This is a fun little collection of Victorian era horror by Irish writer Le Fanu. There's a little bit of everything here: demon ghost monkeys, prematu...moreThis is a fun little collection of Victorian era horror by Irish writer Le Fanu. There's a little bit of everything here: demon ghost monkeys, premature burial, lovely lesbian vampires...oh, and my personal favorite character, (bit part though he had) the guy who said this:
‘At Ligny, the other day, where we smashed the Prussians into ten hundred thousand milliards of atoms, a bit of a shell cut me across the leg and opened an artery. It was spouting as high as the chimney, and in half a minute I had lost enough to fill a pitcher. I must have expired in another minute, if I had not whipped off my sash like a flash of lightning, tied it round my leg above the wound, whipt a bayonet out of the back of a dead Prussian, and passing it under, made a tourniquet of it with a couple of twists, and so stayed the haemorrhage and saved my life. But, sacré bleu! Gentlemen, I lost so much blood, I have been as pale as the bottom of a plate ever since. No matter. A trifle. Blood well spent, gentlemen.’ He applied himself now to his bottle of vin ordinaire.
Much of the older (as in 18th century) gothic horror stories (i.e. The Monk) come across to the modern reader as (unintentionally?) hilariously over the top. Le Fanu, however, is obviously writing from a later 19th century frame of mind because much --though not all--of his horror may be rooted in those weird, psychological recesses that were just starting to be recognized then...and which we still don't understand completely. Despite treading the (by now) well-worn paths of horror, I still found this collection very atmospheric, and creepily enjoyable. The ghost stories in particular made a few tingles run up my spine while reading after dark. I AM a total horror wimp, but enjoyed these for what they are.(less)
How does one rate & review a book like this? I had to create a whole new GR bookshelf called "nightmare fuel" to accommodate this one. In lieu of...moreHow does one rate & review a book like this? I had to create a whole new GR bookshelf called "nightmare fuel" to accommodate this one. In lieu of the creative string of expletives I WAS going to use to attempt my review, I'll take a hint from my recent Dante review and post Hieronymus Bosch instead. A picture is worth a thousand swear words, after all.
The strange thing about reading a this very graphic--yet still somehow poetic--book of the Holocaust immediately after The Divine Comedy is that it got me thinking in layers. There are plenty of layers of hell in this book but, more interestingly, there are layers of guilt. Hundreds...thousands of layers of guilt. This guilt layering is not something I'm accustomed to seeing in Holocaust literature--there is Evil and there are Victims--but through Borowski's eyes, the only guiltless person in a concentration camp is the one who dies quickly, while survivors survive because they begin to Play the Game. And it's a horrible game.
It is the camp law: people going to their death must be deceived to the very end. This is the only permissible form of charity (37).
A Hemingway sketchbook. Reading this little volume of E.H.'s early stories is like flipping through a book of Picasso's studies for later masterworks....moreA Hemingway sketchbook. Reading this little volume of E.H.'s early stories is like flipping through a book of Picasso's studies for later masterworks. Certain lines and themes feel very familiar: the wartime vignettes, the cold husband/wife interactions, the joyful fishing, the bloody bullfights, and of course that requisite "He died. In the rain" bit. I can't claim to be a raving Hemingway fangirl, but I appreciated the easy reading. I enjoyed the rather gruesome bullfight flash fiction, but my favorite in this band was the two-part Big Two-Hearted River story. Not just because I like me some river-running and camping, either--I think this is the first time I've ever sensed the aptly-named Ernest showing a bit of humor. At least, the spaghetti-beans dinner and the very expressive grasshoppers struck me as funny...(less)
**Note** I received this book through the Goodreads First Reads program.
Originally published in 2001 as The Dark Room, this is a set of three long-is...more**Note** I received this book through the Goodreads First Reads program.
Originally published in 2001 as The Dark Room, this is a set of three long-ish stories connected only by some haunting thread of WWII-era Germany. Photographs also seem to be key motifs that link each of the stories in some way, hence the original Dark Room name. Otherwise, characters and story-lines do not overlap, and given the heavy subject matter I found it difficult to maintain momentum through these stark, sparsely-written stories.
The first story "Helmut" is the shortest, and for me was the hardest to get into. It follows a young Berlin man who, physically barred from joining the army, spends the war years documenting his city with his camera.
"Lore" is the name of the second story after the story's protagonist, short for Hannelore. Hers is perhaps the most harrowing plot: after her parents are arrested at the end of the war, she must travel overland with her four younger siblings from southern Bavaria to Oma's house in northern Hamburg. There is much starving and suffering, but a mysterious young man comes to their aid. While on the last few pages of the story I had the opportunity to view the film (which covers only the story of Lore) -- and while mostly faithful at first, veers unexpectedly into rated R territory. Perhaps because in the story Lore struck me as about twelve or thirteen -- in the film she is portrayed as much older than I had envisioned, seventeen perhaps -- this veering took me by surprise. I'm still undecided on whether the additional twists of sex and violence in the film added to the story or not. Still, the suffering of the children is hard to take, on the page or on the screen.
