The Girl in Green and The Unseen World

This week was pretty productive as I finished one book, one audiobook, one TV mini-series, and watched two films. Surely I need “outlets” in these days of the new U.S. administration — ugh, but don’t get me started on that. I will leave you with some brief reviews of what I finished. Note: the second TV mini series I have listed below is something my husband and I finished a few weeks ago so I thought I’d report on that now as well. I had hoped the two books included this week would be 5-star reads, considering all the high praise of them on Goodreads, but I found them more like 3-star reads for me. I liked them but I didn’t overly love them. Though judging from Goodreads, I might be in the minority on this.

The Girl in Green by Derek B. Miller, 2017, 336 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

This novel is about two men who experience a brutal incident in 1991 during the Gulf War and then team up 22 years later on a mission to set things right and save a refugee girl in Iraq involved in an insurgent attack. One is a veteran British journalist who’s home life is in trouble, and the other is an irreverent American soldier who does things his own way. With the help of U.N. aide workers, they set off on their mission into unfriendly lands, only to get into more trouble than they bargained for.

I really wanted to get caught up in this plot — as I know how big the refugee and immigrant crisis has been in places originating from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, but the narrative and characters felt a bit distant to me, written in the third person, and I didn’t get as fully gripped by their dilemmas as I had hoped. The conversations, too, between the characters are often jokey and irreverent, which I didn’t always appreciate, but I liked how the novel gave a glimpse into the world of U.N. refugee workers on the front lines. They are real heroes no doubt. There’s quite a few tangents in the book going on that defuse the situation and slow the plot a bit, but luckily it picks up towards the end — as the fate of the girl and the two men hang in the balance. Still I didn’t find it to be a typical thriller.

In the acknowledgments at the back of the book, the author says he drew heavily for this on his PhD dissertation in which he studied the Iraqi civil war of 1991 in depth. It seemed to me a bit like that. There was information he seemed to want to impart. It also says the author worked on diplomatic missions and for the United Nations, and I wonder a bit if I would have liked this more as a memoir or nonfiction book than this story, which seemed a bit far-fetched and out of my full reach of the characters’ turmoil. Hmm, it’s just a thought.

The Unseen World by Liz Moore, 2016, 464 pages, W.W. Norton & Co., read for the audio by Lisa Flanagan

I listened to this as an audiobook, which took me on long walks all week, considering its length. The novel is about a young girl (Ada) who idolizes her single father, who’s raising and home-schooling her. He’s a scientist who runs a prestigious lab in Boston working to develop a program on artificial intelligence. But it’s later in life when her father is suffering from Alzheimer’s that Ada shockingly finds out that he is not really who he says he is. Thereafter she takes up trying to unravel her father’s cryptic past, and the codes and files on his computer.

There are some nice storytelling elements in this novel, which spans Ada’s entire life. I felt for her, as she’s a lonely kid who’s adopted by some neighbors after her father becomes ill. But I usually don’t take to the genre of fiction in which characters aren’t who they say they are to their loved ones (unless it’s a spy story). A lot of novels involving secrets feel contrived to me or are not my thing, but I know they are popular. For these reasons, “The Unseen World” made a pretty decent audio, but I didn’t feel the novel was fantastic. I also thought parts of it were over-written and it could have been edited for a tighter effect.

Still for those who like novels based on secrets or identity plots, I say go for it. Of those I’ve read, it reminded me of aspects of Kate Morton’s “The Forgotten Garden,” Suzanne Rindell’s “The Other Typist,” Jojo Moyes’s “The Girl You Left Behind,” and Sarah Waters’s “The Paying Guests.” It’s sort of along these lines of stories, if you liked them.

The Night Manager — a British TV mini-series with 6 episodes

My husband and I just finished this series, which is based on John le Carre’s 1993 novel, and we enjoyed it very much. It had pretty riveting suspense and action. It’s about the night manager of a hotel in Cairo (played by Tom Hiddleston) who is recruited by British intelligence to infiltrate an arm dealer’s inner circle.

