I’m continuing my thoughtful reviews of the books I’m reading in 2019. This week I read about dinosaurs, grumpy old men, and a lake.
The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs – Steve Brusatte – 5/5 for dinosaurs, 2/5 for the story
66 million years ago the dinosaurs were wiped from the face of the earth. Today, Dr. Steve Brusatte, one of the leading scientists of a new generation of dinosaur hunters, armed with cutting edge technology, is piecing together the complete story of how the dinosaurs ruled the earth for 150 million years.
The world of the dinosaurs has fascinated on book and screen for decades – from early science fiction classics like The Lost World, to Godzilla terrorizing the streets of Tokyo, and the monsters of Jurassic Park. But what if we got it wrong? In The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, top dinosaur expert Brusatte, tells the real story of how dinosaurs rose to dominate the planet. Using the fossil clues that have been gathered using state of the art technology, Brusatte follows these magnificent creatures from their beginnings in the Early Triassic period, through the Jurassic period to their final days in the Cretaceous and the legacy that they left behind.
Along the way, Brusatte introduces us to modern day dinosaur hunters and gives an insight into what it’s like to be a paleontologist. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is full of thrilling accounts of some of his personal discoveries, including primitive human-sized tyrannosaurs, monstrous carnivores even larger than T. rex, and feathered raptor dinosaurs preserved in lava from China.
At a time when Homo sapiens has existed for less than 200,000 years and we are already talking about planetary extinction, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is a timely reminder of what humans can learn from the magnificent creatures who ruled the earth before us.
Where to start with this one? Firstly, dinosaurs are the best. Don’t disagree: I will fight you. This book featured a very suitable number of dinosaurs, so I want to give it five stars.
But I was so disappointed with the ending. SPOILER ALERT – all the characters fucking DIE at the end. It’s Jurassic Park all over again, and you know how I felt about that. What is it with these dinosaur-story authors that they choose this macabre and unpopular ending over and over again?
Even worse than Jurassic Park, the author of this book uses a bizarre deus ex machina plot device where, of all things, an ASTEROID appears and wipes out the entire cast of characters. Please.
There were other problems. The pacing, for a start. This novel is normal length, and a normal length novel usually covers what, a few months? Brusatte chooses to extend the family saga to 150 million years, which I felt was just a touch excessive. I’d barely become accustomed to the rising temperatures of the Jurassic before I was whipped into the Cretaceous and T-Rex was attempting to wave at me.
And there’s another thing – a very unkind focus on the protagonists’ deformity. Okay, so he had little arms that weren’t entirely in proportion to the rest of his body. I didn’t think it was nice of the author to keep mentioning this – the character was more than his disability, but his heroism was overshadowed by wisecracks.
I’m going to try Walter Alvarez’s novel T. Rex and the Crater of Doom next. I’m confident this one will have a happier ending. After all, I couldn’t be so unlucky as to find three books in a row with the same ending, could I?
A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman – 5/5 DROORING
At first sight, Ove is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet. He thinks himself surrounded by idiots – neighbours who can’t reverse a trailer properly, joggers, shop assistants who talk in code, and the perpetrators of the vicious coup d’etat that ousted him as Chairman of the Residents’ Association. He will persist in making his daily inspection rounds of the local streets.
But isn’t it rare, these days, to find such old-fashioned clarity of belief and deed? Such unswerving conviction about what the world should be, and a lifelong dedication to making it just so?
In the end, you will see, there is something about Ove that is quite irresistible . . .
You know when you find something so funny that it randomly pops into your head for days, and each time you chuckle to yourself like some kind of escaped lunatic in a silent movie?
This is me with DROORING and OVE HIT THE CLAUUUUUWN.
Minutes later, Parvaneh comes back down the corridor to the waiting room. She stops, confusedly scanning the room from side to side.
“Are you looking for your girls?” a nurse asks sharply behind her.
“Yes,” Parvaneh answers, perplexed.
“There,” says the nurse in a not entirely appreciative way and points at a bench by the large glass doors leading onto the parking area.
Ove is sitting there with his arms crossed, looking very angry.
On one side of him sits the seven-year-old, staring up at the ceiling with an utterly bored expression, and on the other side sits the three-year-old, looking as if she just found out she’s going to have an ice cream breakfast every day for a whole month. On either side of the bench stand two particularly large representatives of the hospital’s security guards, both with very grim facial expressions.
