A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

★★★★★ (5/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

• If it said twenty-four hours on the sign, that’s how long you were allowed to stay. What would it be like if everyone just parked wherever they liked? It would be chaos. There’d be cars bloody everywhere.
• if men like Ove didn’t take the initiative there’d be anarchy.
• People have no respect for decent, honest functionality anymore, they’re happy as long as everything looks neat and dandy on the computer. But Ove does things the way they’re supposed to be done.
• Ove feels an instinctive skepticism towards all people taller than six feet; the blood can’t quite make it all the way up to the brain.
• Opened his garage with a key. He had a remote control for the door, but had never understood the point of it. An honest person could just as well open the door manually.
• He was a man of black and white. And she was color. All the color he had.
• He was never at the heart of things and never on the outside. He was the sort of person who was just there.
• She believed in destiny. That all the roads you walk in life, in one way or another, “lead to what has been predetermined for you.”
• And that laughter of hers, which, for the rest of his life, would make him feel as if someone was running around barefoot on the inside of his breast.
• Nowadays people changed their stuff so often that any expertise in how to make things last was becoming superfluous.
• This was a world where one became outdated before one’s time was up. An entire country standing up and applauding the fact that no one was capable of doing anything properly anymore. The unreserved celebration of mediocrity.
• How can one fail to manufacture rope, for Christ’s sake? How can you get rope wrong?
• A job well done is a reward in its own right,
• A time like that comes for every man, when he chooses what sort of man he wants to be. And if you don’t know the story, you don’t know the man.
• You go to the hospital to die, Ove knows that. It’s enough that the state wants to be paid for everything you do while you’re alive. When it also wants to be paid for the parking when you go to die, Ove thinks that’s about far enough.
• But now when Ove actually wants to use that damned plastic card, it doesn’t work, of course. Or there are a lot of extra fees when he uses it in the shops. Which only goes to prove that Ove was right all along. And he’s going to say as much to his wife as soon as he sees her, she had better be quite clear about that.
• And she wept. An ancient, inconsolable despair that screamed and tore and shredded them both as countless hours passed.
• Ove obviously doesn’t trust medicine, has always been convinced its only real effects are psychological and, as a result, it only works on people with feeble brains.
• As if he sort of crumpled with a deep sigh and never really breathed properly again.
• But sorrow is unreliable in that way. When people don’t share it there’s a good chance that it will drive them apart instead.
• Maybe it’s the insight that a simple battle won is nothing in the greater scheme of things. A boxed-in Škoda makes no difference. They always come back.
• Before then he has had time to wave his rifle at them, making Adrian scream like an air raid warning.
• “The great thing about scrutinizing bureaucracy when you’re a journalist, you see, is that the first people to break the laws of bureaucracy are always the bureaucrats themselves.”
• It is difficult to admit that one is wrong. Particularly when one has been wrong for a very long time.
• Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it’s often one of the great motivations for living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival. We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.
• Something inside a man goes to pieces when he has to bury the only person who ever understood him. There is no time to heal that sort of wound.
• One of the most painful moments in a person’s life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

<b>A selection of my favourite passages from the book</b> 

• Her jacket, her gloves, even the hem of her gown. There is not a single drop of rain upon her although it continues to pour, the wind causing the rain to fall in several directions beyond the standard gravitational pattern.
• “Secrets have power,” Widget begins. “And that power diminishes when they are shared, so they are best kept and kept well. Sharing secrets, real secrets, important ones, with even one other person, will change them. Writing them down is worse, because who can tell how many eyes might see them inscribed on paper, no matter how careful you might be with it. So it’s really best to keep your secrets when you have them, for their own good, as well as yours.
• “The past is easier,” Widget says. “It’s already there.”
• I prefer thought to memory
• I am of the opinion that no methodology is worthwhile unless it can be taught

Perfume by Patrick Suskind

★★★★★ (5/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book 

• The odor of humans is always a fleshly odor—that is, a sinful odor. How could an infant, which does not yet know sin even in its dreams, have an odor?

• He was an abomination from the start. He decided in favor of life out of sheer spite and sheer malice.

• He lived encapsulated in himself and waited for better times. He gave the world nothing but his dung—no smile, no cry, no glimmer in the eye, not even his own scent

• With each new day, he would bottle up inside himself the energies of his defiance and contumacy and expend them solely to survive the impending ice age in his ticklike way

• Tough, uncomplaining, inconspicuous, he tended the light of life’s hopes as a very small, but carefully nourished flame

• It was as if he had been born a second time; no, not a second time, the first time, for until now he had merely existed like an animal with a most nebulous self-awareness

• And like all gifted abominations, for whom some external event makes straight the way down into the chaotic vortex of their souls, Grenouille never again departed from what he believed was the direction fate had pointed him

• The second rule is: perfume lives in time; it has its youth, its maturity, and its old age. And only if it gives off a scent equally pleasant at all three different stages of its life, can it be called successful.

