Friday, July 21, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA





LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Penguin Books
1985, 1988
Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman

Ms. Hen decided to read this again after she read THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING by Milan Kundera because the character in that book reminded her of the character in this one. If you read Ms. Hen’s post about that, she decided that Florentino Ariza was less unsavory than Tomas in the Czech novel. Ms. Hen remembered Florentino Ariza as a romantic soul, and she was reminded again why she loved this book so much the first time.

Ms. Hen recalled that the last time she read LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA was eleven years ago. She was a younger hen back then, and not that experienced and wise in the ways of literature. She has since received two degrees in this subject, and she has read countless books since the last time she read this, and thought about them deeply. She was startled reading this in the beginning, because she didn’t remember admiring Fermina’s husband Dr. Urbino that much the first time. During this reading, she found him more sympathetic at the beginning of the novel, but towards the end, she felt more compassion for Florentino.

Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza meet when they are young and have a romantic correspondence. He first sees her at her father’s house when he is delivering a telegram, and he becomes entranced. They write to each other for years, until Florentino follows Fermina in the market, she turns to him, and she tells him that nothing can be between them. From Ms. Hen’s first reading, she does not recall the moment when that happened in the book. She always remembered the couple not getting together, and then she marries the doctor because her father wishes it, and they go their separate ways.

Ms. Hen thinks it’s funny how memory can trick us. She remembered the story one way, but it unfolded in a different way.

When Fermina rejects Florentino, he becomes a womanizer. Not right away, but he does eventually. He travels up the river, and a woman bursts into his cabin on the boat and she seduces him. He doesn’t know who she is, but he thinks it’s one traveling with a group of women who have a child in a birdcage. Multiple birdcages spurt up in this novel in different places; many birds and animals appear, and Ms. Hen enjoyed this.

What she enjoyed most was the mammoth amount of hens, roosters and chickens that appear in this novel, mostly roosters. She took the time to count: she calculated there are twenty-nine times one is mentioned in the book! There are numerous beautiful quotes about chickens, and every time Ms. Hen read one, her feathers ruffled. One of her favorites is, “In Valledupar, she realized why the roosters chase the hens.” Another one she enjoyed is when a widow is talking to Florentino about how old people smell, “‘Now we stink like a henhouse.’"

Ms. Hen remembered when she reread ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, she discovered the book was full of chickens as well. She might have to read Marquez’s books eventually to find all the chickens that live in his worlds.


Ms. Hen thinks that this is one of the perfect love stories of all time. It shows that a person can love someone his whole life, and wait (in a way) for her forever. Florentino was true in his heart to Fermina Daza, and he one of the most romantic characters that Ms. Hen has read. Ms. Hen loved reading this book again; she consumed it hungrily, it was more than she had remembered, and she was grateful she went back.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews THE BLUE FOX







THE BLUE FOX
Sjon
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
2004, 2008
Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb

As many of Ms. Hen’s fans know, she went through a spell of reading Icelandic novels right before her trip to Iceland in April. She thought she might have been finished reading those books, but how could she finish? She stumbled across this small gem, and decided to save it for the midst of summer when the weather is sweltering, since it takes place during an Icelandic winter.

At first Ms. Hen didn’t know what she was reading: she didn’t know if it was poetry or short prose. The pages in the first section are spaced like flash fiction. The novel starts with a priest hunting a blue fox in the winter in the wilderness. The fox teases the priest and gives him a hearty chase.

It is also the story of the priest’s life before the fox hunt and the world that surrounds him, including his neighbors and a Down Syndrome girl the people find on an abandoned ship.

A section of the book had the priest and the blue fox arguing about electricity. Ms. Hen had never considered that electricity would be something to argue about, but in Iceland in 1883, when the book takes place, she understands why that would occur. She believes it might have been controversial the way stem cell treatments are now, or enhanced minds will be very soon. Ms. Hen has read a lot about brain implants and the thought terrifies her. She does not want the Internet in her head, but she thinks that this development is most likely inevitable. She fears a world where nobody will take the time to read a novel or look at the blue sky, but it’s already happening, since a lot of people are glued to their phones incessantly. But she does not wish to digress and preach about her opinions on technology.

This novel is brief and it reads like poetry. Ms. Hen dashed through it in two days. She doesn’t usually read a book with so much speed, but this one lent itself to be read that way.

