Marisha Pessl’s second novel, Night Film, is like a great big box. For a start, there is the size – at more than 600 pages, it is a thumping doorstopper that might intimidate those of a weak disposition. Then there is the content: chapters of prose alternate with authentic-looking newspaper web pages, typed police reports, medical records, transcripts of phone calls, fanzine message boards and scraps of handwritten notes so that cumulatively the book resembles a bulging box file of artefacts. Finally, there is the symbolism: like a Japanese puzzle box, Night Film is a clever mystery, a tricksy construct that permits entry only after a complex set of precise manoeuvres.
The man charged with cracking that mystery is Scott McGrath. An investigative journalist with a failed marriage, a cute daughter and a fondness for single malt, he jogs on to the page like an old friend. Once the scourge of oil barons, cocaine kings and modern-day pirates, now McGrath is past his prime, his career ended five years previously by an ill-considered remark on live television. It had not been a wise move to describe the reclusive film director Stanislas Cordova as a predator, nor to call for him to be terminated “with extreme prejudice” for alleged offences against children. Now McGrath spends his days licking his wounds in his New York brownstone and running off steam in Central Park.
One rainy October night, as he jogs round in circles, he gets the feeling he is being watched. Through the mist, he glimpses a ghostly female form, her coat “a vivid red slice in the night”, a tangle of dark hair down her back. When he gets closer, she disappears into the shadows, only to reappear moments later in the light of a lamppost ahead. This eerie cat-and-mouse game persists until, thoroughly rattled, McGrath boards a train home.
A few days later, The New York Times reports that Ashley Cordova, the 24-year-old daughter of the film director McGrath had slandered, has been found dead in an abandoned warehouse. Time magazine runs a picture gallery on the former child prodigy and her father, a man who hasn’t been seen in public since the Seventies and whose films are too horrifying for mainstream release but retain a fanatical following among “Cordovites”, who gather for secret screenings in underground tunnels.
Given the tip-off that, days before her death, Ashley had escaped from a mental hospital, McGrath starts to suspect foul play. His suspicions give way to the heebie-jeebies when he talks to one of the last people to see Ashley alive – a coat-check girl at a swanky restaurant where she left her coat. Her Bright. Red. Coat.
This is one of numerous deliciously spine-tingling moments in a book that crafts its suspense lovingly, meticulously and comprehensively. No horror trope goes unrepresented here. As well as the weirdo father, the disturbed daughter and the mental asylum, there is a spooky house, craven acolytes and eerie children; spells, voodoo dolls and the evil eye; tattoos, torture devices and an S&M club; prostitutes, priests and witches. What started out as a crime mystery mutates into a supernatural thriller, with a cliffhanger in each chapter. But the further we follow McGrath and his two wacky sidekicks – Ashley’s jilted lover and the coat-check girl – in pursuit of the truth, the deeper we’re locked into the book’s puzzle.
In the final quarter, McGrath breaks into Cordova’s isolated country estate and the ensuing nightmarish episode flips the novel into another realm.
That the hard-nosed investigator comes to doubt the evidence of his own senses brings into question the nature of truth. In the end, the whodunit that became a ghost story transforms once more into an enigma. The fine line between reality and illusion remains beyond reach. Pessl is a skilled storyteller and, as with her debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics (2006), she marshals an encyclopedic range of cultural references. Night Film nods to most of the contemporary western canon, from Sam Spade and Stanley Kubrick to The Raven and The Ring. Reading it is like devouring The Magus or gorging on a box set of Twin Peaks: at once all-consuming and mind-altering. Nothing else matters while there are pages to turn and, once the book is over, the world seems an emptier place.
Any loose ends that remain (was Cordova last seen in 1971 or 1977? Why is his tattoo shown on the right hand yet his assistant’s is on the left? What was he really doing in the sandpit in the dead of night?) only fuel the fascination with the story, blurring that line between fact and fiction until the reader is lured into the puzzle all over again.
(view spoiler)[ I love the authors bravery in not providing an easy ending or a the rational explanation but 3 possible endings and leaving it up to the reader to decide which one they want. The stories within stories help create a layered tale so powerful that the spell it casts is unbreakable until you finish (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Using Geoff Dyer's review as it says everything I would wish to say far more eloquently than I could do ever. I can't express what an magnificent workUsing Geoff Dyer's review as it says everything I would wish to say far more eloquently than I could do ever. I can't express what an magnificent work this book is. It is astonishing accomplishment of research, organisation and narrative drive that make this the definitive masterpiece of mountaineering literature.
