Elise's favourites ... (or not)

The Burning Chambers - Kate Mosse

When I visited London some time ago I noticed that a new Kate Mosse novel was to be expected later that month. Previously, I had read other books by this British author, among which the Languedoc trilogy: Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel. Historical novels to lose oneself in, romance combined with some tension and excitement!
The Burning Chambers is set in the same region as the trilogy, the Languedoc, a region in the south of France, at the time of the French Wars of Religion between the Catholics and Huguenots in 1562. In this novel the reader meets 19-year-old Minou Joubert, who runs a bookshop together with her father and takes care of her younger brother and sister. The chaos of the war is not the only thing that disturbs the quiet life of the Joubert family. Blanche, the widow of the late lord of Chateau de Puivert, has heard about the rumor that her husband left behind one living heir, threatening her claim to inherit the castle. Fearing she might lose everything she owns, she sets out to find the will that explains it all, or even beter, the child itself…
This novel introduces the French Wars of Religion, together with an exciting, heroic and romantic quest that is far from over, for do not forget about the prologue of this novel! It is set in the late 19th century in South-Africa. A woman holding a diary and will, attacked from behind by a mysterious man. How does Minou’s story lead to the events in late 19th century South Africa? We’ll probably find out more about this is the next novel that is set to be released in January 2021.

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Elise Kleuskens,
Department of English Literature

The Testaments – Margaret Atwood

Ever wanted to know what happened after the events described in The Handmaid’s Tale? This book is going to answer all of your questions!

The title already gives it away: this story comprises three testaments, one written by an Aunt, one by a girl growing up inside of religious Gilead and one by a girl growing up outside of Gilead. Together they tell a story that is set about 15 years after Offred’s experiences as described in The Handmaid’s Tale. The book mostly provides insight into the role of the Aunts in the rise and fall of Gilead.

It is hard to summarize this book without giving anything away. Is your mind still tormented by questions after reading The Handsmaid’s Tale? Then do read this book! Are you one of those people who have not yet read The Handmaid’s Tale, and think about reading The Testaments? Then I would advise you to read The Handmaid’s Tale first. The information about Gilead is quite necessary to understand The Testaments.

All in all I thought this book a nice read. It’s nice to know what happened after Offred’s flight. However, I, personally, did not necessarily need to know how it all continued. There is nothing wrong with an open ending and the use of your own imagination!

Elise Kleuskens,
Department of English Literature

Exit West - Mohsin Hamid

This story tells about Saeed and Nadia, a young couple, taking a chance at fleeing their country, after hearing rumors of black doors appearing where normal doors used to be. Black doors lead you to different places on earth. To reach one, you have to be quick, because when the army hears about them, it could cause you a lot of trouble. Saeed and Nadia manage to reach a door and start their journey. The book tells about the toll the constant fear and distrust has on their relationship and on the community in its entirety.

Exit West is a fascinating book, even though its characters are a bit flat. I would have liked to learn a bit more about Saeed's and Nadia's motives for the choices they make (or do not make). The black doors make this book about refugees a refreshing one, bringing a new perspective on the refugee problem.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer/Annie Barrows

I normally do not trust books with funny names. Usually the books prove to be ridiculous, sometimes even bad. I decided to try this one, because I heard that it consisted solely of letters written by and to the main character of Juliet Ashton, author and journalist. One day about a year after WWII, Juliet receives a letter written by Dawsey Adams, who lives on the island of Guernsey. Dawsey has somehow managed to get hold of one of Juliet's old books written by Charles Lamb containing her address. Being charmed by Lamb’s writing, Dawsey decides to write to Juliet asking for more of his books, since buying them in Guernsey seems impossible.

A lively correspondence leads to Juliet travelling to Guernsey and writing a book about life on the island during the German occupation, which on the one hand gives the reader a very interesting insight into the way of life during the occupation but on the other hand, does not change the fact that the book is and always will be about a romance. Fun to read, but very predictable. The book has been made into a film, which can be seen in Pathé cinemas.


The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

In this beautiful novel Benjamin tells us the story of his family at a time when his father is called away to the city. Benjamin has three older brothers, Ikenna, Boja and Obembe. Left to their own devices the boys decide to go fishing in the forbidden river, calling themselves The Fishermen. It is on one of those days the boys happen upon a local madman. But is he mad, or a prophet? The man predicts that Ikenna will be killed. “Ikenna, you shall die by the hands of a fisherman.” Wondering if this means Ikenna will be killed by one of his own brothers, the bond between the boys breaks. A chain of events follows: tragic, heartbreaking, but also magical and mythical.

This book is set in Nigeria. It is filled with the rich tradition known in this African country. The life and upbringing of the boys is full of magic, folklore and the old religion of the indigenous peoples, mixed with the new Christian religion. A fascinating and compelling story, beautifully written by Chigozie Obioma. (This book is already on our list: E16-08)


A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Imagine you are living in Soviet Russia in the 1920s. You are a known poet and you are being sentenced to a lifetime of house arrest in the attic of the Metropol hotel in Moscow. This is how Amor Towles’ book begins. So, what do you think this book is about? That’s right, it is about the life of the poet in question, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov. Small bits about his past, but mostly about his life in the Metropol hotel up until the 50s.

What happens in a hotel over a period of 30 years? Not much. The Count is lucky to be staying in a hotel that includes a hairdresser, two restaurants and a bar. He fills his days in an orderly fashion. Every week is the same. This makes the pace of the story slow, but if you think about quitting: don’t! Please, try to wrestle through the parts of the book that drag on and experience the perfect, unexpected ending. In the last 100 pages your whole view of the Count and his orderly life in the Metropol will change drastically. You will most definitely love it! I’ll guarantee that!


The Course of Love by Alain de Botton

It's winter. In my opinion at least… Christmas trees, candles, festive music everywhere. I associate all of this with love and warmth. And what goes better with that but a book about love? No, not your everyday romance story, I am talking about The Course of Love, written by Alain de Botton, a British philosopher and author. I did not really know what to expect of this book before starting to read it. Would it be a philosophical account of love? Or perhaps a novel? A little bit of both!

This book is about Rabih and Kirsten. They are introduced to us when they first meet and we follow them far into their marriage. We go through good and bad times with them. In between the story, Alain de Botton explains to us the course of love. A realistic view of love and relationships. A view that is nothing like what we see in movies.

A very interesting and from time to time revealing work. The book is easy to read because Rabih and Kirstens story is split into small parts by the philosophical musings of De Botton. This story feels real, sometimes poignant, sometimes heartwarming. A fine piece of work!

Elise Kleuskens,
Department of English Literature