Chrissie's Reviews > House of Day, House of Night

House of Day, House of Night by Olga Tokarczuk
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's review
Dec 07, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: poland, czech-republic, philo-psychol, relationships, history
Recommended to Chrissie by: Agnieszka 's shelves
Read from January 29 to February 01, 2011

This book is written by a highly acclaimed and successful Polish writer, Olga Tokarczuk. She is definietely a talented author. She has a wonderful way with words. The writing clearly has a philosophical undertone. But I cannot give it more than three stars. Despite the author wonderful ability, I find the tone so sad. Yes, there is humor, but it is humor directed at you and me, at all human beings as a species. We are a pitiful group. I don't disagree, but where does this hopelessness and despondency lead us? The book doesn't deal with such questions. I am giving this three stars because the author cleverly used words to depict us a species, but I did not really like the book even though it is well written! It made me so sad. Please don't stop now and think to forget this book - I will also give you an utterly beautiful quote. Just be patient, please.

The novel takes place in an imagined town near Wroclaw, Poland. Before WW2 this part of Poland was German. After the conclusion of WW2 the Polish borders were moved to the west. This area, Silesia, south western Poland,had been part of Germany. The war and the deportation of the Germans from this area do play a role in the novel, but it is predominantly about individuals search for fulfillment, our longings and our need to find some sense in the crazy world we live in. Since there is no sense, the mood is despondent, although we can sometimes laugh at ourselves. There are also themes concerning religion and dreams. The religious thread just simply meant nothing to me. It left me totally bored, even disturbed. It went too far.

The writing was sometimes BAD (the religious thread), most often SAD and it only occasionally left me feeling GLAD. Here follow some quotes. I will begin with a few lines that I felt were quite BAD. (If you read this book you get the good with the bad so just quoting the good seems incorrect. I am saving the best for the end!) These lines concern a dream. Yes, the world is absurd but:

I am looking at myself from behind. I can see the layer of loose fat that covers my back. There are sparse, single balack hairs growing on it. The skin is warm to the touch, a bit rough. I am amazed, because it is the birst time I have seen my own back view. But the unnatural skin doesn't put me off - I go on staring in wonder. With even greater surprise I notice a navel there. I didn't know my back had a navel too. This navel is like the reverse of the front one: the front navel points inwards, whereas this one sticks out. (page 188)

The following is about a couple that were married, but did they truly love each other anymore? This is a SAD quote:

To the outside world they looked like normal people, with lives like anyone else, but then maybe that's how everyone lives. The years change everything, except for that sense of longing. People's hair falls out, papers go yellow, new houses are built on the edge of town, regimes change, the rich become poor and the poor rich, lonely old ladies next door die, and children's shooes become too small

They were such very different people now that they might as well have changed their names - they could have filled in a form saying: 'We're no longer the people we use to be, so we're appluing to change our personal details, or something of the kind. What's the point of population censuses if people keep changing and turn into someone else? Why does an adult bear the same first name as when he was a child? Why does a once loved woman still have her husband's surname when he's betrayed and abandoned her? Why do men go on bearing the same name when they come back from war, or why does a boy beaten by his father keep the same idiotic name when he starts to bear his own children?

From the outside it looked as if nothing had changed, either between them or beyond them........

They never said much to each other about anything except the shopping and to exchange Christmas greetings. They came home late from work, then he went to play bridge while she went to church; they did occasionally still huddle up to each other at night, not out of affection, but for warmth, because the house was old and hard to heat.
(page 274-275)

Look there is some truth in these words, but it leaves me very sad. It makes me shiver. I simply must show you that this author can also make you GLAD. I just wish she would do it more often in this book. The narrator is friends with an elderly woman called Marta. Everytime Marta enters the script I get ready for something good to happen or to hear a word of wisdom:

"Marta is old. The skin on her hands is thin and smooth, and covered in brown spots. Her nails are white and look lifeless, as if she had never worked. Beneath her skin I could feel fragile little bones that were swollen around the joints. It was rheumatism that was causing her pain, like a frost in the body. Maybe that's why Marta always feels cold, even during the heatwave. She wore the same long-sleeved cardigan all summer, with a grey dress under it. The collar of the dress was completely worn out, fraying at the neck. ....

Later we drank some tea, which tasted of everything around us. Marta took a look at my hair and asked, 'How do you manage to cut it so evenly? Look at mine.' (page 189)

And then they start cutting each others hair....

When I had finished her head was covered in a soft, silvery velour. We both rubbed our hands over it. Marta suddenly burst out laughing, so for fun I put the clippers in her hand and presented my own head. At first she sheared it rather awkwardly, then more and more boldly. My dark hair fell beside her light curls. When I tried to throw away the tufts we swept up from the terrace afterwards, Marta took them, rolled them into a dark-and-light ball and went to bury it in the flowering borders. We sat down on the steps and stroaked each other's sheared heads again. (page 189-190)

For me, this is beautiful. This author can use words to draw beautiful pictures of humans and how they relate to each other.

I had a hard time choosing between three or four stars. If there had been more happiness in the text I would have given it four stars.

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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Barbara (new)

Barbara I see that you have taken pains to write this nice review, Chrissie. Although you may not have intended to do so, you have dissuaded me from reading it.

message 2: by Chrissie (last edited Feb 02, 2011 11:52AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie Well, this author can write, but I wasn't totally enthused with what she chose to spend most of her time saying. When she said something beautiful, I would say this IS good writing, but then I would drown in other pages. Although they were sarcastically, absurdly funny, the message was so very sad because of what they say about us as human beings. And what is the point of that?! What about a few positive suggestions?!

How do you give stars for a bok such as this? Good writer, but still not a good book. If I should read another book by this author, I must first find out if it has a more positive tone. You know how when you are a teenager you like criticizing everything? This book would fit such a reader.

message 3: by Chrissie (last edited Feb 03, 2011 02:32AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie Barbara, I was thinking of this later and decided to add it... When I write reviews, I want to neither dissuade nor convice people to read a particualr book. What I really want to do is present the book as honestly as I can so that others can determine if it is a book THEY want or do not want to read!

This book will be perfect for some, but not for others.

message 4: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Chrissie, I really did understand that. I did not intend to imply that you were trying to convince me not to read it! I have begun to feel that your reviews tell me if a book will appeal to me ! The past two books that you reommended are fine examples of this. :)

message 5: by Chrissie (last edited Feb 03, 2011 11:45AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie Heavens no, I didn't think you thought I was trying to convince you...... I was just explaining how I write my reviews. Even if I like a book, I don't think others should read it if it doesn't satisfy their interests! Also I enjoy figuring out why I feel the way I do about a book. I KNOW I like or dislike a book, but I cannot figure out why. That bugs me.

So, no problem!!! :0)

message 6: by Agnieszka (last edited Feb 09, 2011 11:03AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Agnieszka Nice review , Chrissie.
I also hesitated between three a four stars , but finally gave it four.I like Tokarczuk's style of writing.I like her sadness , her melancholy and like this windy mountains too.

Chrissie I had a hard time deciding b/c I felt very strongly that she has the ability to write. Nevertheless, I prefer to award less rather than too many stars, that way a four or five star rating really means somethin. For me a book with three stars can definitley be worth reading. It is important to know this when looking at the stars I give a book. I am very glad I read the book. I like reading promising author from different countries. Thank you for letting me know about the book, and that's nice you liked my review.

Please let me know when you come across a writer that might interest me.

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