There is one mention of a chicken in THE BLUE FOX, “Wiping the food off her hands, she embraced the young man’s head as he wept in the chicken hatch, comforting him with the following words: ‘Furru ahm-ahm, furru ahm-ahm.’” The disabled woman who was taken into the household tries to help the young man who is crying, but she does not know the language, and she does not know any words. They are in the chicken hatch because they sleep there, since they are outcasts.


Ms. Hen loved this book; it is wispy and air-like. The author is a lyricist as well, and has written songs for Bjork. Ms. Hen thought that she finished it too soon, and it didn’t make her as cold in the middle of the summer as she might have wanted. But her air conditioner works now, so she is not fainting away, dreaming of snow in Iceland.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING















THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING
By Milan Kundera
Harper & Row
1984
Translated from the Czech by Michael Henry Heim

Ms. Hen happened to buy this at a used bookstore a while back since she had heard it is considered one of the great books. She had no idea what it was about when she started reading, but soon she was engrossed in the story of tortured love.

The title of this novel has to do with lightness and heaviness. The protagonist, Tomas, believes that everything is light and nothing he does, including having numerous sexual partners, matters. His lover, Tereza, who becomes his wife, believes that everything is heavy, and she cannot bear the weight of the world. He believes she came to him in a “bulrush basket” like Moses, and he cannot turn her away, because that would be cruel.

She comes to visit him in Prague after a brief encounter in the small village where she lives. After he seduces her, she gets very sick, and he believes that he has to take care of her. He refuses to give up his other lovers, however, and even introduced Tereza to the sly Sabina so she can help Tereza find employment.

Around Tomas and Tereza, Prague is in an uproar. The Russians are taking over the city with tanks and guns. Citizens are being shot. Tereza, a photographer, takes pictures of what is happening to prove to the world that this is wrong.

Tereza and Tomas leave and go to Switzerland, but come back eventually because Tereza leaves and Tomas follows her. They have a difficult love; he loves her, but he thinks he needs other women.

He chases what he says is the one-millionth part difference between all women. He is a surgeon, and he believes that intimacy with a woman is similar to cutting open a body with a scalpel; he does it to discover how unique each woman is underneath everything else. He considers tastes in art and music interesting, but he is more interested in finding out the secret difference that dwells beneath.

Even though Ms. Hen knows this is one of the great novels, she found the character of Tomas to be unsavory. She doesn’t know anyone like him, nor would she wish to. She found his philandering unpleasant, and she was reminded of another novel she had read years ago, one of her favorites, LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA, in which a man, Florentino, and a woman, Fermina, are in love, but she is forced to marry a doctor because of his money and status.

In that novel, when Florentino’s heart is broken, he sleeps with every woman he can find. Ms. Hen did not find Florentino as creepy in that novel as she did Tomas in this one. In LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA, the character stayed true to his heart. Tomas never stays true to his heart, and that is what disgusts Ms. Hen about him, and it prevented her from loving this novel too much.

There are some chickens in THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, but not too many. What Ms. Hen did learn was the original German meaning of the word “kitsch.” It is “an aesthetic ideal of categorical agreement with being in a world in which shit is denied and everyone acts as though it did not exist.” This can mean actual shit or figurative shit. The word has become used in all Western languages and has changed its meaning. Ms. Hen does not deny shit; she knows it exists; her world is full of it. People who deny shit have rose-colored glasses, and Ms. Hen cannot tolerate that. The world may be full of shit, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good things too; Ms. Hen is not a complete pessimist. But she does not ascribe to kitsch.

Even though Ms. Hen did not love this book completely, she found it illuminating and educational. The world does have unpleasant people in it, like Tomas, and that cannot be denied, but that doesn’t mean that some things can be beautiful.



Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews ANAGRAMS






ANAGRAMS
Lorrie Moore
Alfred A. Knopf
1986

Ms. Hen decided to read this book because she had read another Lorrie Moore book years ago, and she knows she is one of the great writers of our time. Ms. Moore is known as a short story writer, but is a novelist as well.

When Ms. Hen started reading this, she didn’t quite know what it was. She thought it might have been a novel, but other stories appeared. All the stories in the book have the same characters in different situations, like an anagram. An anagram is a word that can form another word by rearranging the letters; this collection rearranges the characters in the story to make a different story.

A woman, Benna, and a man, Gerard, are sometimes friends or lovers in different stories. Benna has a friend Eleanor, who in other stories is involved with Gerard. The various characters are lounge singers, college professors, or aerobics instructors. They sit in diners and proselytize their thoughts on the world around them. They live in a small town in upstate New York.