Gosh Hugh Laurie is fantastic as the billionaire bad guy in this, and Hiddleston’s character Jonathan Pine is cool as a cucumber undercover. No wonder this series won two Emmys and three Golden Globes. Some parts of it might have seemed a bit unrealistic but still it made for an entertaining spy drama. For those who were fans (like we were) of the British TV series “MI-5,” which ran from 2002 to 2011, you’ll definitely want to see this series as well.

Trapped — an Icelandic mystery TV mini-series with 10 episodes

I think I found this show on Netflix by mistake but then we got caught up in it and there was no turning back. It’s a whodunit murder mystery that takes place in a small town in Iceland where everyone knows everyone else. It has subtitles in English but that didn’t distract me from the overall story, which is: When a human torso washes up on shore, the town’s chief of police and his two junior officers must find out who’s responsible. Is it a human trafficker from the ferry boat that recently arrived in town, or is it someone local with a dubious history? As the officers begin to investigate, they soon have their hands full with a number of strange incidents, including an avalanche, fire, and theft of the corpse.

This is an entertaining murder mystery and I loved its snowy, isolated setting. It’s a little tricky keeping track of all the Icelandic names, but it was well worth it. Apparently, according to Wikipedia, “Trapped” is the most expensive TV series ever filmed in Iceland. Hmm, who knew.

Moonlight — a 2016 U.S. film, which has received 8 Oscar nominations

I finally got to see this at the theater. It’s been so heavily hyped since its fall release that I didn’t really know what to expect. While I thought it was an interesting, moving drama about a black boy who tries to find his way while growing up in a rough neighborhood in Miami, I didn’t really think of it as a Best Picture film but feel free to disagree with me if you did.

It shows the boy, Chiron, in three stages of his life: adolescence, mid-teen, and young adult, which I thought were effective, especially during the teen years. You really feel for him as his mother is a drug addict and he’s bullied to a pulp. I didn’t realize before seeing “Moonlight” that it involves a gay relationship (duh I’m way behind on this), but I thought it was done well and realistically. In some ways, it’s a subtle film, but one in which you can feel its strong undercurrents.

The Birth of a Nation — a 2016 U.S. film

Lastly, I rented Nate Parker’s film, which came out in October to much commotion. It’s about the real life of Nat Turner, the literate slave and preacher, who lead an uprising in Virginia in 1831. The historical life of Nat Turner is quite fascinating and has been broached a number of times onscreen and in books. Turner’s rebellion made quite an impact during its day, perhaps not unlike John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859. It’s referenced in a number of later works by escaped slaves.

The film is violent but isn’t gratuitous considering the subject matter of slavery. I thought it was pretty powerful and worth watching. It made me want to know more about Turner’s life and I would like to read Thomas Gray’s 1831 pamphlet about him called “The Confessions of Nat Turner.” While I didn’t feel “The Birth of a Nation” was perhaps as stunning or as full a picture as the 2013 movie “12 Years a Slave” about Solomon Northup, I did think it was a valuable addition to the film canon of slave narratives.

What about you — have you read these books, or seen these TV shows or movies? And if so, what did you think?

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32 Responses to The Girl in Green and The Unseen World

  1. Carmen says:

    I have The Birth of a Nation in my movie queue to watch next, maybe tomorrow. I have heard great things about Moonlight, so I’ll be watching that as well. I’m glad you liked The Night Manager. I have it on my wishlist but I’m on the fence about buying it. Perhaps I can watch it if I rejoin Netflix.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Carmen, I’ll be interested to hear what you think about The Birth of a Nation. How are you watching programs now? I think we broke down & ended up buying The Night Manager, but I think waiting is okay. We are waiting to get Homeland Season 6 but it seems to take forever.

