(Sampled up to 9%.) This is more like it. I'm not exactly sure where it's going - is it going to be more thriller than horror? - but the first few cha(Sampled up to 9%.) This is more like it. I'm not exactly sure where it's going - is it going to be more thriller than horror? - but the first few chapters are funny, sparky and engaging. Chapter one: narrator Callie is shown around a beautiful Spanish house by an eccentric estate agent. Chapter two: Callie and her (apparently very new) husband Mateo go to see the house again. Chapter three: we learn how Callie and Mateo met - so I'm guessing their relationship is going to play an important role in the plot. And if all this seems a bit irrelevant to the nyctophobia theme, it's worth it just for the line 'he had me at hielo'. Despite a few bits of awkward dialogue, I'm really interested in reading on....more
(Sampled up to 8%.) Not to be confused with the film. This seems... not bad so far, but I'm not entirely convinced yet. In the style of a classic ghos(Sampled up to 8%.) Not to be confused with the film. This seems... not bad so far, but I'm not entirely convinced yet. In the style of a classic ghost story, it reads like an account set down by a dour academic, a natural sceptic who has experienced some troubling event that can't be explained rationally: Even now, goes the first line, it seems strange to me that I should be writing this memoir at all... As such, it's very dry and old-fashioned and the first few chapters take their time to set up the narrator's history before anything of note actually happens. I do enjoy this technique, but the story hasn't yet come up with anything to make me particularly feel it's worth carrying on with....more
Quick trashy fun, a book I breezed through in a couple of hours. Much more of a psychological thriller than a horror novel, despite its nomination forQuick trashy fun, a book I breezed through in a couple of hours. Much more of a psychological thriller than a horror novel, despite its nomination for Best Horror in the Goodreads Choice Awards, which (along with a handful of five-star reviews popping up in my feed) is what made me take notice of it. The story is about a family who go to live on a tiny, virtually inaccessible island off the coast of Skye. The parents, Sarah and Angus, are still grieving after the death of one of their twin daughters a year ago. The remaining daughter, Kirstie, is coping rather differently, sometimes claiming she is her sister Lydia, leading Sarah to fear she misidentified the daughter who died. The perspective switches from Sarah to Angus and back again, each keeping secrets, each suspecting the other of terrible things. The 'horror' is minimal, though the setting certainly belongs in a ghost story: a half-derelict cottage on an island surrounded by mist, mudflats and mountains. There are some good creepy moments - especially the singing, and Sarah watching Kirstie in the playground - but I would have preferred many more of those and much less 'husband and wife lying to one another' stuff.
I can't finish this review without mentioning the punctuation. What the hell was going on there?! All those misplaced colons (SO MANY OF THEM), commas, dashes, double question marks... The other dodgy thing is that the plot eventually boils down to the idea that (view spoiler)[Sarah's sex drive is what killed her daughter. The references to Sarah always wanting sex with Angus are clearly meant to act as some sort of foreshadowing, but they make the eventual reveal of What Happened That Night seem rather more distateful than if they hadn't been there at all (hide spoiler)].["br"]>["br"]>...more
Before I start this review, a confession. I'm not all that familiar with Shirley Jackson's stories. I've read her most famous short story, 'The Lottery', and the chilling novella We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but that's the extent of my knowledge. So the fact that this particular installment of curious tales from Curious Tales is based on her body of work was always going to be a little bit lost on me. I'm sure there are many Jackson references throughout these five stories that I've completely failed to recognise. With that out of the way: I was always going to read this book, no matter the inspiration; I've been waiting for it since last year's Poor Souls' Light, and hope these collections of unsettling stories will keep coming long enough to become an annual pre-Christmas tradition.