• He was once again the old, the young Baldini, as bold and determined as ever to contend with fate—even if contending meant a retreat in this case. And what if it did! There was nothing else to do. These were stupid times, and they left him no choice. God gives good times and bad times, but He does not wish us to bemoan and bewail the bad times, but to prove ourselves men. And He had given His sign

• Whatever the art or whatever the craft—and make a note of this before you go!—talent means next to nothing, while experience, acquired in humility and with hard work, means everything

• The scents he could create at Baldini’s were playthings compared with those he carried within him and that he intended to create one day. But for that, he knew, two indispensable prerequisites must be met. The first was the cloak of middle-class respectability, the status of a journeyman at the least, under the protection of which he could indulge his true passions and follow his true goals unimpeded. The second was the knowledge of the craft itself, the way in which scents were produced, isolated, concentrated, preserved, and thus first made available for higher ends. For Grenouille did indeed possess the best nose in the world, both analytical and visionary, but he did not yet have the ability to make those scents realities.

• The latter had even held out the prospect of a royal patent, truly the best thing that one could hope for, a kind of carte blanche for circumventing all civil and professional restrictions; it meant the end of all business worries and the guarantee of secure, permanent, unassailable prosperity.

• He wanted to empty himself of his innermost being, of nothing less than his innermost being, which he considered more wonderful than anything else the world had to offer

• The setting for these debaucheries was—how could it be otherwise—the innermost empire where he had buried the husks of every odor encountered since birth

• Like a thunderstorm he rolled across these odors that had dared offend his patrician nose. He thrashed at them as hail thrashes a grainfield; like a hurricane, he scattered the rabble and drowned them in a grand purifying deluge of distilled water. And how just was his anger. How great his revenge. Ah! What a sublime moment

• The following day—the marquis was just about to instruct him in the basic poses, gestures, and dance steps he would need for his coming social debut—Grenouille faked a fainting spell and, as if totally exhausted and in imminent danger of suffocation, collapsed onto a sofa.

• Every human being smelled different, no one knew that better than Grenouille, who recognized thousands upon thousands of individual odors and could sniff out the difference of each human being from birth on. And yet—there was a basic perfumatory theme to the odor of humanity, a rather simple one, by the way: a sweaty-oily, sour-cheesy, quite richly repulsive basic theme that clung to all humans equally and above which each individual’s aura hovered only as a small cloud of more refined particularity.

• For people could close their eyes to greatness, to horrors, to beauty, and their ears to melodies or deceiving words. But they could not escape scent. For scent was a brother of breath. Together with breath it entered human beings, who could not defend themselves against it, not if they wanted to live. And scent entered into their very core, went directly to their hearts, and decided for good and all between affection and contempt, disgust and lust, love and hate. He who ruled scent ruled the hearts of men.

• The souls of these noblest of blossoms could not be simply ripped from them, they had to be methodically coaxed away.

• These were virtuoso odors, executed as wonderful little trifles that of course no one but he could admire or would ever take note of. He was enchanted by their meaningless perfection; and at no time in his life, either before or after, were there moments of such truly innocent happiness as in those days when he playfully and eagerly set about creating fragrant landscapes, still lifes, and studies of individual objects. For he soon moved on to living subjects.

• the very possession and the loss seemed to him more desirable than a prosaic renunciation of both.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

★★★★☆ (4/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • Character is fate – that’s what he said 
  • Not now, Simon thinks. Not yet. If he speaks to them, their voices will reach into the warm, blissful ocean in which he’s been floating and yank him – gasping, dripping wet – onto dry land
  • In truth, it is not only Simon’s gayness that makes him feel this way. It’s the prophecy, too, something he would very much like to forget but has instead dragged behind him all these years. He hates the woman for giving it to him, and he hates himself for believing her. If the prophecy is a ball, his belief is its chain; it is the voice in his head that says Hurry, says Faster, says Run.
  • There’s no trick – just a curious combination of strength and strange, inhuman lightness. Simon can’t tell whether it reminds him of a levitation or a hanging
  • Gertie had her arms around Varya, and she was shuddering. Klara receded, ashamed. The privilege of their mother’s touch, her confidence, was something Varya had earned.
  • She understands, too, the loneliness of parenting, which is the loneliness of memory – to know that she connects a future unknowable to her parents with a past unknowable to her child
  • the family that created her and the family she created, pulling her in opposite directions
  • She knew that stories did have the power to change things: the past and the future, even the present. She had been an agnostic since graduate school, but if there was one tenant of Judaism with which she agreed, it was this: the power of words. They weaseled under door cracks and through keyholes. They hooked into individuals and wormed through generations
  • She was afraid of aberration, which could not be controlled; she preferred the safe consistency of symmetry
  • She chose pieces that both enhance and obstruct visibility: her couch is leather, for example, dark enough that she can’t see every speck of fuzz or dirt, but smooth enough that – unlike a nubbly, patterned fabric – she can easily skim it for anything egregious before sitting down