"Micha" is the longest and, for me, the most compelling story of the three. It follows a 30 year old teacher in 1997 and his quest to find out more about his Opa, who may or may not have been a war-criminal. It's a sort of bizarre reversal of Everything is Illuminated, but instead of rich, inventive prose following a Jewish boy as he scours Ukraine for hints of his grandfather's past, we have stark, minimalist prose following a young German fearfully interviewing wary Belarusians. I thought this one was brilliantly done.
Overall, this is a worthwhile collection of stories if you can bear the ponderous subject matter.(less)
This is a slice-of-life collection of Berlin vignettes that are more character studies than stories. The first story "Mr. Norris Changes Trains" is mo...moreThis is a slice-of-life collection of Berlin vignettes that are more character studies than stories. The first story "Mr. Norris Changes Trains" is more of a novella at 200 pages and yet...very little happens. One of the more frustrating things about this story and many of the others is that while I can see that the narrator is fascinated with his many subjects (Mr. Norris, Sally Bowles, Otto Nowak, Bernard Landau...) I don't really get why. (With the exception of Sally. I'd read a 200 page story about her.) Norris is frustratingly bland and evasive and rather slimy, yet we spend so much time with him. Much more actual "story" in these stories is revealed through subtext, and the times I managed to pick up the subtext scent were rewarding.
More interesting to me is the fact that I read Berlin Stories shortly after reading Mephisto by Klaus Mann. They are set in the same place, and probably written around the same time and I started wondering if they hung out together (answer: yes). Interestingly, near the end of "Berlin Diaries" a man referred to only as D. confronts the narrator about about why he doesn't take more action against Nazism, then later is said to have fled to the Netherlands--as did the real Klaus Mann. Isherwood remains the observer and outsider throughout Berlin Stories, while Klaus Mann wields his 1936 Mephisto like a butcher knife. Both are interesting in their diverging--yet weirdly similar--points of view.(less)
"On the barren shore, and on the lofty ice barrier in the background, myriads of grotesque penguins squawked and flapped their fins..." ~H. P. Lovecra...more"On the barren shore, and on the lofty ice barrier in the background, myriads of grotesque penguins squawked and flapped their fins..." ~H. P. Lovecraft in At the Mountains of Madness
"Indeed, all that a wonder story can ever be is a vivid picture of a certain type of human mood. The moment it tries to be anything else it becomes cheap, puerile, and unconvincing." ~H. P. Lovecraft in "Notes on Writing Weird Fiction"
I don't consider myself much of a reader of horror or science fiction, but I do appreciate a good, slow-burning, atmospheric story that makes me question reality, sanity, and all of human existence...at least for a little while. At at the same time, I found myself enjoying this as "pulp" in the same way I might enjoy a monster movie out of the 50's (see the first quote above!). This particular Lovecraft story collection served as a perfect introduction to early 20th century "weird fiction", and I liked the way the stories lengthened, matured, and increased in complexity as I worked my way through. The first few stories are short, somewhat confusing and dreamlike. "The Shunned House" was the first story to feel--in that signature Lovecraft style--more or less grounded in reality, while the creepiness slowly accumulates like the fungi in a damp cellar. In At the Mountains of Madness I became fully immersed in the scientific minutiae of a 1930's antarctic expedition (it's like Into Thin Air with monsters, or maybe Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull done right). "Shadow Over Innsmouth" was the most gripping and fast-paced of all the stories complete with a thrilling chase scene. Of course, Lovecraft takes his time getting to the point, so I imagine that what some people will find intriguing (all the pseudo-science and cultish history) others will find dead dull.
Lovecraft's stories are are very internal and cerebral, and as such there is very little human emotion beyond horror and fear: by that I mean his characters seem to have little, if any, interest in human relationships. There are no love interests, the few families mentioned are horribly disturbed (as was Lovecraft's own), but there is a lot of Indiana-Jonsing about in dangerous subterranean abyssi (that's the correct HPL plural, right? :) However, the stories on their own terms are certain to provoke thought and doubt about the mere shadow of reality we humans are capable of perceiving.(less)
A decent collection, though hit-or-miss as most story collections are. I especially liked the Johann Peter Hebel and Arthur Schnitzler stories--I'd no...moreA decent collection, though hit-or-miss as most story collections are. I especially liked the Johann Peter Hebel and Arthur Schnitzler stories--I'd not yet read their work before (as far as I know). Probably my least favorite was "The Enchanted Cabinet" by Friedo Lampe, and which I just couldn't help but laugh during because it sounded like a forerunner to the modern Scooby-Doo mystery, complete with the pulling off of false facial hair to reveal *gasp* the criminal!