Congregation of Innocents opens with Emma Jane Unsworth's contribution, 'The Festival' - one I was particularly looking forward to, as I loved her story in Poor Souls' Light. April is on a train, en route to a festival, feeling not quite as enthusiastic as she should. 'She could be at home now, listening to the radio, festering. Lovely.' Some rowdy teenagers are getting on her nerves, and things get worse when a 'long, thin man' sits down opposite her. The atmosphere between them, which has a weird, unwanted sexual pitch, reaches a crescendo with two disturbing moments, but the story is left open. It could be that nothing here is macabre at all, but on the other hand... This left an impression that had me re-reading it, though of course I wanted more. (Before the year's out, I really have to get round to reading Unsworth's Animals, like I've been meaning to for well over a year.)
Richard Hirst's 'Do You Know How To Waltz?' starts like an inverted version of 'The Festival', in which we see things from the viewpoint of the strange interloper, while the innocent subject of his plainly malign interest remains ignorant. The narrator targets a woman newly arrived in New York, lost, drawn to the bright lure of a department store. There's a disconcerting opening, in which we're unaware of the narrator's apparently omniscient presence until he suddenly appears, and tells us so - 'this is where I come in' - after a few pages. How does he know so much about the woman? How much of what he says is true? His motives may be unclear, but his intentions become horribly obvious as he guides his victim, and the reader, towards an oppressive fate.
The next story is told in a different format: 'The Brood of Desire', by Ian Williams, is a graphic tale. There's something both funny and horrifying about Williams' illustrations of a child afflicted by a condition causing 'friable horns' to grow out of his face. As with the others - but more emphatically here - what's left unsaid is far more important than what the narrator chooses to reveal, as we're left to wonder exactly what's meant by lines like 'my present circumstances, as you know, make that an impossibility' and 'my parents, of course, are not around'. Am I imagining echoes of We Have Always Lived in the Castle here? The final, full-page panel is both beautifully done, creating an image that's intensely eerie and haunting (I'd quite like a print of it, actually...)
Jenn Ashworth is next up, with 'The Women's Union of Relief', in which I can finally say for certain I recognise something of Jackson's influence - it owes a debt to 'The Lottery'. The shabby black box from 'The Lottery' even puts in an appearance, as a group of women in a small American town gather to decide what is to be done about the dwindling cash, and consequently the dwindling reputation, of their locale. Naturally, the solution they decide upon is a diabolical one, though Ashworth's narrative swerves around it until the very end, performing a clever feint that almost convinces you the women are benevolent after all.
Finally, there's 'Desert Stories' by Tom Fletcher. This is also set in a small American town, a sunburned one on the edge of a desert: 'this is a dying town, but there are those of us who have still got to live in it'; the few residents maintain unhappy friendships because 'if nobody came calling, then nobody would know when it was time to bury you.' The narrator, Arlene, receives one such call from Megan, who runs the local motel. There's history between the two women, and that's partly what's explored in the gripping, uncanny conversation the two proceed to have. 'Desert Stories' is the high point of this collection - Fletcher handles atmosphere and tension masterfully, creating such a clear vision of this town that it feels like he surely must have created a whole book's worth of backstory to go with it.