Into the Silence is a powerful, haunting, heartbreaking read - "An exceptional book on an extraordinary generation."
The death in 1912 of Captain Scott and his companions in the Antarctic set a precedent of sacrifice for the generation of young British men who, a few years later, would hurl themselves into the maelstrom of the Great War. That Scott's expedition was, according to later accounts, doomed by incompetent leadership only makes its failure seem more prophetic. Now, in Wade Davis's magnificent new book, the remaining goal of imperial exploration is seen as an outcome of – and response to – the first world war. While Scott's expedition was, in some ways, an exercise in heroic futility, the conquest of Mount Everest could help to exorcise the massed ghosts of the dead.
Three British expeditions set out for Everest between 1921 and 1924, involving a total of 23 climbers, all but six of whom had seen action in the war, either as combatants or medics. Charles Bruce, for example, survived Gallipoli in spite of being "cut down with machine-gun fire that nearly severed both of his legs". Advised by the medical board "to retire to a quiet life and to be especially careful never to walk strenuously uphill", he went on to lead the second and third Everest expeditions. George Mallory, who would die on Everest in the third of three successive trips to the Himalayas, served as an artillery officer but had the good fortune of being sent home from the Somme (due to the recurrence of an old climbing injury) and missing Passchendaele thanks to a motorbike accident on a training course.
It seems likely that, having given a vivid account of the war, Davis will move rapidly on to the planning and execution of the Everest assaults. He does, but whenever new characters are introduced – there is a constant change of personnel over the course of the three expeditions – Davis details their individual experiences in battle so that the war exists not as backdrop but as a recurring series of flashbacks. Its legacy dogs the climbers along every step of their "mimic campaign", through overlapping vocabulary (in the laconic idiom of the age, expeditions and battles are both "shows"), equipment used (altitude necessitates the use of oxygen to prevent the climbers – some of whom had survived gas attacks on the western front – being "suffocated as if by some subtle, invisible, odourless gas") and, of course, by the constant threat of death.
With these expeditions Davis is on tried and tested narrative routes, guaranteed to keep the reader roped closely to the page. Extreme weather and altitude throw up phenomena that are doubly intolerable ("your feet can be suffering from frostbite," Charles Howard-Bury observed uncomplainingly, "while you are getting sunstroke at the same time") and supernaturally weird: at 23,000 feet on the first expedition, Mallory and climbing partner Edward Wheeler "began to glow with a frigid halo, an 'aureole of spindrift' and whirling snow"). Looking, in George Bernard Shaw's words, as if they were part of a "Connemara picnic surprised by a snowstorm", the team members met these and other challenges phlegmatically. (How else to react when the cold causes one to cough up the mucus membrane of one's larynx?)
Into the Silence offers a meticulous recreation of how the idea of climbing the mountain grows out of the Great Trigonometric Survey of India (which leads to the naming of Everest and establishes that it is indeed the highest point on earth); the full diplomatic and political wranglings necessary even to make a start; and the immense logistical demands of such attempts once they are under way: third time around, the supplies include "60 tins of quail in foie gras and 48 bottles of champagne, Montebello 1915".
Still more impressive is the way Davis depicts the meeting of incompatible belief systems. While the British see the mountain as an obstacle to be overcome (by sheer force of Britishness if necessary), the opinion of their Tibetan hosts – that the spirits of the mountain, if not sufficiently appeased, will hurl them from its side – comes to seem just as plausible. It would be a mistake, however, to see one outlook as "spiritual" and the other as pragmatic. The Tibetans, quite reasonably, can't see any point in climbing the mountain; the British, in turn, are animated by a "mystic patriotism" that is itself a kind of delirium.
And while expedition members are delighted to see exotic wild birds that are utterly tame (due to the Lama's decree that they are sacred and not to be harmed), Tibet makes a less favourable impression on them than it will, later, on Richard Gere. Mallory calls it "a hateful country inhabited by hateful people" while some of his team-mates endure the mumbo-jumbo to which they're subjected with undisguised contempt. Though the climbing teams admire the Tibetans' capacity to endure hardship, an avalanche that sweeps seven porters to their deaths on the second expedition is announced with the relieved words: "All whites are safe!" But here too there is complexity; a member of the expedition later writes: "Why, oh why could not one of us, Britishers, share their fate?"