  2. I loved the William Styron’s book “The Confessions of Nat Turner” so I would love to see the film about N.T. life. Otherwise, I look forward to seeing “Moonlight”. :-)))
    Last week we went to see “Live by Night” by Ben Affleck. We all wanted to leave in the middle of the film…. This was a big film disappointment….Hopefully BA will do better next time.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi RT, thx for the tip on the Ben Affleck; it looks pretty bad and I plan not to see it. I’d like to read the Styron book on Nat Turner, which came out in 1967. I’ll add it to my list!

  3. Brian Joseph says:

    You raise good points about The Unseen World. I agree, many stories about loved ones having secrets in their pasts can be so implausible. Believability is so important is such stories.

    With that, if handled correctly such a plot convention can work. But it must be presented in a plausible way.

    • Susan Wright says:

      I agree Brian. Maybe it’s because of the flood of these plots in recent years that I have tired of them. They sometimes make me roll my eyes. But a novel like Life of Pi, which unravels a secret, was done really well and is an amazing story.

  4. I haven’t seen a movie in such a long time. If only something other than kiddie cartoons and beat-’em-up movies would show up at our theater.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Ha Deb. I know what you mean. It’s rare that a good movie is at the theater. I think I might see the film Lion next (if I can find it). I’ve heard it’s good.

  5. You know, I hadn’t even considered reading/listening to The Unseen World, but really enjoyed all four of the ‘it reminded me of’ books you mentioned. Hmmm…

    As for this week’s news, I’m finding it all so distracting. I’ve had a hard time concentrating on fiction, or even other television. Hoping for better this week.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Yeah I saw the audio of The Unseen World on Overdrive, so you might check for it. I’d be interested to hear what you think. I liked it all right. And I totally understand about the distractions! I’m trying not to watch the news too much.

  6. The Unseen World might be one I like, as I often find myself caught up in stories with secrets about loved ones. But The Girl in Green…probably not for me, as I don’t enjoy the detached writing (informative writing?) of fictional pieces.

    I’m going to check out The Night Manager…and Moonlight is a movie my second son is recommending (he works in the industry); he knows one of the actors, and is impressed by him.

    Enjoy your week…we all must distract ourselves from the unbelievable events unfolding around us. Here are MY WEEKLY UPDATES

    • Susan Wright says:

      Yeah Laurel : you should try out The Unseen World. I think you’d like it. That’s interesting about your son’s recommendation. Moonlight felt a little like an indie film to me; I was impressed by some of the acting. Let me know if you like The Night Manager! I think it’s only 6 episodes.

  7. Judy Krueger says:

    Too bad on The Girl in Green. I might still read it for the insight on UN refugee workers. I guess the author might need to take a writing class or two?
    Really appreciate the movie reviews. I will never catch up before the Oscars but I am trying!
    I am almost done with The Nix. Wow, it is great. I recommend it to you as I think you would like it.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Judy, I’ll have to get into The Nix. I’ve put myself on the wait list for it at the library!! I think you should read The Girl in Green perhaps you’d like it more than I did. I guess I did like it, I just didn’t love it. But many gave it 5 stars on Goodreads. I’d be interested to hear what you thought of it. Enjoy your week.

  8. Michelle says:

    The Night Manager made me fall in love with Tom Hiddleston all over again. I’ve heard noise about him becoming James Bond. I can see it now after his performance. And Hugh Laurie oozes evil charm! I know the story is over, but it is one series I wish would last longer.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Michelle, I think The Night Manager is where I first found out about Hiddleston. What else have you watched with him in it? Both he and Laurie were terrific! I really liked the show too. Maybe they might try for another season?

      • Michelle says:

        Hiddleston is Loki in the Avengers/Thor movies. He was in a few episodes of Wallender as well.

      • Carmen says:

        He has a minor appearance in War Horse a few years back. He played the role of F. S. Fitzgerald ( and was magnificent in it) in Midnight in Paris, and he also played an enamored royalty in Crimson Peak, opposite Mia Wasikowska, which I liked very much.