At first when Ms. Hen started reading this, she had no idea what year it was published. She didn’t understand why there was no technology until she learned it was published in 1986. She wondered how books about people and relationships have changed since the advent of the Internet and cell phones. She wonders if these characters would have an entire different outlook on life, if they had existed twenty or thirty years later. This book seems like an anachronism to Ms. Hen, a window to the way the world used to be, unlike some other books she had read about this time.

The style of this collection is exquisite. Ms. Hen could not get over how clever the writing is in ANAGRAMS. It is the work of a genius of words; everything that is written is perfect and funny. Ms. Hen doesn’t know if people like this actually exist in the world, who say exact funny things at every moment, but she found it entertaining.

Ms. Hen heard the author Mary Gaitskill give a lecture once about the importance of being original in our writing. That’s all she said for an hour and a half, but Lorrie Moore is another one of the authors who succeeds at that. Ms. Hen thinks it is difficult to pull off such wit for an entire book. Ms. Hen doesn’t think people are as charming as they used to be. In the days before constant entertainment online, people had to work to amuse each other more. Ms. Hen thinks this is sad, that society is losing its tendency to be funny to technology. Everything these days is dumb humor, and Ms. Hen had no tolerance for that.

Ms. Hen did find one chicken in this book. The character, Benna is writing Christmas cards in a diner, and she sees, “the faded photo of fried chicken over the counter: six pieces dead and breaded, arranged carefully in a circle on a plate with parsley and cranberry sauce, red and green, like Christmas.” This is at a low point in Benna’s life; she is depressed because she has to face reality, and other things. Ms. Hen thinks the chicken is there, and she mentions that it is dead, because everything will be dead some day.

Ms. Hen loved this book. It’s strange and entertaining, and a window to a different time. People are still dysfunctional in the same way today. That’s what timeless writing does, it shows us how we are and how we’ve always been.



Sunday, June 25, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?




Ms. Hen surrounded by Kipple, in the novel Kipple is trash that multiplies



DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?
Philip K. Dick
Ballantine Books
1968

Ms. Hen read this because she likes to read science fiction from time to time. She had heard that Philip K. Dick is a great writer, and a lot of sci-fi films are based on his books. She liked this book, but she found herself distracted while she was reading it. She found she couldn’t fully immerse herself in it, that may have been because of the silliness of the book, or the fact that it takes place two years into the future from now, in 2019, and she kept looking for things that were real that weren’t there. Also, the writing is not perfect. Ms. Hen is a fussy hen about writing, and if she reads something that is not exquisite prose, she is disappointed.

This novel is about Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who retires (another word for destroys) androids that have escaped to Earth after having worked on the colonies in space. His wife, Iran, is a weak woman who clings to their Penfield machine, a device that takes a person’s emotions and gives the emotions of other people away. Isodore is a man who is a “special” meaning he can’t emigrate to the colonies. He meets Pris in his apartment building and wants to help her.

Isodore is considered a “chickenhead,” which Ms. Hen thought was very funny. A chickenhead in this novel is a person who has no skills and a very low IQ. They are considered to be less that other humans. Ms. Hen is a little offended that chickenheads are considered inferior, because she thinks chickens are superior, being a chicken herself. Isodore contemplates, “Can I give her any help? he asked himself. A special, a chickenhead, what do I know? I can’t marry and I can’t emigrate and the dust will eventually kill me. I have nothing to offer.” This is a perfect description of a chickenhead.

Another reason Ms. Hen did not thoroughly like this novel is the women characters. All the women seem to be either nagging housewives or sexpots. There are no complicated, strong women is this 2019, and Ms. Hen was annoyed by it. Ms. Hen understands that this was written by a man in 1967, but Ms. Hen thinks that was not that long ago, and Ms. Hen thinks writers should be ahead of the times with their predictions of the future. But this is not always the case, as she has learned.

After she read the novel, Ms. Hen watched the film BLADERUNNER, which is based on the book. The film is starkly different than the book, but it is a decent film and well made. In the film, Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, does not have a wife. Also, Ms. Hen was shocked by the amount of smoking in the film. She thinks that people in the future shouldn’t smoke so much, and is disturbed that the filmmakers thought that the culture of the future would be the same as when the film was made, in the Eighties. And Ms. Hen kept looking for cell phones or computers, which of course do not exist in this 2019 the way they do now. The film is a stripped down version of the novel.


