the piano and his mother expects him to become a soloist, he will not be able to make a career as a pianist. Gustav grows up with his mother, who has to work hard for a living. He has questions about the death of his father, and about things that happened to his mother. For some time, Anton and Gustav lose sight of each other, but the loose ends ultimately come together. A beautiful novel written in clear and simple language reminiscent of the work of John Boyne.
2018, 304 pages
Horace Hopper has lived and worked on a ranch in Nevada since he was a teenager. His parents don’t care about him. Mr Reese, the ranch owner, wants Horace to take over the ranch as he and his wife are childless and Horace is good with horses and cattle. Although they love Horace as if he were their own child, Horace dreams of a career as a boxer. His ambition is to become world champion to impress his parents. He therefore leaves the Reese family and meets a coach who trains him and organizes boxing matches. But then slowly but surely it becomes clear that Horace’s dream is a delusion.
Mr and Mrs Reese worry about him and try to keep in touch with him. Finally Mr Reese finds him and takes him home. But things are not what they seem. The novel is about the loneliness of Horace and how he comes back to Mr and Mrs Reese.
Willy Vlautin is an American writer, who started out playing the guitar and writing songs and who founded the band Richmond Fontane. He writes beautiful American English prose.
2016, 306 pages, US
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia, where life for the slaves is very hard. When Caesar, a new arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to try and escape. The Underground Railroad is a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar's first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems all right. Behind the city's quiet appearance however, a villainous plan is in place for its black inhabitants. Moreover, the relentless slave catcher Ridgeway, is on their track. As a result, Caesar and Cora are forced to flee again. Cora travels to North Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana and the North, seeking true freedom in an odyssey through time and space. Whitehead re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era and which are still partly present today.
2016, 279 pages
The story begins with the birth of Jane Chisolm in rural Mississippi in 1915. It is immediately clear that she has a rare genital deformity that will have an enormous impact on her entire life as it is doubtful whether she will ever be able to become a proper wife and mother. There is very little love left between her harsh mother, who is still grieving for the death of her favourite son, and her father, who drowns his sorrows in his home-brewed whiskey. Nevertheless, Jane is happy roaming the woods and the fields surrounding their farm. Fortunately she has a true friend and confidante in Dr Thompson who takes a personal and professional interest in her and admires her for the way she handles whatever life throws at her.
What is admirable about ‘Miss Jane’ is that the author, who based his main character on his great aunt, has managed to describe a life full of challenges without becoming overly sentimental.