Posted by: billpurdue | March 17, 2010

91 Something weird for a change

Imagine a world where flowers can grow and bloom in a single day and Summer can change to Autumn  and back again  in an afternoon. Imagine a house which is permanently cold whatever the season, where the stairs shorten and lengthen at will and piercing eyes stare out from mirrors. This is Meridia’s world in Erick Setiawan’s Of Bees and Mist [Headline Review £7.99 9780755348558]. (The cover illustration is of the hardback edition)

Meridia is a young girl growing up in this strange house with her parents Ravenna and Gabriel: Ravenna often forgets that she has a daughter and  spends most of her time in the kitchen cooking huge meals which are not needed. Gabriel at best ignores her and at worst bombards her with criticisms. Outside the front door there is a permanent cloud of mist. Meridia’s father never sleeps at the house, but leaves every evening, shrouded in a cloud of yellow mist, to return the next morning in time for breakfast. There are many secrets which Meridia’s parents withhold from her and which take a long time to be discovered.

Meridia eventually meets a young man, Daniel, and falls in love. They marry and at first their marriage seems ideal, though they live with Daniel’s parents, Eva and Elias. At first they are blissfully happy, but it soon becomes obvious that this new household is equally strange. Eva keeps her husband under control with a swarm of bees. She is a greedy, scheming, two faced woman, who is trying to turn her son against Meridia. After much provocation, Meridia finally goes back to live with her parents taking her young son with her, but the feud between the two families continues. A reunion between Meridia and her husband Daniel seems impossible and the tantalising possibility of that breakthrough  comes along and is swiftly dispatched. The ending is not quite what you might expect.

Though sometimes I felt that this book was a little over long, I found it a compelling read. At times I was on the edge of my seat, wondering who would get the upper hand, Meridia, or Daniel’s evil mother. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, in fact if you want something seriously weird, then this is it. (Apparently the mystical elements in the book were somewhat of an afterthought, according to the author).  Fascinating and well worth the effort.

Back in the mists of time (there we go again – more mist!) I wrote about a book by Guy Browning called Never Push when it says pull – a hilarious compilation of Browning’s columns from The Guardian. Well, it’s now out in paperback [Atlantic £7.99 9781848873766], as I found out when listening to Guy Browning being interviewed by Arthur Smith on“Loose Ends” last Saturday on BBC Radio 4. Apparently Guy Browning is also a “financial guru” – I suspect that writing books is not the most lucrative of the two occupations. For a taster of what’s in the book, just go to Browning’s Guardian article “How to fix a computer

Also interviewed on the same programme was Stephen Clarke, author of the now famous (or infamous?) “Merde” series. Well, his latest book, 1000 Years of Annoying the French [ Bantam £16.99 9780593062722] is somewhat of a departure from his previous books. For a start it doesn’t have the word “merde” in the title. Secondly it is a kind of history (rather than a novel) of the all too many conflicts and disagreements between Britain and France as well as the rather rare occasions when the two countries have been in agreement. Even so, it sounds like an entertaining read .

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