'Desert Stories' and 'The Brood of Desire' stood out as the highlights, but none of these stories were disappointing. This time, they truly are 'curious tales' - not ghost stories - and that gives them greater scope to move into the surreal, the inexplicable, and indeed the horror of ordinary human cruelty. Whether that's Shirley Jackson's influence or not, it makes for a stronger collection than Poor Souls' Light; Congregation of Innocents is more even and consistent. Here's to many more Curious Tales....more
I'm giving up on this for now (and that usually means 'I'm giving up on this forever'). The atmosphere of wintery Berlin is beguiling, but it feels inI'm giving up on this for now (and that usually means 'I'm giving up on this forever'). The atmosphere of wintery Berlin is beguiling, but it feels incredibly overwritten and I can't get into the story at all. I feel my time would be better spent reading more Nabokov, rather than reading a book that's an homage to this work & attempts to ape his style....more
(Sampled up to 19%.) This has been read and loved by (seemingly) every book blogger/tweeter in the country and has also been nominated for the Costa F(Sampled up to 19%.) This has been read and loved by (seemingly) every book blogger/tweeter in the country and has also been nominated for the Costa First Novel Award. The tale of a lonely man, Ray, who adopts a one-eyed dog, it's frequently praised for its poetic and lyrical prose, but I didn't really get that from it, to be honest. It's quite a stark and slow-paced story, and feels as though it must only 'get going' later on; however, scanning some reviews from others who weren't immediately captivated has suggested that it retains the same kind of pace and tone all the way through. I haven't really been grabbed by this and I can't see myself completing it. Sorry, internet....more
This novel is a standalone story, not related to the author's Thóra Guðmundsdóttir series. If you read the blurb for this English translation, the ploThis novel is a standalone story, not related to the author's Thóra Guðmundsdóttir series. If you read the blurb for this English translation, the plot is outlined in a manner that heavily suggests it has a horror slant; in this it appears more similar to another standalone book of the author's, I Remember You, than her crime novels. In fact, it has nowhere near as much horror in it as I Remember You, and is nowhere near as scary, but it's also much tighter and more coherent.
There are two strands to the plot. One takes place in the present day, and follows Ódinn, a single dad, as he grapples with the challenge of caring for his daughter Rún and, at work (the State Supervisory Agency, only vaguely described) investigates the events at Krókur, a care home for delinquent boys which shut down in the 1970s. He's inherited the case from a colleague who died, and uncovers increasingly strange and tantalising details as he digs through her files. Plot strand no.2 is set in 1974, at Krókur itself, and follows Aldís, a young cleaner who gets unwisely involved with one of the boys living there. But there's also the mystery of her employers and that rumour about their baby...
It's hard to get a handle on what I liked so much about The Undesired - I think it was simply exactly what I needed at the time I chose to read it. It flows effortlessly, and isn't hampered by the inconsistent characterisation and/or excess of detail that stopped me from loving the author's other books even though I found parts of them excellent. It has proper mystery elements (what went down at Krókur? Was the 'accidental' death of Ódinn's ex-wife actually something more sinister?) and supernatural traces which are helped along by the atmospheric setting of Krókur - miles from anywhere, snowbound, with things that go bump in the night. It all kept me turning the pages, and at the end I wished there were more books featuring Ódinn's investigations (view spoiler)[though that's impossible, as anyone who's read it will see (hide spoiler)]. That's another thing I liked - the dark and surprising ending.
The Undesired is eerie rather than frightening, and all the more effective for it. My favourite Yrsa Sigurðardóttir book yet. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
(Sampled up to 8%.) Sometimes you just instinctively know you won't like a book from page one. That's how I felt about this, though I did drag myself(Sampled up to 8%.) Sometimes you just instinctively know you won't like a book from page one. That's how I felt about this, though I did drag myself through the first chapter regardless. The style annoyed me, the details jarred. (There's this scene where a teenage girl character wants to play old-fashioned music in the car and is annoyed when her family prefer to listen to a rap song called, and I am not making this up, 'Poppin' a Cap in Mah Bitch's Skull'. Yeah... okay.) I'm happy to abandon this without knowing what horrors will befall this unconvincing family....more
The premise: Paul Clément is a doctor who, as a young man, witnesses a ritualistic murder, and is forbidden to speak of it - if he does, his companion tells him, his soul will be damned. Years later, working in Paris, Paul believes the incident to have been nothing more than a macabre trick; he's also become obsessed with the idea of resuscitating the dead, and decides to conduct a dangerous experiment on himself. It's at this point he realises the damnation he was warned about might be very real after all...
First line: During the great siege of Paris I had worked alongside one of the Poor Sisters of the Precious Blood.
What I read: Part 1 (21%).