Ms. Hen liked this novel, but she didn’t like it too much. She was not completely invested in the characters. She thinks the future is something that nobody can predict, but the writers and visionaries should have more advanced ideas of what will come.  This novel was written fifty years ago. If someone were to write something that takes places fifty years from now, it’s difficult to say what will be. The world could be a better or worse version of what it is now, or it could be a starkly different place, or it could be gone.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews A MAN CALLED OVE





A MAN CALLED OVE
Fredrik Backman
Washington Square Press
2012, 2014
Translated from Swedish by Henning Koch

Ms. Hen read this novel because she was planning to watch the movie, but someone told her the book was much better. That’s usually the case, so Ms. Hen read the book and watched the movie. The book is more detailed, of course, and funnier than the movie.

A MAN CALLED OVE is about a man who has recently lost his wife, and afterwards, his job. He doesn’t know what to do with himself, so he decides to end his life. The novel is a journey about his finding reasons to live, and learning to keep his head above water.

The first time he tries to take his life, his new neighbors back a trailer into his mailbox. Ove gets angry that the husband doesn’t know how to drive properly. Ove is a person who thinks there is a right and wrong way to do things, and expects people know the correct procedure for everything. He scoffs at the wife when he discovers that she cannot drive, and doesn’t understand why anyone would buy a car other than a Saab.

Ove keeps trying to commit suicide, but he never manages to do so. Something always gets in his way. Throughout the novel, Ms. Hen also learns about his life with his wife, how he met her, and their relationship, and her problems. Ms. Hen thinks the book is very sad, and she found herself tearing up in public while she was reading it, which she found embarrassing, since she doesn’t think a grown hen should cry while reading a book in public.

Ove is a curmudgeon. Ms. Hen understands that men can be like this, and she has known some in her life. They think the world should be one way, and if things aren’t that way, they get frustrated and angry. Ms. Hen understands that men can be very linear, that their minds only go in one direction, this way or that way. Ove’s wife Sonja, is a typical woman, she is a teacher and loves to read. She and Ove find happiness and love, though they are different.

Ms. Hen liked this novel, but she didn’t love it too much. She found the characters and situations a little too nice and pleasant for her taste. She prefers a novel to have an edge to it. She understands why A MAN CALLED OVE is very popular in book clubs. It’s the kind of novel that women like to read, non-offensive, with nothing disturbing about it, and no darkness. There is sadness, but not desperation. Ms. Hen prefers a novel to take her over a cliff.

Ms. Hen thinks this is a women’s novel, even though it is by and about a man. Ms. Hen believes that a women’s novel can be anything that is soft and non-threatening, which she takes A MAN CALLED OVE to be.


Ms. Hen understands why people love this book. It’s nice, and that’s it. It made Ms. Hen tear up in public, but she found it too sentimental. In her writing workshops, Ms. Hen was taught not to be sentimental in her work. Ms. Hen doesn’t know if this is a universal concept, but either way, it sells books. Ms. Hen would rather lose her breath with excitement, than be too cozy in her reading life.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews THE PATRON SAINT OF UGLY







The Patron Saint of Ugly
Marie Manilla
2014
Houghton Mifflin

Ms. Hen happened to buy this novel because she read a short story by the author in one of the online journals she reads, THE NEW ENGAGEMENT. She wanted to see what else the author had written, so she looked her up, and she was intrigued by the title of this novel, so she bought it.

Ms. Hen thinks there are not enough words to describe how much she enjoyed THE PATRON SAINT OF UGLY. It’s not just the story of Garnet, the birthmark covered would-be saint, or the family that surrounds her that Ms. Hen loved. It’s the joy in the writing, which makes this book a pleasure to read. Even in its saddest moments, this story is filled with happiness, and the hope that there could be a saint somewhere to cure people of their ailments; the hope that there could possibly be a God who loves the world enough that he will take all the bad things away and bring beauty to us all.

This novel is about Garnet Ferrari’s life, told mostly through letters to a representative of the Vatican who is attempting to prove that Garnet is a saint. She goes through her childhood growing up covered with birthmarks displaying a map of the world. All over her body, different countries appear. Nonna Ferrari thinks this happened because her other grandmother brought the grandfather’s globe collection to Garnet’s parent’s house and her mother’s proximity to the globes before she was born brought out her birthmarks.

