Wednesday, March 29, 2017


The Natural Way of Things
Charlotte Wood
Europa Editions

Ms. Hen read this novel because she had learned that it is considered one of the best of 2016. At first, it was difficult for Ms. Hen to become engrossed in the book, but once it happened, she was entranced.

It’s hard to get situated in THE NATURAL WAY OF THINGS. Ms. Hen didn’t know where the characters were or where they had come from. And before she started reading the novel, she had no idea it took place in Australia, so she had to get used to the Australian slang and flavor.

To make the review short: This novel is similar to THE HANDMAID’S TALE, THE LORD OF THE FLIES, and CRACKS, but in Australia, with lots of rabbits. This novel is not for the weak or squeamish. A bounty of perversion lies between these pages.

The main character, Yolanda, wakes up to find herself held captive, along with several other young women. They find out that they all have the fact that they were involved in sex scandals in common, in varying degrees. Yolanda and Verla become friends, and they and the other women are forced to march while chained together in the hot sun. They are held by Boncer and Teddy, the guards. None of them truly knows why they were sent there.

The group is far in the outback, and are trapped by an electric wire fence. Nobody can leave, so they don’t try. Eventually, the food runs out, and the electricity stops, and the women are left to scramble to find sustenance. Yolanda discovers the rabbit traps. All the women start to go insane a little: they acquire unique pets.

The natural way of things is that the women take care of the aspects of life that are important, like birth and death and meals and making sure life runs smoothly, even though it seems as if it could fall apart at any moment.

Ms. Hen could only find one mention of a hen in this novel, but it is a beautiful passage:

“The girls trooped in, staring at the poor bitch. Mostly, the staring was out of pity, but Yolanda felt some other instinct shivering too, same as happened among the hens in her nana’s chook yard. The button eyes taking a good look, circling, sizing up the weak. Looking around to see who might go in for a lunge, for the first darting, investigating peck.”

No other hens appear in the novel; they are in a remote location, and not on a working ranch. But the dream of fresh food haunts the women, and drives Yolanda to become a hunter of rabbits, to become feral. The other women look at her and don’t know how she would survive in the civilized world after her transformation.

Ms. Hen was haunted by this novel, but at the same time, she would tell anyone she knows who reads good books to read this because it is visceral and poignant and important.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews GUNNLOTH'S TALE

Gunnloth’s Tale
Svava Jakobsdottir
Translated from the Icelandic by Oliver Watts, 2011

Ms. Hen has been binge-reading novels from Iceland in order to be thoroughly prepared for her upcoming vacation. She read on a website that this novel, GUNNLOTH’S TALE, is considered one of the best novels from Iceland. Ms. Hen does not agree.

Yes, Ms. Hen wanted to love this novel. In the description, she learned that it’s about a woman whose daughter commits a crime, and it involves Nordic mythology. It should have been wonderful, right? Well, Ms. Hen thought otherwise.

This book was difficult to read for many reasons. The writing style is very strange, and Ms. Hen is not sure if it has to do with the translation. It’s a first person narrative, which Ms. Hen usually revels in, but the narrative is odd. The book is infested with sentence fragments. Ms. Hen thought this was distracting. She understands that it’s a writer’s style choice, but so many sentence fragments all in a row! It disturbed Ms. Hen. She didn’t like so many incomplete thoughts all at once. Ms. Hen knows that the author might have been trying to write like a person thinks, but she thinks it makes the writing choppy and static and annoying.

One other reason that Ms. Hen did not like reading this was that the parts about the Nordic Gods were boring to her, and made her eyes glaze over. She believes that a lot of people are interested in reading this kind of writing, and she has nothing against it, but she was more interested in the story of the mother and the daughter in jail than the priestesses making mead and having the art of poetic invention stolen from her.

