First Lines: Lud-in-the-Mist

If Neil Gaiman didn’t champion Hope Mirrlees’ Lud-in-the-Mist as much as he does, I would not have read it. He calls it one of the finest fantasy novels in the English language, and he is right. It’s utterly enjoyable. It has also proven to be well beyond my ability to say something coherent about it.

This thing is, it is an delightful little tale — but nothing especially special in the grand scheme of things. It is just so unlike everything else I’ve come across in quite a while, that I just can’t quite wriggle my fingers around it, can’t quite get grasp what it is that makes it so appealing.

Some people point out similarities between Lud-in-the-Mist and Susanna Clarke’s equally wonderful Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and I see where they’re coming from: both books deal with a world were magic/fairy used to be commonplace, once upon a time. But now the world has moved on, and people look back at those olden times with a feeling of, well, yeah, sure, there used to be fairies and magic and stuff, but that was then and this is now. Now we’re all normal, logical, responsible people-persons, and we don’t go for that. And then, just to spite them, something magical happens and they have to deal with it. It’s fantasy, but not in the Dungeons-and-Dragons, Quest-for-the-Mountain-of-Doom, Orcs-and-other-Tolkien-genre-trappings sense of the genre. It’s more that world is informed by the magical, rather than magic being the thing that makes the world go round. And I like that sort of tale, but I couldn’t for the love of all things bright and shiny tell you why.

Book read
Hope Mirrlees — Lud-in-the-Mist
First line
The Free State of Dorimare was a very small country, but, seeing that it was bounded on the south by the sea and on the north and east by mountains, while its centre consisted of a rich plain, watered by two rivers, a considerable variety of scenery and vegetation was to be found within its borders.

First Lines: Het Sixtijnse geheim

When Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code took The Netherlands by storm, publishers were looking for similar books to exploit. A translation of Philipp Vandenberg’s 1988 thriller Sixtinische Verschwörung — in which a mysterious inscription is discovered in Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, and it’s true meaning might (!) destroy (!!) the Holy Catholic Church as we know it (!!!!) — was of course a shoo-in.

Unfortunately, this book isn’t nearly as much fun as Brown’s work. It is dry as Catholic dogma, the writing (or translation, for that matter) — with its pompous Latin phrases, and its annoying insistence on using and reusing the titles of the characters over and over and over again — isn’t engaging, and the secret at its core is, well, meh. It takes ages to get anywhere, and in the end we apparently should believe that the Catholic Church would collapse over some dead guy’s claim that Jesus was just a man that stayed dead once he died, just because Michelangelo hid his name in the Sistine Chapel. It’s not as if religion in general is much informed by the truth anyway, is it?

Book read
Philipp Vandenberg — Het Sixtijnse geheim (Sixtinische Verschwörung, translated by Peter de Rijk)
First line
Terwijl ik dit schrijf, word ik door hevige twijfels geplaagd of ik dit wel allemaal mag vertellen.

First Lines: De eerste maandag van de maand

Peter Zanting’s second novel De eerste maandag van de maand was released on September 1st, 2014. And since that was the first Monday of the month, you could download it for free on that day. Don’t ask me how that link came to me, but it did, and something triggered me enough to download it, put it on my e-reader and, almost two years later, read it. I am glad I did.

De eerste maandag van de maand is a novel about the illusion of having any form of control over your life. There is Boris — born on the first Monday of the month — who loses his handle on his OCD when his girlfriend breaks up with him, on the first Monday of the month. (“I think it should be over,” she said. “I can’t spend the rest of my life with someone who… I don’t even know who you are.”) He then moves in with his father, widowed on the same first Monday of the month his son was born, and he turns out to be just like his son: silent, keeping things inside and hidden from the world. The only way they can help each other is when they face their own weaknesses.

So, the book started out all fun and games, but then the knife came out and plunged in my gut and twisted and turned there. That was when the father recalled how he first started to deal with this OCD-like thing. Through medication, he got his tics under control, but he realized he had burdened his son with its legacy. And that, that is something I can relate to.

Book read
Peter Zantingh — De eerste maandag van de maand
First line
Dat weekend was de klok een uur teruggezet.

First Lines: Stephen King Short Story Collaborations

In 2012, Stephen King released two collaborative short stories. So far, they remain uncollected in an anthology.

The first of the two, In the Tall Grass was written with Joe Hill (their second collaboration, after Throttle). It’s a lot like King’s own Children of the Corn, but then really sick. Loads of fun.

A Face in the Crowd was written with Stewart O’Nan, who also co-wrote Faithful. (Still haven’t read that one, as it’s about the 2004 Boston Red Sox season, and I’m not that into baseball. But I’ll get to it, someday.) It’s about old man Dean Evers, who sees familiar faces in the crowd at these baseball games he’s watching. Which would be cool, if only these faces wouldn’t belong the already deceased. Nice little story as well.

Story read
Stephen King & Joe Hill — In the Tall Grass
First line
He wanted quiet for a while instead of the radio, so you could say what happened was his fault.
Story read
Stephen King & Stewart O’Nan — A Face in the Crowd
First line
The summer after his wife died, Dean Evers started watching a lot of baseball.

First Lines: Don Quixote

It’s official: I give up. I’ve waded through the first part of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, but after a few chapters of the second part I gave up. I just can’t do this any more. It’s too tedious. You have that hidalgo Don Quixote, who has gone so raving mad from reading too many romances of chivalry, that he is convinced that he is a member of the lost and honorable order of knights-errant. So he goes out righting wrongs, setting free captured innocents, rescuing fair maidens and slaying giants. (This last episode, the famous one with the windmills, comes early on and lasts all of a page and a half.) Except that there is an awful lot of talking, and repetition, and asides, and references to other romances of chivalry, and blah blah blah.

I’m very sure that it is a very important book and all that, but it’s apparently not for me. (Given that the second part was published ten years or so after the first one, I think I deserve a pass.)

Book read
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra — The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de La Mancha (Fourth-Centenary Translation. Translated and with notes by Tom Lathorp)
First line
In a village in La Mancha, which I won’t name, there lived not long ago an hidalgo of the kind that have a lance in the lance rack, an old shield, a lean nag, and a fleet greyhound.