Even though Garnet is considered ugly by most people, she does not let that get her down. She is a feisty, headstrong young girl, and becomes the same type of woman. She is not afraid to tell the truth, and she is not afraid of speaking her mind. But she is afraid of her father, and is afraid of going outside to meet the pilgrims who come to her house to be healed.

Ms. Hen thinks this novel is a beautiful story of the love of family, especially women in a family, and it’s bursting with humor and magic. The story is realistic except for the little bits of fantasy thrown in. It’s absurd that Garnet would be able to heal people, but she does, but not all the time. She might have been a saint, or a healer, but only selectively, when she was inspired, though she had no control.

There aren’t any hens in this novel, but there is one mention, “Dad, bless his henpecked heart, slinked over to Uncle Dom’s to beg for a down payment on a house.” Garnet’s father was always tormented by his father and brother. Ms. Hen doesn’t love the term henpecked, since she thinks it’s insulting to hens, but she believes it is the right way to describe the father at this time.


Ms. Hen says, run as fast as you can to buy this novel, and read it. She thinks it’s one of the best books she’s read this year so far. She loved living in Garnet’s world for a short time, and she found she could not put the book down; she read all the time, because she enjoyed the novel so much, she wanted to swim in it, and float in it, letting it envelop her mind and take over her world.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews BREATH, EYES, MEMORY




Breath, Eyes, Memory
Edwidge Danticat
Vintage Books
1994


Ms. Hen read this novel because she had read another book by this author, and she enjoyed it. She found this at Commonwealth Books in Boston, a little bookstore tucked away in an alley, which sells rare books and prints, and sometimes there’s a cat lurking around the place, but she wasn’t there the day Ms. Hen went in.

When Ms. Hen started to read this, she thought it was a very typical novel about a black woman coming of age. But as she read, it became a little different. The young girl, Sophie, lives with her aunt in Haiti. Her mother moved to New York to make money, but did not take her daughter because she didn’t know how life would be in the United States. Her mother sends for the daughter, and Sophie goes on a plane to New York.

Ms. Hen has read many novels about black women, which are somewhat similar. Everything by Toni Morrison, and others like her. A lot of the time, the woman gets raped or molested, or something to that effect. This book was like that, but not quite the same. Sophie never becomes close to her mother, and the results are that they have a fight and do not talk to each other for years.

This isn’t just a novel about a woman’s sexuality. It is about coming home, and finding family, mothers and daughters, being a fatherless child, and women. There is a lack of male characters in BREATH, EYES, MEMORY; the men are in the background. They are shadow characters.

Even though this novel was disturbing to Ms. Hen, she found it beautiful to read. The words danced on the page, music sang from the sounds of the words, and even though it upset Ms. Hen, she found it a pleasure to read. She decided that this is a book that could not be read straight through, she had to take pauses to stop and reflect, to think about what happened, and weigh the characters’ lives and situations.

There are several chickens in this novel, since portions of it takes place in a rural area in Haiti.  Sophie and her mother are on the plane coming back, “She picked at the white chicken they gave us for lunch, while I gave Brigitte a bottle.” Sophie tells her mother she developed bulimia after she had her baby. Her mother doesn’t understand why she would do that when thing are so plentiful in the United States.


Ms. Hen thinks this is a sad novel, but a powerful one. She understands why this is important, but it makes her uncomfortable. She likes being made uncomfortable, but not too much. Sometimes she just wants to read a book and not be disturbed by the problems of the world. She prefers to find joy in reading, not by reading about people who are happy, but about people who can laugh at themselves. There is nothing to laugh at in this book. It’s about the sadness of the world, which can be heavy, but it exists, and we should acknowledge it.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews LITTLE SISTER








LITTLE SISTER
Directed by Zach Clark
2016

Ms. Hen knew nothing about this film before she watched it. She watched it because it was recommended to her on Netflix, and this film gave her déjà vu of something she has seen or lived before.

This is a movie about a young novitiate nun, Colleen, aka Sister Joan of Arc, a member of the Sisters of Mercy order in New York City. (The Sisters of Mercy are also a post-punk band from the eighties and nineties. Ms. Hen thought this was funny, and she decided it was meant to be funny, as she continued to watch the film.)

The story propels when Colleen get an email from her mother to tell her that her brother is back from fighting in Iraq, and his face is disfigured.. Colleen thinks she needs to go home to see her brother, so she asked the Mother Superior to let her borrow the car.