Would I read the rest of it? Sadly, this didn't hold my attention in the way I'd hoped it would, nor the way I expected it to from the fantastic opening pages. Part of the problem, I think - and it initially seemed like the opposite of a problem! - was that the epilogue is so engaging and exciting; when the story shifts to Paris, it just doesn't seem anywhere near as interesting. The narrator's voice is rather dry and characterless, though that does make sense for an account supposedly written by a Victorian-era doctor, and doesn't necessarily have to be a major issue when it comes to this sort of fiction. But I did notice, with some disappointment, that certain elements from another book by the same author - The Sleep Room - also occur here, including a sugary, somewhat offputting romance. It was when I reached an extremely gory dream sequence that I decided this was too 'horror' to be quite what I was looking for. I enjoyed The Sleep Room and would recommend it, but this didn't live up to that standard (and, at the same time, felt a little too similar). ...more
Animals is a surreal portrait of a man in the midst of a meltdown, lost in a shifting, primal, terrifying version of London in which menacing dogs lurAnimals is a surreal portrait of a man in the midst of a meltdown, lost in a shifting, primal, terrifying version of London in which menacing dogs lurk on street corners, exotic creatures congregate in darkened parks, and sighting the corpse of a mouse triggers an existential crisis. I've mentioned this a few different places now, but this book has a great first page, one that really sets the tone for the rest of the story. It (meaning both the first page and the book) is playful, willfully weird and often properly funny; challenging yet as compulsive as the finest genre fiction. Ridgway is fantastic at folding together the reader's assumptions and the narrator's unreliability and creating a story from the tension in the space between the two. Hilarious and disgusting, incisive and absurd, Animals is a uniquely memorable (if somewhat difficult to describe) novel and one of the best I've read this year....more
It's difficult to say what I Love Dick actually is. It's not strictly a novel, but nor is it exactly right to describe it as non-fiction. Rather, it'sIt's difficult to say what I Love Dick actually is. It's not strictly a novel, but nor is it exactly right to describe it as non-fiction. Rather, it's a sort of semi-fictionalised memoir that takes in critical theory, feminist critique, art history, etc. In her afterword, Joan Hawkins dubs it 'theoretical fiction'. At its heart is the story of the infatuation Chris Kraus the character (not necessarily to be confused with Chris Kraus the author) has with Dick, an acquaintance of her husband Sylvère, whom the couple have dinner with at the very beginning of the book. It's made up of letters Chris and Sylvère write to Dick - some are actually sent to him, but most aren't - and everything that results from the infatuation and the expression of it through these letters: proposals for art projects (of which this book is arguably the final incarnation), a continuous system of critique, Chris's 'lonely girl phenomenology', a deconstruction of the idea of a love triangle.
There's a lot I could say about this, but I don't feel qualified to. I hope one day someone else will write the review of it I'd like to see (the closest thing I've found so far is this LRB piece by Jenny Turner). I Love Dick is thought-provoking, certainly, but also infuriating, narcissistic and soaked in the author's/characters' privilege. In particular, I felt aggravated by Chris's attempts to assume a kind of starving artist identity while frequently referencing the swathe of properties she owns (with Sylvère), and then there's the namedropping... oh god, the namedropping. With the current climate of online feminism being what it is, I'm really surprised I haven't seen wider critique of this - especially from intersectional perspectives - along with the recent resurgence in the book's popularity.
I Love Dick is not 'unreadable', as its harshest critics call it; that's the least of its problems, and it is, in fact, very much what most people would consider readable, with strong momentum and enough of a conventional plot - the continued question of whether there is or isn't, will or won't be a relationship between Chris and Dick, and how he will respond to Chris and Sylvère's obsessive project - to keep even casual readers invested in its outcome. I can even see why the ending might be deemed shocking (if you related to and/or empathised with Chris), but I greeted it with a shrug rather than taking it like a punch to the gut. I never felt I was reading/experiencing this story and its philosophical revelations as a 'fellow woman' but rather as an outsider to a story that belongs to a wealthy American artist. But I was, admittedly, reading it from a personal perspective and not in any kind of critical or theoretical context. ...more