The differences, moreover, do not simply divide west from east. Within the British camp some view the use of oxygen – and its great advocate, George Finch – with a mixture of suspicion and contempt. "I always knew he was a shit," snorts a team-mate on seeing the Australian-born Finch repairing his own boots. Mallory, the tragic figure at the centre of the drama, contains many of these conflicts and contradictions within himself. After a Stranger's Child-style homosexual infatuation at Cambridge, he marries, has kids, and sets up home as a schoolteacher, only to be lured back repeatedly to the mountain that will claim him. Forward-thinking enough to see that the socially inept Finch is his best possible climbing partner, he is sufficiently impressed by the porters to consider shipping one back home – where he "might inhabit part of the cellar or the outside coal shed" – as a servant. Blessed with incredible natural athleticism and stamina, he is cursed by "congenital incompetence with anything technical" and prone to forget or drop items of life-saving importance.
If Mallory and his cohorts are representatives of a bygone age, their expeditions established a template that has remained unchanged. The contemporary practice of wealthy individuals purchasing a place on Everest, familiar to readers of Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, "began from the inception of the dream". The combination of "exclusive marketing arrangements" and sponsorship – "Avoid worry, use Sunlight Soap and for Ever-rest" – to underwrite the enormous undertaking was also in place from the outset.
To keep this mass of material from bulging out of the narrative is an impressive feat of literary organisation and management. To that extent the book is like the expeditions themselves: every inch of progress is dependent on an enormous supply train of information. There is nothing burdensome about this for the reader; the technical data is fascinating, and Davis's prose, in spite of the weight it is obliged to bear over such an extended and difficult terrain, shows only occasional signs of buckling under the strain: "For him the war was over"; "FM Bailey was himself no slouch".
What is surprising is that in narrative terms Mallory's prediction – "I have every reason to expect the climax to be no less interesting" – proves somewhat misleading. By the time we get to the final assault on the summit, excitement has given way to grim resignation. Unprecedented though they are, the challenges of the Death Zone manifest themselves as a kind of vertiginous drudgery.
Whether Mallory and his companion Sandy Irvine died on their way to the summit or on the way down remains a matter of conjecture. Either way, their deaths embody the book's larger purpose in a way that Davis might have emphasised more strongly. The Great War resulted not only in vast numbers of men dying but in their being blown to unidentifiable bits by artillery so that they were commemorated as "The Missing". For almost 75 years, until the discovery of his body in 1999, Mallory shared this fate and became their exalted representative: a name preserved high above the nameless dead.
Geoff Dyer is the author of The Missing of the Somme...more
“A feisty young Dutch woman, an English spy, and a local demon all cross paths in 1663 New Amsterdam, in this Ludlumesque historical thriller…a succes“A feisty young Dutch woman, an English spy, and a local demon all cross paths in 1663 New Amsterdam, in this Ludlumesque historical thriller…a successful mix of historical fiction, spy thriller, and horror.”
As Ruth, said “Every now and then I read a book that just takes my breath away. It feels like the author wrote the book just for me, and I just can't put it down”
That is exactly how it was for me, I adored this complex beautifully written story.
Set in New Amsterdam 1663, The Oprhanmaster is heady mix of adventure, romance with a spine tingling mystery at its heart; the disturbing Native American legend of the Wendigo.
(I have to confess I have a fascination with this legend after reading Algernon Blackwood's 1910 story "The Wendigo," which introduced the legend to horror fiction and later in Stephen King's novel “Pet Sematary”)
The novel has a huge cast of colourful, unforgettable characters including an African giant, a dashing English spy, a feisty heroine an Algonquin trapper and the Orphanmaster.
What makes this book extraordinary is the level of rich historical detail and your personal enjoyment of the novel will hinge on exactly how much detail you like in your historical novels. You will literally, learn something on every page!
The author really brings to life the wildness of this New World, and how perilous New Amsterdam’s position was; threatened by Native American tribes, the English, and the brutal power of nature itself both awe-inspiring and terrifying.
Brilliant debut novel and one of my reads of the year ...more
Non-spoiler alert! There is a dark twist – a spot of black-magical realism, if you like – about halfway through Lloyd Shepherd's first novel that this reviewer has no desire to ruin for readers. In fact, so delicious and unexpected is this turn of events that it moves a book that is already part detective fiction, part historical novel and part pirate adventure into entirely new territory, adding themes of natural philosophy and moral turpitude to a story as rich in ideas as it is in intrigue.