One of the funniest scenes in the movie is in the beginning, when Colleen goes to a club to see a friend perform. She’s a nun in a club, and coming out of the bathroom some women try to talk to her. One of the other humorous pieces in this film is when Colleen is trying to cheer her brother up by lip-synching, “Have You Seen Me?” by GWAR. Ms. Hen doesn’t remember the last time she was so dazzled by a funny moment in a film.

This is a story about a dysfunctional family that loves each other no matter what. Ally Sheedy as the mother is brilliant, she is unstable, smokes pot, and disturbs her daughter and her son, and the son’s fiancée. Colleen is confused by her mother’s behavior, but Colleen cannot do anything to change her, because she has found God, and has to do her work.

This is not a film where the protagonist finds love and lives happily ever after, rather it’s about finding the love of her family. She loves her brother, and she wants him to be happy. In between the story, there are bits of home video of the two when they are young and having fun, making up stories and playing.

Ms. Hen got the idea that if this film was made in the 1990s, Winona Ryder would play Colleen. It’s exactly the type of role that she would play, a young woman who is lost, but with a dark sense of humor. There were parts of the film in which the actress, Addison Timlin, reminded Ms. Hen of Winona Ryder’s character in BEETLEJUICE.

Oh, and the chickens! There are some fabulous chickens in LITTLE SISTER. There are two points in the film where Colleen sees chickens, and when she goes to a farm, she exclaims, “Chickens!” Ms. Hen’s favorite chicken scene was when Colleen is driving and has done drugs and hallucinates that her brother’s fiancée was a chicken sitting next to her in the car before they crashed into a tree.

Ms. Hen doesn’t think nuns are positively portrayed in American films these days. She does like CALL THE MIDWIFE, but that’s British, and it's television. Ms. Hen thinks this film could bring a new light to nuns in America. Ms. Hen has known some nuns; most of them are strange, and singular-minded, but kind.


Ms. Hen thinks this film is excellent, and she is happy she watched it. She thinks there might be hope for American independent cinema after watching this. She doesn’t like a lot of American films, because they can be so formulaic, and homogenized, but this film is not. Say yes to LITTLE SISTER, and understand why Ms. Hen loves it.




Friday, May 12, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews WHITE TEETH








WHITE TEETH
Zadie Smith
Vintage Books
2000

Ms. Hen has heard about this novel for years and years, and she has meant to read it for a long time, but it has always slipped her mind. She understands now what the hype is about, it’s an amazing novel, and she will do her hen best to do justice reviewing it.

This novel is about three families, told from different points of view throughout the novel. It’s mainly about Archie and Samad and their journey from fighting in World War II together, to becoming husbands to younger women and fathers later in life.

Many cultures inhabit this novel: Samad and his wife are Pakistani, Archie’s wife Clara is from Jamaica, and the Chaflens are part of the English middle class. Smith takes such care in describing each culture because she seems to know them all, and the voices of the characters speak distinctly from each other in a way that Ms. Hen has not read often in a novel before. It’s difficult to capture a voice of a character, but the author brings each one to life with vivaciousness.

Another aspect of this novel that Ms. Hen notices was the historical depth that encompasses the story. Turn the novel one way, and it’s about Bengal, and turn it the other way, and it’s about genetic advances in science. Ms. Hen was surprised by the way this novel twisted and turned and kept becoming something else. It’s mainly a novel about families, but the unique life within each family is what gives it its beauty.

The women characters are well written, but Ms. Hen was impressed by how well the male characters are well drawn as well. This is not a women’s novel, by any means, the men involved can be rough and disconcerting, but Ms. Hen enjoyed that aspect.

There are several mentions of chickens in WHITE TEETH, but Ms. Hen’s favorite passage was when Joshua Chaflen and Irie have a discussion about animal rights and chickens:

            “Do you know how battery chickens live?”
            Irie didn’t. Joshua explained. Cooped up for most of their poor chicken lives,
            in total chicken darkness, packed together like chicken sardines in their
            chicken shit and fed the worst kind of chicken grain.

Ms. Hen thinks this might be one of her all-time favorite chicken quotes from a novel. She knows that these facts are true, and it makes her a depressed hen, even though she does eat chicken at times. Blaspheme! She knows. But she’s just a purse.

A motif of teeth runs through this novel. It makes Ms. Hen think more about her teeth, and how she should take better care of them. She doesn’t want Irie to grow up to be a dentist, but she thinks it’s inevitable.