What Ms. Hen didn’t understand was why the mother becomes part of the daughter’s fantasy. The mother is more devastated at the thought that her daughter could be mentally ill instead of a criminal. She is more ashamed that her daughter could be crazy. Ms. Hen thinks that is preposterous! There’s nothing a person can do about being crazy, but there is if a person is a criminal. With criminals, it’s usually that person’s own fault. Most of the time being insane is just bad luck.

Ms. Hen will tell you the end, so you don’t have to suffer through reading this novel. At the conclusion, the daughter is sent to a psychiatric hospital because she smashed the glass at a Copenhagen museum and stole a classic antique beaker. The lawyers decide she is psychotic. But, the mother steals the beaker from the courthouse. The mother ends up being arrested and is sent to jail. So who is crazy? Is it real, or are they both crazy?

The novel professes they are both so enthralled by the beaker that when they see it, it gives the two women an unquenchable thirst they believe only the beaker can satisfy. But Ms. Hen thinks they were crazy. She didn’t believe the fantasy.

Ms. Hen does not recommend this novel. She realized that not all Icelandic novels can be wonderful, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t any less excited about her trip to Iceland on April Fools Day. She is happy that Svava Jakobsdottir is no longer on this earth, in the slim chance case she would read this review and get upset L

Friday, March 10, 2017


Butterflies in November
Audur Ava Olafsdottir
Black Cat
Translated from the Icelandic by Brian Fitzgibbon 2013

Ms. Hen decided to read this novel because she liked the title, and it’s Icelandic. Ms. Hen is on a reading binge on books from Iceland, in order to prepare for her trip.

Ms. Hen thinks this is the perfect novel to get someone excited about traveling to Iceland. The narrator is a quirky character: it’s as if she’s a literary version of the singer Bjork. Ms. Hen envisions that everyone in Iceland is as eccentric as Bjork, but she won’t know until she gets there. She’s not scared, but she doesn’t know what to expect. Ms. Hen is a strange hen, but she attempts to appear as a normal hen to people who don’t know her.

This novel is about a woman who gets dumped by her lover and her husband on the same day, for the same reason. She is a translator of eleven languages. The men say she is distant, and they do not understand her. She has no yearnings towards motherhood, and makes impulsive decisions about things. Her friend, a single mother, Audur, asks the narrator take care of her four-year-old deaf-mute son while she is in the hospital pregnant with complications from having twins. Audur sends the narrator to a psychic since she could not go herself, and the psychic confuses but inspires the narrator.

She wins the lottery and sets off on an adventure around the Ring Road in Iceland, the road that circles the island. She runs into an Estonian choir, several animals die on the way, and she meets three mysterious men. The boy is quiet for a child, which the narrator enjoys because they can handle each other’s company.

Ms. Hen noticed that this is a sensory novel. There are a lot of smells described in the text, and also many descriptions of food and eating. The end of the novel is a list of recipes of food that appeared in the book, mostly Icelandic food, including sour whale, stuffed goose, and pepper cookies.

Lots of chickens and hens appeared in this novel. Interspersed between the narrative are bits of fantasy and memories that the narrator has. She is eating dinner with the fisherman boyfriend of her dreams, “…but then one day, after three  months, as we’re eating chicken with coconut milk with corn, beans, and rice, because he’d rather not have fish, he says between mouthfuls, ‘Feels a bit empty around here, have you changed anything?’” When her husband is about to leave, he leaves clues around the house, “And then there were the homemade crossword puzzles left by the phone, love, nine down, longing, six across, coward, seven down. Affection, desire, and chicken.”

Ms. Hen thinks this novel is zany and quirky. She loved the descriptions of people’s lives in Iceland. This novel is quite different from INDEPENDENT PEOPLE, the previous book she read about Iceland. It’s a modern fable, about a woman in today’s Iceland, and unlike most women, doesn’t pay attention to what the world thinks of her; she does her own thing, and has her own vision, and that is a lesson that Ms. Hen learned from reading BUTTERFLIES IN  NOVEMBER. She learned she should be herself – and she shouldn’t let other people bother her, because in the end, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, life only boils down to the choice to be happy J