To the plot then. Or to be precise, the plots. The first (chronologically, at least) concerns a young man named Billy Ablass who, in 1564, heads to Plymouth to seek his fortune at sea. Taken on by one John Hawkyns, Ablass soon discovers that not everything on board the Jesus of Lubeck is, well, above board.
As that story sets itself in choppy motion, chapters alternate between Ablass's mission and the Ratcliffe Highway murders so dutifully described in P D James and T A Critchley's 1971 true-crime book The Maul and the Pear Tree. The gruesome murder, in 1811, of Timothy Marr and his young family is replayed again here in graphic detail. Though the Age of Reason has America in its grip, policing in Britain is still a bewildering arrangement between local magistrates, parish watchmen and – in the newly thriving docklands of London's East End – waterman-constables.
Charles Horton is one of the latter, the eyes and ears of John Harriott, immortalised on his memorial stone as "progenitor of the Thames Police". Horton is a man with new ideas: Harriott can find only the words "detection" and "investigation" to describe what it is that Horton does. As the everyman cop applies such techniques to the Ratcliffe Highway murders, he pieces together a theory that will pit him against the Shadwell magistrates whose job it is to serve the guilty party up to the ravenous public.
So, what could possibly tie Britain's first authorised slave ship to a series of shocking murders some 250 years later? My lips are sealed. Soon, the Shadwell magistrates arrest and charge the hapless Irish itinerant John Williams, and Shepherd's analysis of the past is perceptive enough to draw parallels with current events (say, the Leveson inquiry): "Everyone felt that London's panic and fright had changed register, and had turned into a type of fascination. Here's the likely culprit, said the newspapers and magistrates. We've got him. Sleep easier in your beds. The bogey-man is under lock and key."
If all this sounds ambitious to the point of audacious for a debut novel, then suffice it to say that Shepherd pulls it off. Add (mostly) accurate biographical details from the lives of Francis Drake, Hans Sloane, Henry Morgan and Aaron Graham to a story already centred around the real-life characters of Harriott, Horton and Hawkyns, and The English Monster becomes as vivid an education as it is an entertainment. None of which is to mention that devilish twist in this tale.
A world at stake. A quest for the ultimate prize. Are you ready?
And the geeks will inherit the earth!
I loved this book but then again I play World of WaA world at stake. A quest for the ultimate prize. Are you ready?
And the geeks will inherit the earth!
I loved this book but then again I play World of Warcraft so I guess I would wouldn’t I?
It’s a feel-good novel which will appeal to geeks and non-geeks alike especially if you are a child of the 80s as the story has its roots in 1980's pop culture. This is the hook that will make it or break it for most readers.
This dystopian future shows the whole of mankind locked into a gaming heaven, (a mashup of virtual reality, Second Life, and World of Warcraft) where you can be anything you want, while the real world is going to hell.
The image of the precariously stacked trailer homes has stayed with me…
The mix of sci-fi with classic 80′s pop-culture is really well done and half the fun of the novel is spotting the obscure references, I loved the fairytale of the evil corporation pitching their ‘best people’ at this quest for the ultimate prize against the gamers doing for the love and enjoyment of the challenge. An easy read that is exciting and fun, with characters you immediately engage with.
It really is a charming, rollicking, romp and though set a dystopic 2044 it really is just a good old fashioned adventure story.
1913 – Suffragette throws herself under the King’s horse.
1969 – Feminists storm Miss World.
NOW – Caitlin Moran rewrites The Female Eunuch frSynopsis
1913 – Suffragette throws herself under the King’s horse.
1969 – Feminists storm Miss World.
NOW – Caitlin Moran rewrites The Female Eunuch from a bar stool and demands to know why pants are getting smaller. There’s never been a better time to be a woman: we have the vote and the Pill, and we haven’t been burnt as witches since 1727. However, a few nagging questions do remain… Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should you get Botox? Do men secretly hate us? What should you call your vagina? Why does your bra hurt? And why does everyone ask you when you’re going to have a baby?
Part memoir, part rant, Caitlin Moran answers these questions and more in How To Be A Woman – following her from her terrible 13th birthday (‘I am 13 stone, have no friends, and boys throw gravel at me when they see me’) through adolescence, the workplace, strip-clubs, love, fat, abortion, TopShop, motherhood and beyond.
SCREAM! I loved this book, it is like spending an evening with your new, very funny/very clever,best friend.