Ms. Hen thinks this is one of the best books she has read so far this year. She doesn’t know why it took her seventeen years to read it since it was first published, but the world is full of books she hasn’t read. A hen can dream of reading all the great books of the world, but there are eggs to lay and coops to fly away from, and time is precious, but limited.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews Iceland







Iceland

Ms. Hen doesn’t know the exact reason she went to Iceland. It might have been because the airfare and the place she stayed was inexpensive, or it might have been the fascination with the movies she watched and music she listened to. Or it might have been the fact that she’s never been so far north in the world. Anyway, she went, and she came back. She survived nine nights alone in Iceland, which she thinks is a little too long to stay in a foreign country by herself. During her last two days there, she pretended that she lived there, she did ordinary things that a hen would do if she were home: she did some writing, she walked around, she went out to lunch.

Ms. Hen thinks that not everything about traveling is wonderful. Her first day in Iceland, the gentleman who owned the Airbnb where she stayed, told her that the shower had an odor. He told her that the water comes from the ground and you can take a shower for as long as you want because it never runs out. When Ms. Hen took a shower, she was appalled by the fart-smelling water. She knew it was sulfur, but she thought it was disgusting! Every day, she took a shower, and hurried up to use her Lavender and Honey body wash to get rid of the stinky smell. Some days, she gagged when she first smelled the water.


The hot water in the sink smelled, too


But that was the only bad thing Ms. Hen experienced in Iceland. She went on some tours: The Golden Circle, The Game of Thrones tour, which you may have read about, and a trip to the Secret Lagoon, with dinner and a northern lights hunt. She thought the Golden Circle Tour was touristy, but she liked the geysers the best, because she had never seen any. And she saw the Northern Lights! Ms. Hen was lucky because it rained most of the week, and the night she went on the tour the sky was clear. She went swimming in the hot springs and she loved being in the hot water. It was about 40 degrees F outside when she went in, but the pool was like going in a hot bathtub.

Ms. Hen at the geyser


She thought she would have been better off having a car, but since Ms. Hen is driving impaired, and she always takes the subway and walks at home, she didn’t feel comfortable driving there. The only rude person in Iceland was the bus driver who wouldn’t let her on the bus because she didn’t have exact change. After that, Ms. Hen gave up on the bus. She knew there was a way she could pay with her phone, but she is a hen who doesn’t like to get too technical.

A cute truck parked at the hospital, which Ms. Hen walked by

So Ms. Hen walked around the city the days she didn’t go on tours. The city is full of art and murals. And it’s also full of gift shops and hotels. There are so many tourists! Ms. Hen thought the food she had was good, but it was expensive. She ate in a lot to save money. She ate a lot of fish and chips when she went out. She also ate Thai food twice, since those places were near where she was staying. One of her favorite restaurants she went to was called Vinyl, which was an all-vegetarian cafe that also sold records and featured a gramophone.

Ms. Hen at Vinyl


Ms. Hen tried to understand the Nordic way when she was in Iceland. The Icelandic people are soft-spoken, polite, and don’t let things bother them. One example of how things work in Iceland: when Ms. Hen was on the shuttle bus to the airport on the way home, one person on the bus had a ticket for the wrong bus company, but the driver said, “Don’t worry, we don’t kick people off the bus. We’ll get you to where you need to go.” Ms. Hen was amazed by this. If that happened in the U.S., the person would be booted off the bus. But Ms. Hen admired the Icelanders for being kind and genuine.



Ms. Hen had a wonderful time in Iceland. She would recommend going there to anyone. She would have liked to see more of the countryside, but she thought what she saw was beautiful. She is an adventurous hen, and enjoys flying out of her coop sometimes. 




Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews ZAZIE IN THE METRO








ZAZIE IN THE METRO
Raymond Queneau
1959,1960
Librarie Gallimard
Translated from the French by Barbara Wright

Ms. Hen read this book because she had seen the movie, and thought it was cute and zany, and wondered how the book would compare. She learned that the book was considered not able to be made into a movie, and she read the book was classified as a New Wave book, even thought it was written in 1959, before the French New Wave started.

Ms. Hen really enjoyed the movie. She thought it was similar to AMELIE, only about a little girl who wants to ride the Metro in Paris and can’t because there’s a Metro strike. She goes to visit her Uncle Gabriel, who is a cross-dressing dancer in a night club, while her mother has a love affair for the weekend. The movie is fast-paced, and the actress who plays Zazie is awkward in a charming way.