The narrator was tolerable as long has he stuck to male voices. (less)
I'll start with the usual disclaimer: I am not a huge fan of short story collections by one author, which often are so similar to one another in tone...moreI'll start with the usual disclaimer: I am not a huge fan of short story collections by one author, which often are so similar to one another in tone and theme and subject matter (Lahiri? Proulx?) that after the first couple they all start to blend together and I find myself skimming impatiently to the end, while thinking "well, I've already got the point of this.... Love and Hydrogen still does this to some degree, but I liked how eclectic the stories were in subject matter, if not in their general themes and tones of dissatisfaction with life. The best stories in this collection seem to be clustered near the beginning and end of the book--I adored the titular "Love and Hydrogen" and "Climb Aboard the Mighty Flea" for taking such interesting and unusual viewpoints as gay crew members on the Hindenburg, and a German test pilot in 1945 (talk about doomed!)--the voices and historical details here are riveting and unique. I also liked "Mars Attacks" for its use of a deck of gruesome collectors cards depicting a fictitious martian invasion to provide structure for a story that's really about a dysfunctional relationship between brothers (this theme pops up in many of the other stories, but I liked its presentation here best), and also "Batting Against Castro" for being the most humorous and relatively "light" story of the bunch. The more contemporary setups fell rather flat for me (with the exception of "Spending a Night with the Poor" and "Hands in the Air"). The only story I really disliked was the one about John Ashcroft, narrated from his point(-less) point of view. I could have lived without that one, but recommend the collection as a whole. I'll be looking for more from this writer.
P.S. I excited to come across one of his stories in the 2010 Best American Short Stories...and then heartily disappointed once I had read it. I'm glad I read this collection first.(less)
As this audiobook is split into to separate novellas by different authors sharing the same world, I give four stars to Bacigalupi's Alchemist and two...moreAs this audiobook is split into to separate novellas by different authors sharing the same world, I give four stars to Bacigalupi's Alchemist and two stars to Buckell's Executioness, which averages out to three stars.
In the forward, Buckell tells how he conceived of the Executioness as a way to subvert a common fantasy trope by letting a middle-aged mother take on the title role. Despite his worthy attempt, I found Bacigalupi's single-father Alchemist a much more interesting, complex, morally conflicted character than the supposedly reluctant warrior Executioness. More on her later.
There's a reason Bacigalupi's story comes first. He does a fantastic job laying out and explaining this alternate fantasy world where the use of magic has caused a monstrous bramble (think sleeping beauty) to encroach on and strangle an entire kingdom. The titular Alchemist has slowly impoverished his family over the years as he seeks to develop a contraption that can kill bramble without using magic (on which the Bramble feeds), only to get caught up in the politics of the tyrannical regime. Bacigalupi's background as a sci-fi writer lends itself well here to creating a believable world with its own set of complexities, asking questions about sacrificing the needs of the few for the well-being of society (if anything, some of the world building may be too extensive for such a brief story, so some may find the exposition lengthy). He also manages to subvert well-tread fantasy cliches--losing one's family, freeing the character up to go adventuring or take revenge, for example. Despite the complex world politics, this story is really a small, even touching, character-driven one about a father trying to save his child.
I enjoyed Bacigalupi's story so much that I worried The Executioness wouldn't live up to it. I was right. Buckell made a big deal in the intro about making the Executioness character a middle-age women with children, but ultimately I found her rather bland and unknowable, her motives muddy and inconsistent. If the author didn't routinely TELL us that she's a mother and middle-aged, she might as well have been a 17 year old orphan out to save and revenge her brothers (instead of sons). I had hoped for another character-driven "small" story about a woman forced to become an executioner to keep her family alive, and her "small" internal struggles. Instead, Buckell embraces that aforementioned and overused fantasy cliche, killing off Tana's family and sending her on an adventure in which, thanks to lucky coincidence akin to the "Brave Little Tailor" ("seven in one blow") she develops an unearned reputation as a fearsome fighter. Most of her success comes from luck: a caravan saves her, it's leader takes her under his wing for some reason, she uncharacteristically asks to be trained with weapons instead of helping the caravan using skills she already has (she was a farmer's wife and ran a large household single-handedly), and suddenly after a week of training she's this master butt-kicking strategic genius. umm...how??? I had hoped there would be more overlap between the two stories, but I started to get the feeling that the two authors had some disagreements over the world mechanics. Why does Buckell take us out of the kingdom? Why does no one use magic to fight the raiders? (I'd think a little bramble here and there would be worth NOT being slaughtered by war elephants, and I won't start on the problems of using slow-loading arquebuses instead of crossbows...I digress). After a while my husband and I (we listened to it on a road-trip) just wanted it to end.
Bottom line, The Alchemist is definitely worth a listen, although The Executioness suffers from having to follow it, as well as from numerous fantasy cliches. (less)
I read the first three stories, and got part way through the 4th. I put the book down, and somehow couldn't summon enough motivation to finish. This w...moreI read the first three stories, and got part way through the 4th. I put the book down, and somehow couldn't summon enough motivation to finish. This wasn't a bad book, I didn't hate it by any means. It simply didn't pull me in. Each story seemed like a slightly different variation of the last. As I read, the same themes of inter-generational conflict of Bengali-US immigrants were recycled each time. Ok, I kept thinking, I get the point. Maybe I'll come back and finish it some other time, but for now I need something with a different flavor.(less)