        • Susan Wright says:

          Ahhh. thanks Carmen. I did see Midnight in Paris and didn’t realize it at the time. He really is good in The Night Manager. I might check out Crimson Peak.

  9. Dani says:

    “Trapped” looked like something my husband would enjoy, until I saw that there are subtitles — no talking him into that :-).

    I admire your ability to get through “The Unseen World” even after you recognized that it wasn’t your thing. I wasted all my reading time last week avoiding “Husband and Wife” instead of abandoning it and going on to another book. It isn’t a bad book, but so far it doesn’t have as much action as the genre fiction I usually read.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Dani for your comment. Yeah sometimes when you’re midway into a story and it’s not exactly your thing: you have to make a choice. Do you keep on or abandon? Luckily this one story was okay enough to keep going. Your book too sounds like it might be worth pursuing, though it’s not your typical thing.

  10. Naomi says:

    Both of those books sound good – too bad they weren’t as good as you were hoping. Listening to books while walking sounds appealing to me. I could probably get a lot listened to that way, but I also love to just let my mind wander while I walk. It’s one of the only times of the day I can do that. But the audio is tempting… I could probably walk forever if I was listening to something!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Naomi, yes it took me awhile to learn how to walk & listen to an audio at the same time. It takes a bit of focus for sure. Sometimes if my mind wanders and I feel like I missed something then I have to go back and listen to it again. I quite often replay parts of the audio. I do find them enjoyable though. Give one a try!

  11. Rachel says:

    I”m envious you had such a productive week. Current events have me so stressed out, I feel like I can barely function! I’ve spent waaaaaay too much time on Facebook and Twitter the past few days.

    Both those mini-series look interesting – I’m always looking for shows that my husband and I can enjoy together and these look like great options.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Rachel, yes I am quite stressed out too with Trump at the helm. It’s disappointing beyond belief. But try to hang on! The mini-series are both pretty captivating. We watch like one hour a night and it takes us a week or two to finish them.

  12. Rebecca says:

    I like the premise of The Girl in Green. I had never seen this one before and I’m thoroughly interested. I’m really interested in seeing Moonlight too, although – I don’t watch much television/movies. But all those awards…. I want to see it.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Yeah Rebecca, I thought Moonlight was a bit overhyped for what it was, but perhaps that’s just me. I will be thoroughly surprised if it wins Best Picture at the Oscars. But it did win the Golden Globe for that. My pick so far as a favorite is Manchester by the Sea. Very sad though!

  13. Ti says:

    I’m most curious about The Unseen World. It sounds like something I’d really like if not love. I actually jotted it down to pitch for book club but do you think it would be a good book to discuss?

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Ti, that’s a good question and a hard call. The storytelling is quite good in it, and there’s issues of secret identity combined with a computer program on artificial intelligence (those 2 themes run through it). I don’t think I would pick it — as I’m not sure if it would raise a good discussion — but I think you might like it more than I did. It sort of reminded me of a Kate Morton’s novel — where a daughter comes to grips with her father’s past by decoding what he did at work. Hmm. I’m wondering a bit if The Snow Child would be good for my book club? I still haven’t read it yet.

  14. Wow, you have been reading, listening, and watching a lot! I know what you mean about popular books – they often don’t appeal to me either. I appreciate a well-informed author but dislike info dumping. Maybe we prefer less predictable and quirkier reads? So many people have told me to see Moonlighting – hopefully I can find it in Oxford. I also want to see Manchester by the Sea.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Yeah Sarah, I’m finding out that hyped books on Goodreads aren’t always for me, and ones that are overlooked often are. So I’ll have to be better in deciding my reads. I hope you see get to see both of the movies. Moonlighting might have been overhyped for me, but Manchester had me totally unprepared. Bring Kleenex just in case.

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