“Are these your children?” one of them asks. He doesn’t look at all as if he’s having an ice cream breakfast.
“Yes, what did they do?” Parvaneh wonders, almost terrified.
“They didn’t do anything,” the other security guard replies, with a hostile stare at Ove.
“Me neither,” Ove mutters sulkily.
“Ove hit the clauwn!” the three-year-old shrieks delightedly.
“Sneak,” says Ove.
The Saab is so full of people when Ove drives away from the hospital that he keeps checking the fuel gauge, as if he’s afraid that it’s going to break into a scornful dance. In his rearview mirror he sees Parvaneh unconcernedly giving the three-year-old paper and color crayons.
“Does she have to do that in the car?” barks Ove.
“Would you rather have her restless, so she starts wondering how to pull the upholstery off of the seats?” Parvaneh says calmly.
Ove doesn’t answer. Just looks at the three-year-old in his mirror. She’s shaking a big purple crayon at the cat in Parvaneh’s lap and yelling: “DROORING!” The cat observes the child with great caution, clearly reluctant to make itself available as a decorative surface.
Like when I was a communist border guard for a week and wandered around for months afterwards saying GLORY TO ARSTOTZKA, I’ve spent the week since finishing Ove wandering around saying DROORING to confused people, then laughing maniacally. At least it guarantees me a spacious area of the train all to myself, even in rush hour.
There are many other hilarious moments in the novel. Ove is the perfect grumpy straight man, surrounded by a cast of people so chipper they make children’s TV presenters look like newsreaders during a terrorist attack. There are some wonderful literary devices, including one of my favourites: role reversal. Ove is the grumpy old man, and the naive child who still thinks the world cares what’s right and what’s wrong. Ove is rude and scolding to Parvaneh like a parent, then she chastises him and he’s a sulky but contrite child. And the three-year-old is a little hurricane of chaos and delight.
The book isn’t without its faults. It’s written in present tense, which meant I was never fully immersed – even when crying with laughter. It’s a bit predictable, and it all gets a bit Hallmark-sickly-sweet at the end. I wanted a bit more darkness to balance out (and enhance) the humour, but I can’t give it fewer than five stars when it brought my so much laughter and joy.
I also might have got dust in my eye at a certain point. Maybe.
Ove hit the clauuuuwn!
The Lake – Lotte and Soren Hammer – 1/5 wasn’t even a very good lake
I’m not supplying the blurb because it sucked me in and I deeply regret that.
There were comma splices. All over the place. Splice splice splice. I felt sick. Need I say more?
Fine. I’ll say more.
The murder and accompanying details are shown in the first chapter. It works for Columbo but the Lake Inspector (or whatever his name was) is no Columbo. He’s so boring I can’t remember his name even though it’s written on that book cover I’m staring at right now. The rest of the characters were equally boring except Benedikte Something-Hyphenated who almost made up for it, since she had about 25 personalities and switched between them willy-nilly in every
comma splice sentence.
I really should remember the characters’ names because Lotte and Soren Hammer gave them in full each time Lotte and Soren Hammer mentioned any one of Lotte and Soren Hammer’s characters, surnames and all, for the entirety of Lotte and Soren Hammer’s book. According to the only Danish person I know, this is not a Danish custom. Lucky for her because Anna Kaling found it really fucking annoying.
I once had a very fine English teacher (who I think was probably a little bit of a paedophile but let’s not get into that) who asked us what the crucial difference is between children’s literature and adult literature. He told us it began with C. I discounted my first thought because preteen girls aren’t supposed to know that word. I also discounted cunt. Turns out the answer was Coincidence. He said children’s authors can get away with solving a plot with coincidences, but adult readers don’t stand for it. If we accept that premise, this book about a murdered prostitute was apparently written for five-year-olds, because without coincidence it would have been three pages long and ended with Inspector Dullface Surname saying, “Meh, dunno, let’s all drown ourselves for being insufferably shit characters.”
Actually, I’m being unfair. The team of gormless imbeciles running the investigation may still have stumbled upon the solution because their rank stupidity was only surpassed by the utter dim-wittedness of the villains who had IQ scores matching their personalities. Non-existent.
I mean I’m not the world’s best criminal but I like to think if I were to hop on a ferry and indulge in some light violent crime, I wouldn’t bring back a souvenir with the ferry sticker on and give it to a mad old bat who loves the police.
And maybe that’s why I’m still a free Anna Kaling.