This is a gloriously funny, witty memoir that will have you snorting with laughter within 5 mins. Let's be honest it is not going to become a academic tome of feminist philosophy but underneath all the jokes is a 'short, sharp feminist agenda'. Be happy in yourself and women stop falling for the lies the world tells us about what it is to be a woman - and as a result, start having a good time. ENDOV!!
"Because if all of the stories in this book add up to one single revelation, it is this: to just...not really give a shit about all that stuff. To not care about all those supposed 'problems' of being a woman. To refuse to see them as problems at all. Yes - when I had my massive feminist awakening, the action it provoked in me was...a big shrug," says Moran...more
Difficult to get in to as the first few chapters are very confusing and complex as each chapter is a snippet of a different persons life.
Stick with iDifficult to get in to as the first few chapters are very confusing and complex as each chapter is a snippet of a different persons life.
Stick with it....please!
It is only when these individual stories start to interconnect, as Cindy said 'the confusion becomes more interesting than confusing.'
Set in Russia 1919 in the village of Yazyk, a remote outpost in the Siberian wilderness during the Russian Revolution. The village is populated by a stranded regiment of Czech soldiers, a beautiful widow with her son and a very strange religious sect. Into this staggers an escaped convict from a Siberian Gulag camp 'The White Garden 'who warns them he is being followed by another prisoner called The Mohican. Oh and the Bolsheviks are closing in on the town intent on taking revenge on the Czech legion for a massacre of a town.
It is written as if it is of its time, Russia 1919, with idea driven characters (cue lots of existential ponderings) that could have come from the pen of Dostoevsky. I love the sweeping Russian forms of address “Good morning Viktor Timifeyovich, good morning Pelageya Fedotiva” and “Comrade Chairman , Soviet of the Railways workers of Verkhny Luk”...” etc etc
The whole thing, characters, plot, setting is totally deranged but what magnificent storytelling! A epic story of Russia evocatively written, the narrative in dispersed with haunting letters, monologues and breathtaking, almost cinematic, descriptions of the vicious Siberian landscape where even the trees shudder with the cold
The historical detail is exquisite such as the fate of the abandoned Czech regiments in Russia and the life and death of the Hussars and their beloved horses.
"At the time they left Prague in 1914 there had been 171 of them. ... In February 1917, when the Russians had their first revolution, and nobody knew who was in charge, there wasn't much bread to be had. The younger Cerny died of the fever. ... Dragoun and Najman froze to death on the second night. ... After their company shot some peasants, Buchta and Lanik said their comrades were dirty reactionary sons of bitches, and went over to the Bolsheviks. Biskup and Pokorny, who kept complaining that they weren't being paid, went off to rob a bank in Odessa. ... In a Siberian rail halt in autumn, five years later, mutiny hung from the branches, too ripe even to need to pick. ... A hundred men with 945 toes between them, the balance lost to frostbite, and 980 fingers."
Until I read this book I never knew that the Tungas, the indigenous people of Siberia, even existed never mind that they rode domesticated reindeer and had Shamans.
At the books heart is basically human nature stripped bare...love, lust, cruelty, fanaticism, guilt and sacrifice
It is a while since I became so deeply involved in a book and its characters and the highest praise I can give it is to say I will read it again, something I hardly ever do.........more
Review from Clare Clark though I enjoyed the first section and didn't think it dragged at all plus didn't find the ending 'unconvincing and unnecessarReview from Clare Clark though I enjoyed the first section and didn't think it dragged at all plus didn't find the ending 'unconvincing and unnecessary'....
This is one of those books ‘once read, never forgotten’, true to its title it really does get under the skin.
Under the Skin hooks you in from the firsThis is one of those books ‘once read, never forgotten’, true to its title it really does get under the skin.
Under the Skin hooks you in from the first sentence: “Isserley always drove straight past a hitch-hiker when she first saw him, to give herself time to size him up. She was looking for big muscles: a hunk on legs. Puny, scrawny specimens were no use to her.”
This book is a nightmare to review as its impact lies in the slow realisation of who Isserley is and what she is doing. As Paul Bryant says ‘you only find out bit by bit and it gets weirder until you just can't stand it’ http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...
and when you do, ‘get it,’ your world falls away…
Faber takes you on an utterly compelling and thought-provoking journey from start to finish touching on humanity, empathy, consumerism and shallowness of society.
Startlingly original, elegant and concisely written and with a most compelling protagonist who makes you re-evaluate what it means to be human....more