Ms. Hen didn’t like the book as much as the movie. This rarely happens with her.

The book is written is a strange way, and a very pretentious way, Ms. Hen thought. Misspelled words riddle the book! On every page, there is something similar to “Snot,” for is not, and “eggsagerated,” for exaggerated, and so on and on. Ms. Hen had to stop to try to figure out what each word was, and it slowed down her reading.

This is a very short book, but it took longer to read then Ms. Hen thought it would because it was dense with these incorrectly spelled words.

Also, there were no inner lives of the characters. Reading ZAZIE IN THE METRO is like reading a screenplay. When Ms. Hen, and most people she believes, read a novel, they want to know what in going on inside the characters’ heads. That’s the beautiful aspect of a novel, the ability to know what at least one person is thinking. There was nothing to about the inner workings of Zazie and her compatriots, and that annoyed Ms. Hen. She thinks that some readers might enjoy this, but Ms. Hen is curious hen, and she wants to know the people in the book intimately.

There are a few chickens in this novel, but that didn’t make up for how much Ms. Hen didn’t enjoy reading it. It takes more than chickens or hens for Ms. Hen to like a book.


Ms. Hen does not recommend this novel. She would suggest the movie instead, which never happens, she knows! But rare things do happen, like leprechauns, and mermaids, and the Metro in Paris getting shut down.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews some museums in Iceland






The Icelandic Phallological Museum

Reykjavik Art Museums

National Museum of Iceland




Ms. Hen is a hen who likes museums. She enjoys the quiet and beauty of places where she can learn new things and be inspired. Before she went to Iceland, she read about the different museums that are in Reykjavik that she wanted to visit. She didn’t go to all of them, but she went to a few.

The Icelandic Phallological Museum

Ms. Hen read about this museum, and learned that it is the largest collection of penises in the world. Ms. Hen is not a perverse hen, but she loves things that are weird and freaky, so she decided she had to go. She stumbled upon the museum during her first day in Iceland while she was taking a walk in the rain looking for a coffee shop. The museum is a small room, full of jars of animal penises, which are very strange looking. There are huge whale penises sticking out of the wall, a polar bear penis, a killer what penis. There are also very small ones that are just a speck, like a house mouse penis.

This museum was full of Americans, which disturbed Ms. Hen. She thought it was because Americans are all perverts, or perhaps because there would NEVER be such a museum in the United States. Either way, Ms. Hen spent enough time there, took some pictures, and bought a shot glass. The museum is expensive, it costs about fifteen dollars, which Ms. Hen thought was too dear, but she considers it a once in a lifetime experience.

A variety of penises in jars



Reykjavik Art Museum

Ms. Hen went to two of the Reykjavik Art Museums, Kjavasstadir, and Hafnerhus. She didn’t go to all three museums because she didn’t have a car in Iceland, and it was a rainy day, and she didn’t want to walk too far. The Kjavassatir was right near where she was staying. It is a small museum with only a couple of galleries, but it was lovely. There was an exhibit of things from Ikea, which Ms. Hen thought was strange, but other exhibits of paintings and videos interested her more.



The Hafnerhus is situated near the center of town. It houses paintings from the Erro Collection, who is one of Iceland’s best-known pop artists. Ms. Hen was impressed by the breadth and color and urgency of his work. She even found a hen in one of his paintings.

Can you find the hen?


The National Museum of Iceland

Ms. Hen loves history and things that are old. It was quite an ordeal for her to get to this museum, because she had to walk a long way, but she loved it. She enjoyed looking at artifacts from the time of the Vikings to modern times. Her favorite things were the cones that the Vikings drank out of; she didn’t get a picture of them, but they were beautifully decorated horns that were used for everyday use and also for ceremonies.

She took some pictures in an area of the museum where nobody was hanging out. She liked the replica of the farmhouse where a family would live together in one room. And she thought the little boat was charming. Ms. Hen admires a culture that can hold on to the past without resentment.





Ms. Hen thinks Iceland is a perfect place to visit museums because most of the time it is raining, and it’s a good time to be inside. The outdoors are beautiful, too, and Ms. Hen can enjoy nature, but there are lots of things to enjoy in the world, like penises in jars, pop art, and Nordic history.

Outside the art museum on a sunny day